U.S. prosecutors on Monday revealed they have new evidence allegedly proving the far-right Oath Keepers militia had planned to use ‘force and violence’ when Donald Trump‘s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 leaving five people dead.
The evidence includes text messages linking the group’s leader Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer, to the plot.
The Justice Department in a filing late on Monday said it would disclose evidence to defense lawyers this week showing that Oath Keepers members and associates were ‘actively’ planning violence during the Capitol riots that forced members of Congress and their staff to flee or hide.
It comes as security around the U.S. Capitol remains tight, two months after the rioters attacked and breached the building, in response to intelligence suggesting further possible threats to the Capitol by militia groups.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon confirmed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had formally approved an extension of the National Guard deployment at the U.S. Capitol for about two more months.
According to a statement issued by the department, close to 2,300 Guard troops will continue to provide security in Washington until May 23, at the request of the Capitol Police.
The new evidence includes text messages linking the group’s leader Stewart Rhodes (pictured), a former Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer, to the plot, authorities say
U.S. prosecutors on Monday revealed they have new evidence allegedly proving the far-right Oath Keepers militia had planned to use ‘force and violence’ at the Capitol riot. Pictured, members of the Oath Keepers militia group stand at the U.S. Capitol on January 6
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has formally approved an extension of the deployment of close to 2,300 National Guard troops at the U.S. Capitol for about two more months. Pictured, National Guard tropps stand their posts around the Capitol on Monday
The heightened security continues as U.S. prosecutors build evidence against those accused of taking part in the pro-Trump mob earlier this year and as they identify those, they believe to have planned to use force to breach the Capitol.
In the filing on Monday, prosecutors said that the new evidence including messages, exchanged on the encrypted texting app Signal in a chat named ‘DC OP: Jan 6 21’, which were sent by individuals including Rhodes who founded the anti-government Oath Keepers group in 2009.
According to the court filing, on the afternoon of January 6 Rhodes, identified only as ‘Person One’ in the filing but whom prosecutors named in earlier court papers, told followers: ‘Come to the South Side of the Capitol on steps.’
‘All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So, the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough,’ he said in a Signal message to a group around 1:40 p.m., authorities say.
Soon after, Rhodes allegedly posted in a group chat a photograph of the Capitol with the caption: ‘South side of US Capitol. Patriots pounding on doors.’
In earlier messages, Rhodes had recommended equipment to bring: ‘Collapsible Batons are a grey area in the law. I bring one. But I’m willing to take that risk because I love em.’
He now claims he urged them to wear armor as self-defense.
‘There was a bunch of chaos,’ he said. ‘And I wanted to make sure my guys didn’t get into trouble. . . . But it was too . . . late, some of them had gone stupid and jumped inside the Capitol.’
Others in the chat include two charged Oath Keepers members: Jessica Watkins, 38, an Ohio leader, and Kelly Meggs, 52, of Florida.
The court filing is the clearest indication yet that investigators believe Rhodes played a significant role in instigating the attack.
Rhodes, who has not responded to requests for comment, has not been publicly charged over the January 6 attack.
He told the Washington Post last week that he had no advance knowledge that the Oath Keepers planned to enter the building and blamed rogue members.
‘Just so we’re clear on this: We had no plan to enter the Capitol, zero plan to do that, zero instructions to do that, and we also had zero knowledge that anyone had done that until after they had done that — afterwards,’ Rhodes said.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted nine associates of the Oath Keepers, charging them with conspiring to storm the Capitol.
The Justice Department disclosed the messages allegedly sent by Rhodes in a brief arguing that Thomas Caldwell, an alleged Oath Keepers member, should be jailed while he awaits charges.
According to the Justice Department, because of rules against bringing weapons into the District of Columbia, Caldwell discussed ‘whether it would be possible to recruit people with boats to join the plan, so that they could participate in the quick reaction force and ferry ‘the heavy weapons’ across the Potomac River’.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted nine associates of the Oath Keepers, charging them with conspiring to storm the Capitol. Pictured, two of those indicted Jessica Marie Watkins (left) and Donovan Ray Crowl (center) on the front steps of the U.S. Capitol
A member of the Oath Keepers is seen during the Capitol riot on January 6
Oath Keepers make up a fraction of the more than 300 charged so far in the siege that led to Trump’s second impeachment. Pictured, member of the Oath Keepers on January 5
Caldwell has said he is innocent and denied being a member of the Oath Keepers.
