WASHINGTON – U.S. authorities on Friday alleged a broader conspiracy by Oath Keepers to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, charging six new individuals who appeared to be members or associates of the right-wing group.
One self-described leader in the group, which recruits among military and law enforcement, sent a Facebook message claiming at least 50 to 100 Oath Keepers planned to travel to the District of Columbia with him on Jan. 6 and that they would “make it wild,” echoing a comment then-President Donald Trump made on Twitter rallying supporters to the Capitol.
A 21-page indictment alleged that the defendants “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown” to force entry to the Capitol and obstruct Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president in riots that led to five deaths and assaults on 139 police.
The nine-person indictment named three already charged military veterans – Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, and Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, both of Woodstock, Ohio, and Thomas Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, Va. The six new defendants include siblings Graydon Young, 54, of Englewood, Fla., and Laura Steele, of Thomasville, N.C. It also includes married couples Kelly and Connie Meggs, 52 and 59, of Dunnellon, Fla., and Bennie and Sandra Parker, 70 and 60, of the Cincinnati area.
On Dec. 22, Kelly Meggs wrote a Facebook message saying Trump’s comment that Jan. 6 would be “wild” meant he “wants us to make it WILD. . . . He called us all to the Capitol. . . . Gentlemen we are heading to DC,” the indictment alleges.
Kelly Meggs added a few days later that there would be “at least” 50 to 100 Oath Keepers in attendance, the indictment said, and posted on Christmas that he “was named State lead of Florida today.”
Steele allegedly emailed Meggs and Florida Oath Keepers that week at her brother’s suggestion, to expedite her application to join the group to participate in the events on Jan. 5 and 6.
Prosecutors allege the group conspired to attend or schedule paramilitary combat training; recruited supporters online; and “coordinat[ed] . . . and join[ed] forces” with members of Oath Keepers and people from other regions to invade the Capitol in military-style camouflage tactical gear and in a single-file “stack” formation.
The six-count indictment includes charges of aiding and abetting the obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, tampering with documents and trespassing. The obstruction charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors said the group used Zello, a walkie-talkie-like application, and created a channel called “Stop the Steal J6” to develop plans and communicate during the operation.
In audio recordings obtained by the FBI, Watkins, a former Army private, allegedly said in the Capitol that she was leading a group of 30 to 40 others who forced entry and overran police.
Prosecutors have called Caldwell, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer and FBI official, a “key figure” in the investigation who allegedly organized Watkins’s group of trained fighters, and was in contact with self-styled militia groups including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.
Caldwell used his military and law enforcement background to plan violence, including possible snipers and weapons stashed on a boat along the Potomac River, according to court filings.
Caldwell began coordinating with the Oath Keepers the week after the election, when he hosted members at his Virginia home for a Nov. 14 pro-Trump protest in Washington that turned violent, prosecutors alleged.
“Next time (and there WILL be a next time) we will have learned and we will be stronger,” he messaged others afterward, according to court documents. “I think there will be real violence for all of us next time. . . . I am already working on the next D.C. op.”
He responded after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes – identified as Person One in charging documents – called on members to “stand tall in support of President Trump” on Jan. 6, prosecutors alleged.
Associates of the Oath Keepers had a chat group on the encrypted app Signal to prepare for Jan. 6, according to prosecutors, while Three Percenters met on Zoom.
The Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have all denied their groups planned to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6.
An attorney for Kelly Meggs declined to comment, but in a bond motion filed before the indictment said his client is a successful automobile dealer with no criminal record beyond a misdemeanor arrest. “Any perceived risk of flight he may pose is nominal and any danger to the community merely theoretical,” David Wilson wrote.
Attorneys for Young, Steele, Bennie Parker and Connie Meggs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Parkers, of Morrow, Ohio, appeared in federal court Thursday on charges of conspiracy, trespassing, destroying government property and obstructing Congress’s confirmation of President Biden’s electoral vote victory, according to court filings. They were granted conditional release pending trial by U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz.
FBI charging papers say Bennie Parker was recruited by Watkins, and he assisted his wife and other members by communicating with them inside the Capitol while he stayed outside.
Bennie Parker wrote to Watkins before the riot, “I may have to see what it takes to join your militia,” because theirs was not very active, charging papers say.
Three days after the insurrection, Watkins reassured Parker that “I’ve been following the FBI wanted list” and it “seems they’re only interested in people who destroyed things,” charging papers alleged. The FBI said that she added, “I wouldn’t worry about them coming after us.” Watkins was arrested the following week.
An attorney for Sandra Parker declined to comment.
Caldwell attorney Thomas K. Plofchan Jr. has called the indictment of the three “a deliberate attempt to find a scapegoat for activities on January 6.”
Caldwell is “a highly decorated veteran” and former FBI official who “expects to have the charges dismissed or to be acquitted at trial,” Plofchan has argued. He said Caldwell is “not a member of the Oath Keepers and never entered the Capitol that day.” Plofchan has also said that the charging document contained no factual assertion that Caldwell “coordinated any activity aimed at entering the Capitol, disrupting any procedure, or taking any action against any person.”
Watkins told the Ohio Capital Journal last month: “I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t destroy anything. I didn’t wreck anything,” adding that the riot was a peaceful protest that turned violent.
Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes said Caldwell is not a dues-paying member of Oath Keepers and that he does not hold any leadership position in the organization.
Rhodes said he did not know Caldwell to be taking any action Jan. 6 on behalf of Oath Keepers, and that he gave no direction or signals to members to storm the Capitol.
Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers are an anti-government group that focuses on recruiting military, law enforcement and first responders, and some members are associated with self-styled militias. The group has emerged as armed security for right-wing causes and VIPs at pro-Trump events, and asserts authority to disobey government orders that some believe are part of a conspiracy to strip Americans of their constitutional rights, such as gun regulations.
Investigators looking for leaders among the insurrectionists have identified members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, a right-wing group with a history of violence, among those who allegedly appeared to organize and coordinate small groups. Several have been charged with engaging in the earliest and most aggressive actions.
Court papers indicate that one man who stormed the Capitol with the far-right Proud Boys is cooperating with law enforcement, while another is willing to admit responsibility.
Dominic Pezzola, who is charged with assaulting officers, stealing a riot shield, obstruction and related crimes, said he only became involved with the Proud Boys in November and already regrets his actions.
“At the time he was motivated by honorable intentions, believing he was protecting his country from a ‘stolen election’ by corrupt powers,” his attorney Jonathan Zucker wrote in a motion Thursday. “Since his arrest, having time to reflect and see how things have revealed themselves, he now realizes he was duped into these mistaken beliefs.”