Far-right ‘Oath Keepers’ militia members arrested for role in U.S. Capitol riot

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A Virginia man with an apparent leadership role in the far-right militia group known as the “Oath Keepers” was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly “planning and coordinating” the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department said.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, is one of several members of the Oath Keepers named in a criminal complaint as having participated in the Capitol riots by President Donald Trump’s supporters.

He faces charges of conspiring to commit an offence, obstructing an official government proceeding, unlawful entry and disorderly conduct.

Read more: 2 Texas men arrested in connection with U.S. Capitol riot

Other affiliates of the Oath Keepers group who were charged include Jessica Watkins, 38, of Champaign County, Ohio, who the criminal complaint said referred to herself on her Parler account as the “C.O. (commanding officer) of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” Donovan Ray Crowl, also of Ohio, and Jon Schaffer, a guitarist for the Indiana heavy metal band Iced Earth who was photographed during the riot wearing an Oath Keepers cap.

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According to prosecutors, Crowl, 50, was seen inside the Capitol and later said in an interview he had gone to Washington to “do security” for “VIPs” he declined to name.

Schaffer is accused of using bear spray on police officers as the crowd tried to force its way past them.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes the Oath Keepers as “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S.,” which believes in “baseless conspiracy theories about the federal government working to destroy the liberties of Americans.”

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Investigators said Caldwell used Facebook to communicate with fellow members of the Oath Keepers and helped make hotel arrangements for their stay in the Washington, D.C. area. He later posted photos from the siege, saying “Us storming the castle. Please share… I am such an instigator!”

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Watkins and Crowl appeared in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on Tuesday. Asked by a federal judge if she understood the charges against her, Watkins said: “I understand what you said. I don’t understand how I got them.”

The FBI has been combing through well over 140,000 videos and photos to track down suspects in the assault on the U.S. Capitol, in which supporters of President Trump forced their way into the building, ransacked offices and documented much of the attack on social media.

Michael Sherwin, the top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., has said he suspects hundreds will face charges in the investigation, which is unprecedented in size and scope.

Read more: FBI arrests woman wanted in search for Nancy Pelosi’s stolen laptop

Many of the suspects are accused of having ties to far-right fringe groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, another right-wing group, or they are characterized as white supremacists or Nazi sympathizers.

One scheduled to appear in a federal court in New Jersey on Tuesday is Timothy Hale-Cusanelli. Investigators said he is a U.S. Army reservist with a security clearance whom they described as “an avowed white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer who posts video opinion statements on YouTube proffering extreme political opinions and viewpoints.”

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Prosecutors in Washington, D.C. are investigating whether rioters conspired in a possible effort to capture or kill U.S. officials. Although some carried weapons, no evidence has emerged suggesting such a grand plan.

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