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The Passport and the Antifa Hunt: The Militia Counter-Stories Emerge

In both the case against Proud Boy Leader Ethan Nordean and accused Oath Keeper Thomas Caldwell, the defendants are arguing that the government has made errors about their activities.

With regards to the former, Nordean’s wife submitted a sworn declaration stating, among other things, that the passport the government has pointed to as evidence that Nordean might flee was not — as the government claimed — on the dresser by the bed, but instead inside a jewelry box on the dresser. She also claimed that Nordean received a Baofeng radio on January 7, the day after the insurrection, and that to her knowledge, he “did not possess” one before that date.

The government responded with a picture showing that, at a time they claim precedes the search, a picture they took to show the weapons they had secured shows the passports were on the dresser.

Additionally, she claimed that Nordean’s cell phone “was without power” on the day of the insurrection, which is irrelevant to why he stashed it in the drawer or whether it would have useful evidence.

Ms. Nordean responded with her own picture showing that, in a picture taken on December 8, 2020, the jewelry box was closed.

This would be a matter of he-said she-said, FBI agents against the wife of a suspect, except for one thing. In her original affidavit, Ms. Nordean tries to rebut the government’s focus on the Baofeng (the government claims the Baofeng he got on January 7 is a different one than the one he used the day of the riot, but in any case the one they seized was set to the channel used by the Proud Boys during the riot), she noted that “it is [her] understanding that his mobile phone was without power throughout January 6, 2021,” a detail the defense relied on to suggest, first of all, that the government was purposefully withholding that detail, and that that — and not the evidence of the Proud Boys discussing obtaining the radios and using a specific channel — is why the government had focused on the Baofeng.

But it does the opposite. A bunch of the Proud Boys brought live cell phones to their insurrection on January 6. William Chrestman appears to have tried avoiding using cell coverage, but got geolocated using his Google account. For Nordean to spend an entire day his phone powered off suggests an operational security that many of his buddies didn’t have. It certainly suggests he might have the wherewithal to search for a passport he might make use of, suggesting it’s possible that he, not the FBI, took the passports out of the jewelry box (though they would have been out there for a day because, per Ms. Nordean, Ethan wasn’t home the night before the raid.

Meanwhile, Thomas Caldwell says the government has similarly misunderstood everything about his involvement in an insurrection. There’s a claim he makes that I find quite compelling: that Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl hid out at his home — and tried to lose a tail on the way there — to hide from the press, not the FBI.

Contrary to the Court’s understanding, Caldwell informed FBI agents that Watkins and Crowl contacted him—not vice-versa–and requested to come to his farm to get away from the media, not law enforcement.22 That is, subsequent to a New Yorker article that identified Watkins and Crowl as being involved in entering the Capitol, their small town Ohio residences were surrounded by scores of media. 23

22 Undersigned counsel reviewed over a thousand social media messages in discovery. Multiple messages from Watkins and Crowl express a desire to run away from the media throng that descended on their small Ohio hometown. Not one message evinces an intent to avoid authorities, who had not yet charged the two with a crime. In fact, Watkins’ mother, who is not a suspect in this case, fled Ohio and hid from the media in Florida. Also, discovery confirms that Watkins and Crowl reached out to Caldwell, not vice-versa.

23 Similarly, the Government’s claim that Caldwell advised Watkins and Crowl to “avoid law enforcement” by making sure that they were not followed to his farm is misplaced. Caldwell’s concern was that the pair weren’t followed by the media to his farm. Caldwell did not want a hundred reporters camped outside his farm.

But in the rest of the filing, Caldwell spins a fairy tale while at the same time he admitted he spends a lot of time spinning fairy tales.

To put his personality in more context, Caldwell is an amateur screen writer. Specifically, Caldwell has written screenplays with military style plots.17 Undersigned counsel has read a couple of these screenplays, which are heavy on hyperbolic military language. To give the Court a sample of his writings, in one screenplay Caldwell depicts a “dog fight” between rival aircraft, with one pilot radioing out “Buzzard One, this is Slingshot, I got two bogies on my six; say again, two bogies on my six; May-day, May-day.” What the Government misunderstands is that Caldwell’s language and personality center around his military career and his addiction to Hollywood.18

Ultimately, the fairy tale Caldwell spins in this filing is that he didn’t conspire to interfere with the vote count, but instead was just aiming to hunt Antifa.

