- Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers militia kept members near the Capitol on January 6 to supply guns.
- A lawyer for an accused rioter said the so-called quick reaction force was just one guy.
- Experts say the group’s military and law enforcement background is what makes them dangerous extremists.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In February, federal prosecutors arrested several members of the Oath Keepers – an anti-government militia group – on charges related to participating in the riot at the Capitol on January 6.
Prosecutors alleged that the Oath Keeper members had planned part of their attack. They wore tactical gear, held training sessions in the weeks before, and looked at then-President Donald Trump’s direction for their assault on Congress, prosecutors laid out in court documents.
One part of the Oath Keepers’ plan, prosecutors said, citing text messages, was having a “QRF,” or “quick reaction force,” nearby that could supply firearms to militia members “if something goes to hell.”
But that “quick reaction force” was actually just one guy who “is in his late 60s, obese, and has cardiopulmonary issues, a bad back, a bum knee, and is [in] need of a hip replacement,” according to a new court filing.
The filing comes from an attorney representing Thomas Caldwell. Prosecutors accused Caldwell of being a leading member of the Oath Keepers group that participated in the Capitol riot, alongside Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl. The feds successfully persuaded a judge to keep him jailed ahead of trial, arguing that he was a danger to those around him.
David Fischer, Caldwell’s new attorney, filed a motion Tuesday making a new argument for Caldwell’s release from jail. He said Caldwell’s role in the insurrection was less than it appeared to be, that he isn’t a member of the group at all, and that the “commander” moniker Oath Keepers gave him in group chats referred to his military service as a Lt. Commander in the Navy, not that he was a commander of other Oath Keepers.
Fisher also said Caldwell never actually set foot on the Capitol itself, despite organizing with Oath Keeper members who did. But prosecutors said in charging documents that Caldwell took a selfie on a Capitol building balcony and wrote in a Facebook message that he was “inside” the building. They also cited a text message Caldwell sent to a fellow insurrectionist days later saying they “stormed the gates of corruption together.”
Fischer downplayed the violent and military-obsessed rhetoric of Caldwell’s messages. He said Caldwell was simply an aspiring screenwriter prone to such expressions.
“What the Government misunderstands is that Caldwell’s language and personality center around his military career and his addiction to Hollywood,” Fischer wrote.
‘A bunch of ex-military guys trying to out-plan one another’
In the filing, Fischer said the “quick reaction force” was not all that it was cracked up to be.
“The ‘Quick Reaction Force’ was neither ‘quick,’ ‘reactive,’ nor a ‘force.’ The ‘Quick Reaction Force’ was one person,” Fischer said.
“The whole discussion about a ‘Quick Reaction Force’ boils down to a bunch of ex-military guys trying to out-plan one another,” he added.
Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told Insider that Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the national Oath Keepers organization, has discussed using “quick reaction forces” before. After Trump lost the November election, Rhodes had discussed stationing them out of Washington, DC.
“At the same time we’ve got Caldwell saying they weren’t a big deal, we have those texts saying they were looking into how to ferry guns across the Potomac,” Friedfeld said. “He looked into it, allegedly.”
Friedfeld also pointed out that even someone with limited mobility could still provide guns to people if they simply have a car.
“The fact is, if this guy had a car full of guns, even if he’s in poor health, he doesn’t have to be that mobile,” he said. “He can just hop in the car and drive it.”
The Oath Keepers have a lot of ex-cops and ex-military members
Federal prosecutors have arrested and charged nine members of the Oath Keepers in connection with the insurrection so far. The Oath Keepers, along with the Proud Boys and Three Percenters, are one of the largest organized groups the Department of Justice has identified as participating in the riot.
Many members of the Oath Keepers, Friedfeld told Insider, are former members of the military and law enforcement. It’s that background that makes them so dangerous, he said.
“They have training for how to operate in a chaotic environment that they can now apply,” he said. “It’s their training that allowed them to exploit the chaos of that day to get to the Capitol, and to engage in the insurrection, and do what they thought needed to be done in order to send a message to politicians so that they would get President Trump re-installed in power and not have President Biden.”
The Justice Department has charged more than 300 people in the insurrection so far. A report from the George Washington University Program on Extremism found that more than half of those charged didn’t have ties to extremist groups.
The next big challenge for the Justice Department, Friedfeld told Insider, is to identify extremists planning violence after the failed coup on January 6.
The conditions that led to the insurrection in the first place, he said, still haven’t changed.
“I think what is [likely] is that we will see in the coming months arrests of individuals who initially started plotting in the days after January 6, when it became clear that President Biden was going to take office,” he said.