U.S. authorities have leveled the first conspiracy charge against an apparent leader of an extremist group in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, arresting an alleged Oath Keeper who is accused of plotting to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and proposing further assaults on state capitols.
Thomas Edward Caldwell, 66, of Clarke County, Va., was taken into custody before 7 a.m. on four federal counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States in the attack on the Capitol. The conspiracy charge is reserved for offenses interfering with or obstructing the lawful operation of government.
A charging affidavit says he helped organize a group of eight to 10 individuals, including self-styled Ohio militia members apprehended Sunday, who wore helmets and military-style gear and were seen moving purposefully toward the top of the Capitol steps and leading the move against police lines.
Separately, charges were unsealed Wednesday accusing a Queens man who worked in the state court system of making threats to murder Democratic politicians, including suggesting another attack on the Capitol timed to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday
Brendan Hunt of Queens, N.Y., is described in the documents as a part time actor and full-time employee of the New York State Office of Court Administration. Authorities said Hunt was not at the Jan. 6 riot, but made threatening remarks about Democratic politicians beforehand that intensified in a video he posted two days later, titled, “KILL YOUR SENATORS.”
“We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol,” Hunt said in the video, according to the FBI. “What you need to do is take up arms, get to D.C., probably the inauguration … put some bullets in their f—– heads. If anybody has a gun, give it to me, I’ll go there myself and shoot them and kill them.”
The arrests are another indication how concerned law enforcement agencies are about threats to the inauguration, particularly since so many of the participants in the Jan. 6 chaos are still unidentified.
In Caldwell’s charging papers, FBI agents wrote that they were reviewing communications between Caldwell “and other known and unknown Oath Keepers members.”
Prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., have charged more than 100 people in the two weeks following the riot. This weekend the FBI arrested several people with alleged ties to the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters, which charging documents suggest were among the more prepared, organized and determined groups in the larger mass of rioters.
The 15-page affidavit cited a Jan. 1 Facebook message in which Caldwell said he had scouted lodging for several others at a Comfort Inn in Ballston, Va., about eight miles from the Capitol that “would allow us to go hunting at night if we wanted to.”
[FBI probes possible connections between extremist groups at heart of Capitol violence]
Caldwell sent the message, the affidavit said, to Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old U.S. Army veteran who was arrested late Sunday. Federal authorities accused her of breaching the Capitol with other members of the “Ohio State Regular Militia,” a group she founded in 2019.
Information about an attorney for Caldwell was not immediately available. No one immediately responded to a message left with Caldwell’s phone number.
In an apparent reference to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, the affidavit said, Caldwell goes on in the Jan. 1 post to say, “I don’t know if Stewie has even gotten out his call to arms, but it’s a little friggin late. This is one we are doing on our own. We will link up with the north carolina [sic] crew.”
At 7:47 p.m. on Jan. 6, Caldwell allegedly sent a Facebook video taken from within the U.S. Capitol, and wrote, “Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator! She was ready for it man! Didn’t even mind the tear gas.”
Caldwell then added, according to the FBI: “Proud boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide. Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the house floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time,” according to charging papers. Less than a minute later, Caldwell went on, “We need to do this at the local level. Lets [sic] storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
After Jan. 6, a witness identified in charging papers only as W-1 told the FBI that Watkins went to stay with Caldwell, a person she called “Commander T” or “Commander Tom,” leaving a phone number the FBI associated with Caldwell, the agent wrote.
Watkins was taken into custody along with Donovan Crowl, 50, a former U.S. Marine and another member of the Ohio group, a subset of the Oath Keepers.
Another of those newly charged this weekend was Robert Gieswein, 24, of Woodland Park, Colo. Charging documents and videos indicate he may have links to the three extremist groups that have drawn the most attention from the FBI: the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. Some of the videos appear to include members who discussed storming the Capitol about an hour ahead of the riot.