He explained his contacts with the Oath Keepers, who he viewed as a self-styled group of patriots who sought to protect Trump supporters from Antifa and who provided security at Trump events. The concerning social media posts Caldwell made, he explained, all referred to fear that Antifa would attack Trump supporters on January 6th . 21

21 This fear was well-founded. In fact, contrary to the Government’s suggestion that Antifa is a virtuous group with a few bad apples, this organization is a domestic terrorist organization that has taken over cities like Portland and Seattle, burned buildings and churches, killed and injured police officers, defaced and destroyed public monuments, and violently injured hundreds of Trump supporters across the country. In fact, just a month before the Capitol was breached, Antifa attacked elderly Trump supporters at a December rally in Washington.

As part of this fairy tale Caldwell argues that the government has the timeline of the Zello chats included in the evidence against him, and therefore mistook a plan to guard people like Roger Stone for a plan involving the Capitol.

The Court placed great weight on this evidence, as it purported to show a specific, contemporaneous plan to breach the Capitol. In court papers, the Government described the Zello communications as follows:

“At the approximate 5 minute mark, the voice believed to be [codefendant] Watkins reports, “We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.”

“At the approximate 7 minute 44 mark, an unknown male states, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.”

The voice believed to be WATKINS responds, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it . . .[.]” ECF 1-1, ¶27 (ZMF-21-119) (second criminal complaint) (emphasis added).9

The latest indictment includes the same chronological representation, only without time-stamps. The Government’s inference is clear: The Oath Keepers had a plan to invade the Captiol and arrest elected officials, discussed this “invasion plan” at the “5 minute mark,” and were inside the Capitol a few minutes later executing the plan (at the 7:44 mark). Unfortunately, the Court has been misinformed by the Government. Upon receipt of discovery, undersigned counsel discovered that the Government’s Zello evidence actually consists of a National Public Radio (NPR) report, which aired random snippets of Zello communications. The above timestamps the Government referenced are time-stamps in the NPR report, not from Zello. In other words, the referenced Zello communications did not take place 2 minutes and 44 seconds apart in real time.

Ironically, after listening to these Zello communications, the Government’s smoking-gun proof of premeditation fizzles. Specifically, it is clear that the communication regarding “sticking to the plan” happened several hours before the Capitol breach, and probably in the very early morning, as there is no crowd noise in the background. 10 By contrast, the second Zello communication (from inside the Capitol) had substantial background noise.

10 Published reports suggest that as many as 500,000 demonstrators showed up to the rally. The fact that the audio reveals no crowd noise suggests that this particular Zello communication happened before hundreds of thousands of rally-goers entered the streets of Washington.

I’ll return to the temporal claim later. But there are several things that mark this story as a fairy tale. First, he’s complaining that the male voice has no background noise whereas Watkins’ does have background noise. Caldwell is comparing messages from different people in different places.

Moreover, while he nods to the NPR original of this (which he doesn’t cite, but I assume is this WNYC interview), he doesn’t acknowledge two sets of texts that the government has yet to rely on (but surely will), which make it clear the plan was prospective and tied to the Capitol. First, from two blocks away, Watkins reports that everyone is marching on the Capitol.

MILITIA What kind of numbers do we have going into the capital? Any estimates? What percentage of the crowd is going to the capital?

WATKINS One hundred percent. Everybody’s marching on the capital. All million of us. It’s insane. We’re about two blocks away from it now and police are doing nothing. They’re not even trying to stop us at this point. [END CLIP]

And then, a block away, Watkins informs her interlocutor that she’s going to go silent because “Imma be a little busy.”

WATKINS Yeah, we’re one block away from the Capitol now. I’m probably going to go silent when I get there because Imma be a little busy.

INFORMANT Hey, my girlfriend is at the Capitol right now and she said that cops are coming in from the right of the building. [END CLIP]

Even assuming the rest of the excerpts are a jumble (and I expect we’ll get clarity on this point shortly), it’s clear that Watkins’ objective is the Capitol, not guarding Roger Stone.

