Prosecutors have levied the first significant conspiracy charge against an apparent leader in the extremist Oath Keepers movement, alleging the Virginia man was involved in “planning and coordinating” the breach of the Capitol earlier this month, according to court documents.
The Justice Department charged Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old from Virginia with a leadership role in the paramilitary right-wing group, with four counts, including conspiracy to commit an offense, obstruction of an official proceeding and “Violent entry or disorderly conduct.”
Caldwell interacted in the riot alongside a group of eight to 10 people wearing Oath Keeper-emblazoned gear, who would “move in an organized and practiced fashion and force their way to the front of the crowd gathered around a door to the US Capitol,” according to a law enforcement affidavit.
Prosecutors also describe his interactions with two other charged right-wing militants, Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl, who also allegedly sought to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election and were part of the siege.
“We are concerned that the arrests for the Jan 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol include some U.S. military reservists and veterans. Some right-wing extremist groups, particularly the anti-government Oath Keepers, have a long history of recruiting from current and former members of the military and law enforcement,” Oren Segal, Vice President of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism told CNN.
“Oath Keepers are part of the resurgent militia movement, which believes the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights. Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, what differentiates them from other anti-government extremist groups is their explicit focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel,” he added.