WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has secured an indictment against three members of the far-right “Oath Keepers” militia, charging they conspired to storm the U.S. Capitol in a bid to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
The indictment alleges that Jessica Marie Watkins, 38, Donovan Ray Crowl, 50, and Thomas Caldwell, 65, conspired as far back as November to obstruct Congress - a charge that can carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
The trio were previously charged by criminal complaint, and all three were ordered detained after magistrate judges ruled they posed a danger to the community and should be held without bond.
None of the three have entered pleas in the case yet.
The case against the three Oath Keepers is the first of its kind so far as the FBI combs through more than 200,000 videos and photos to investigate people who took part in the siege.
To date, more than 135 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 breach by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, which left five people dead and sent members of Congress rushing to safety.
Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives a week later on a charge of inciting insurrection with an incendiary speech to supporters before they stormed the Capitol.
The amended complaint against the three Oath Keepers, which was made public earlier this month, disclosed they had exchanged multiple messages before and during the riot at the Capitol to coordinate their efforts.
In one example, the FBI said Caldwell had received a message from an unknown person while he was inside the Capitol that read: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas.”
‘ABLE BODIED PATRIOTS’
The 22-page indictment made public on Wednesday revealed more details about the plans the three allegedly made to travel to Washington on Jan. 6.
In one message from Dec. 29, Watkins told Crowl she planned to head to Washington on Jan. 6.
“What’s going on on the 6th?” Crowl asked.
“Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,” she replied.
“If Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it,” he said.
The indictment also suggests that members of the Oath Keepers chapter in North Carolina and other states were also planning to head to Washington.
In one message, Caldwell said he expected “40+ people coming from N.C.”
Later, according to prosecutors, Watkins and Crowl arrived at the Capitol with communication devices, reinforced vests, camouflage helmets and goggles. They “forcibly” entered the Capitol “with a line of individuals wearing Oath Keeper clothing, patches, and insignia,” the indictment alleges.
Communicating on a walkie talkie app called Zello, an unknown man told Watkins: “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.”
Many of the rioters documented their crimes on social media, making it easier for the FBI to track people down, and making it potentially harder to defend themselves against criminal charges.
Prosecutors on Wednesday night filed charging documents known as criminal informations against at least three other defendants in the Capitol riot, a step typically taken ahead of a guilty plea.
In one of those cases, investigators were able to track down the suspect - a self-professed white supremacist - who was already on probation and wore his GPS ankle monitor to the Capitol.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney
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