But there’s one more part of the texts that make that clear: the channel name. “Stop the Steal J6” The Oath Keepers didn’t arrange radio communications to keep Roger Stone safe. They arranged radio communications to stay in touch as they jointly assaulted the Capitol.

But there’s a bigger tell in this filing of fairy tales, the filing that argues Caldwell’s communications can’t be taken literally because he lives in a fantasy world, presents a claim that he believed Antifa presented a serious threat, and then claims that Caldwell’s denials must be believed because, “The word of a 20-year military veteran with no prior criminal record is evidence, and it is strong evidence, of his innocence.” Caldwell tells a fairy tale about the crimes of which he is accused.

Caldwell absolutely denies that he ever planned with members of the Oath Keepers, or any other person or group, to storm the Capitol. Caldwell absolutely denies that he obstructed justice. 3

The issue as to whether Caldwell violated 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1) (Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds) is still being researched by undersigned counsel. Obviously, however, this charge is the least of the Court’s concerns in weighing the factors under the Bail Reform Act.

Caldwell is personally accused of two counts of obstruction. The first, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1), accuses him (like Graydon Young) of attempting to delete damning Facebook content, an accusation this filing rebuts.  But he is singularly and as part of the conspiracy also accused of violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2), 2. The object of the conspiracy is not, as Caldwell would suggest, to storm the Capitol. It was, instead, to stop the electoral vote count.

The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.

This is an accusation his entire fairy tale story doesn’t deny, nor does his narrative about his own actions that day (or the planning leading up to it) rebut the claim.

As I’ve said, at least one part of Caldwell’s story may well be true: that Watkins and Crowl were hiding out from the press, not (yet) the FBI. But none of Caldwell’s re-imagining of the record even attempts to rebut that he and his terrorist buddies were attempting to interfere with the counting of the vote as laid out in the Constitution.

Then again, Judge Mehta may not be his desired audience. Instead, his claim this was all about Antifa may be an attempt to feed GOP efforts to deny they encouraged a terrorist attack on the Capitol.

Update: Took out a reference to Norden’s phone in his daughter’s drawer. That was William Chrestman, not Nordean. I thought I had removed it.

Oath Keepers Learn the Hard Way: Don’t Plan an Insurrection on Facebook

“For every Oath Keeper you see, there are at least two you don’t see.” – email from Oath Keeper head Stewart Rhodes forwarded from Oath Keeper Graydon Young to his sister, Laura Steele, on January 4, 2021

I want to look at filings from the Oath Keepers investigation to show how FBI is juggling to move quickly enough to prevent obvious subjects from obstructing the investigation without tipping off others to the substance of the investigation. The filings confirm that the FBI will get sealed arrest warrants against subjects who are obviously obstructing the investigation, but may not use them right away, so as to obtain more evidence against them and their immediate co-conspirators. The filings also show how hard it is to delete evidence in an age of social media while conspiring with dozens of other co-conspirators.

The investigation from Watkins to Caldwell to the Parkers, Youngs, and Biggs

There’s a story about the Oath Keepers investigation that arises from the nature of the first publicly charged defendants. According to that story, the founder of an Ohio militia affiliated with the Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins, boasted on Parler about “forcing entry into the Capitol” on the day of the attack. Videos of the Oath Keeper Stack showed up in videos posted within a day of the attack. Then, on January 13, the Ohio Capital Journal posted an interview with Watkins where she described it “the most beautiful thing” until she started hearing glass smashing — which she blamed on an Antifa false flag attack (a subsequent filing suggests Watkins wanted the Oath Keepers to get good press from the attack, threatening to sue some male journalist if he portrayed the Oath Keepers negatively).

That’s the evidence the FBI showed to obtain an arrest warrant on Watkins on January 16.

Meanwhile, as the investigation was closing in on Watkins, her recruit Donovan Crowl did an interview with the New Yorker for a story loaded with more images of coordinated movement from the Oath Keepers. Crowl offered similarly contradictory excuses for his action as Watkins.

On January 17, the FBI tried to conduct an interview with Watkins, only to be told by her partner, Montana Siniff, that she left Ohio on January 14 to stay with her friend and fellow Oath Keeper, “Commander Tom.”