The Justice Department said in the court filing that ‘there is no evidence that Caldwell participated in the chat, but the investigation is ongoing’.
Oath Keepers make up a fraction of the more than 300 Trump supporters charged so far in the siege that led to Trump’s second impeachment.
But several of their leaders, members and associates have become the central targets of the Justice Department´s sprawling investigation.
It could mean more serious criminal charges for some rioters.
On the other hand, mounting evidence of advance planning could also fuel Trump’s and his supporters’ claims that the Republican former president did not incite the riot and therefore should not be liable for it.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has extended the National Guard deployment to the U.S. Captiol for another two months
Defense attorneys have accused prosecutors of distorting their clients’ words and actions to falsely portray the attack as a premeditated, orchestrated insurrection instead of a spontaneous outpouring of election-fueled rage to stop Congress´ certification of Trump’s defeat by Joe Biden.
The Oath Keepers began readying for violence as early as November, authorities say.
Communications show the group discussing logistics, weapons, and training, including ‘2 days of wargames.’
‘I need you fighting fit’ by the inauguration, one Ohio member, Jessica Watkins, told a recruit in November, according to court documents.
‘If Biden becomes president our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights,’ she said in another message later that month.
After the violence on January 6, D.C. law enforcement believed a threat remained and the National Guard was called on to remain deployed in the Capitol until March.
The threat was tied to the far-right conspiracy theory promoted by QAnon supporters that former President Trump would rise again to power on March 4, the original presidential inauguration day.
That day passed with no problems, but law enforcement has said threats to buildings and personnel remain, causing Defense Secretary Austin to extend the deployment once again this week.
Officials have been scrambling in recent days to determine if and how to fill the request, as the original March 12 deadline for them to leave Washington loomed.
There are currently about 5,100 Guard troops in Washington, and they were scheduled to leave this weekend.
It was unclear if any of those forces will have to stay an extra day or two while any new troops arrive and get trained and settled in.
Member of the National Guard have already been stationed in D.C. for two months
National Guard stand their posts around the Capitol on Monday as it is announced that up to 2,300 troops could be remaining in Washington D.C. for another two months
The Pentagon said defense officials will work with the Capitol Police to incrementally reduce the number of Guard needed in the city as time goes on.
The request to extend the deployment met resistance last week, as some governors expressed reluctance or flatly refused to commit their troops to more time in the city.
There now appear to be enough states willing to provide Guard troops for the mission, said defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Earlier Tuesday, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the decision on maintaining a Guard presence would be based on local law enforcement concerns along with the needs of the Capitol Police.
‘It’s not just about a threat assessment, it’s about assisting and supporting capabilities that the Capitol Police may now lack and may need to look at improving,’ Kirby said, adding that the extension request was based largely on using the Guard to make up for gaps in the capabilities of the Capitol Police.
Army leaders had also initially questioned whether the Capitol Police had exhausted all other options to fill the need, such as asking other federal law enforcement agencies to provide security.
But officials said military leaders thought it was important to find ways to work out the details.
The Guard’s deployment to the Capitol has been troubled. Early on, Guard members were briefly forced to take rest breaks and meals in a nearby cold garage, sparking outrage within the Biden administration. Officials quickly found new spaces within congressional buildings for the on-duty breaks.
In addition, Guard members complained of bad food, and some said they became sick.
On Monday, Kirby said about 50 Guard troops had been treated for gastrointestinal issues, out of the 26,000 that deployed to Washington. He said six sought outpatient medical treatment, while the rest were treated at aid stations set up for the Capitol Hill mission.
Kirby said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been visiting the troops several times a week and eating with them to ensure that they were getting good food.
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman made the request to have the Guard members stay on, setting off a series of discussions with the Pentagon and National Guard leaders.
In a statement late Tuesday, the Capitol Police force said it is ‘extremely grateful for the Department of Defense´s continued commitment to support our critical mission to protect Congress’.
U.S. military officials have said the cost of deploying about 26,000 Guard troops to the U.S. Capitol from shortly after the January 6 riot to this Friday is close to $500 million.
No cost estimate for the next two months has been released. The costs include housing, transportation, salaries, benefits, and other essentials.