At some point, the FBI obtained information from Facebook — they don’t explain when or on whom it was served, which I’ll return to. The return showed that Caldwell coordinated hotel reservations at the Comfort Inn/Ballston, not just with Watkins, but also others from North Carolina, as well as speaking with Crowl. This content may not have been obtained via Caldwell yet, because Caldwell’s private messages don’t show up in filings until January 19 (alternately they may have delayed that reveal until Caldwell was arrested).

But the FBI used that public Facebook information to obtain a warrant for Crowl on January 17. Watkins and Crowl turned themselves into Urbana, OH police that day, where the FBI took them into custody.

On January 13, the Guardian did a story on Watkins’ use of Zello.

“We are in the main dome right now,” said a female militia member, speaking on Zello, her voice competing with the cacophony of a clash with Capitol police. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”

“God bless and godspeed. Keep going,” said a male voice from a quiet environment.

“Jess, do your shit,” said another. “This is what we fucking lived up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

The frenzied exchange took place at 2.44pm in a public Zello channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6”, where Trump supporters at home and in Washington DC discussed the riot as it unfolded. Dynamic group conversations like this exemplify why Zello, a smartphone and PC app, has become popular among militias, which have long fetishized military-like communication on analog radio.

On January 19, the government obtained an amended conspiracy complaint against Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell. It included the following new information:

  • Quotations from the Zello messaging
  • Facebook messaging from Caldwell pictured standing outside the riot calling everyone in Congress a traitor
  • Facebook messages showing planning between Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell between December 24 and January 8
  • Instructions for making plastic explosives found at Watkins’ house

Of particular interest, the complaint included the first hint that the Oath Keepers had intelligence — shared using Facebook — about the movements of Members of Congress.

On January 6, 2021, while at the Capitol, CALDWELL received the following Facebook message: “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in . Turn on gas”. When CALDWELL posted a Facebook message that read, “Inside,” he received the following messages, among others: “Tom take that bitch over”; “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down”; “Do like we had to do when I was in the core start tearing oit florrs go from top to bottom”; and “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps.”

Having arrested the two Oath Keepers blabbing to the press and the guy they hid out with, there’s not much more overt sign of the investigation until February 11, when the government submitted filings supporting pre-trial detention for both Watkins and Caldwell.

Arrest affidavits submitted on February 11 and February 12 (but sealed until after February 16) also refer to Watkins’ cell phone returns, including address book information describing Bennie Parker as a recruit, texts between Watkins and Parker coordinating plans for the insurrection and reassuring him the FBI would not prosecute them after the insurrection, and a picture of his wife Sandi Parker. Watkins’ cell phone returns also show a contact for Kelly Meggs in Florida, which she associated in her address book with the Oath Keepers.

Those initially sealed arrest affidavits also rely on surveillance footage and financial records from the Comfort Inn where all the Ohioans  stayed. It shows the Ohioans together in the lobby. It reveals that Kelly Meggs paid for a room that night registered under another suspected Oath Keeper’s name (according to credit card records showing a $302 charge, Meggs apparently stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn the night of January 7). [Update: The indictment clarifies that Meggs paid for two rooms at the Comfort Inn and booked two at the Hilton, of which he paid for one. h/t bb]

The initial affidavit against Kelly and Connie Meggs and Graydon Young and Laura Steele also includes a picture taken — by some unidentified person — from the van from North Carolina.

The same affidavit includes testimony from a witness who interacted with the Oath Keepers on January 6 and was on a text message chain including Young and Steele, who was introduced to them as Gray and Laura and learned they had taken the Metro into DC. It relies on surveillance video from the Metro. It includes returns from Steele and Young’s Google accounts, including Steele’s application to join the Oath Keepers.

It includes location data showing Graydon Young’s phone traveling from Englewood, FL to Thomasville, NC to Springfield, VA, to DC, then back to Thomasville and ultimately, on January 8, back to Englewood. It includes his round trip flight records from Tampa to Greensboro, consistent with the movement of his phone. The affidavit also uses location data to place Steele and the Meggses in a “geographic area that includes the interior of the United States Capitol building.”

It includes subscriber records for Steele, Young, and Kelly Megg’s MeWe accounts, as well as subscriber records for Facebook accounts for everyone. Of particular note, the affidavit used to arrest Young and the others shows advanced legal process for Young, but mostly subscriber information for the others. They also use Young’s Google data to establish probable cause against the Meggs but do not, yet, use it against Young.

It’s likely in the five days between the affidavit and the arrest, more warrants were served for materials on the others.

There wasn’t much added in a February 25 memo supporting Watkins’ pretrial detention — except that aforementioned Watkins text with Stewart Rhodes complaining about media reports making the Oath Keepers look bad (which, because of the timing of the coverage, likely happened almost a week after the insurrection, or later).

If he has anything negative to say about us OATHKEEPERS, I’ll let you know so we can sue harder. Class action style. Oathkeepers are the shit. They rescued cops, WE saved lives and did all the right things. At the end of the day, this guy better not try us. A lawsuit could even put cash in OK coffers. He doesn’t know who he is playing with. I won’t tolerate a defamation of character, mine or the Patriots we served with in DC. Hooah?!

But in a hearing held February 26, prosecutors told Judge Amit Mehta something in an ex parte hearing to support their argument that there really was a Quick Reaction Force outside of DC on the day of the insurrection ready to bring weapons into the Oath Keepers already in DC, which is one of the reasons he denied Watkins’ motion for release.

The earlier investigation into Graydon Young

It took a while for DOJ to unseal all the filings from the other co-conspirators, particularly the long affidavit for the four southerners. But a docket unsealed last week tells another side of that story. On January 15, a tipster identified Graydon Young, one of the Floridians added to the Caldwell and Watkins conspiracy. Based off that tip, the FBI prepared and got authorization for an arrest warrant by January 18. But they didn’t use it, perhaps because FBI was chasing down two false positives based off pictures of Young, as described in the later affidavit (the first of which may have been based off facial recognition).

First, on or around January 14, 2021, after receiving an internet tip and viewing similar photographs and video of Young from the civil unrest on January 6, 2021, an FBI agent drafted an arrest warrant for an individual (Subject-1) other than Young, based on a review of Subject-1’s driver’s license photo and the fact that Subject-1 was affiliated with the Oath Keepers. An FBI agent in Kansas City, Missouri, who was familiar with Subject-1, then determined that Subject-1 was not the individual depicted in the photos at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The government did not pursue charges against Subject-1. Second, on or around January 15, 2021, a concerned citizen provided the FBI with a tip that the photograph of Young in the Rotunda was a photograph of Subject-2, who was a co-worker of the concerned citizen in Illinois. On January 18, 2021, SA Wren spoke with the concerned citizen, who stated that Subject-2 had quit the job and moved to Colorado, and “seemed like the type” who would have gone to the Capitol. SA Wren reviewed Subject-2’s driver’s license photo and determined that Subject-2 is not the person depicted in the photographs of Young at the U.S. Capitol.

In other words, FBI was prepared to arrest Young by January 18, within a day of the initial Watkins arrest. But they did not. They kept that arrest warrant sealed while they obtained his location records, travel records (including evidence he drove home from North Carolina rather than flying, and had his sister’s car towed back to North Carolina afterwards), and subscriber information for other social media.

At some point (as noted), FBI obtained Young’s Google account. But on February 11, they used that “solely as evidence against Kelly Meggs. At this time, the government is not seeking to use this email against Young,” suggesting they still needed legal process to use it against him.

Don’t launch an insurrection with a still-active Facebook account

Given that the FBI was ready to arrest Graydon Young on January 18, it’s worth looking more closely at the Facebook evidence in this conspiracy.

The FBI learned on January 15 that Young was probably at the insurrection, had been tagged in planning for the event on January 4, and had attempted to delete his Facebook account on January 7 (it went into effect the next day). Young didn’t delete his related Instagram account until January 13.

At some point, the FBI also learned that Caldwell attempted to unsend messages on January 8, the same day Young shut down his Facebook account.

Nevertheless, Facebook still had Young’s data, including a post from January 6 boasting, “We stormed and got inside.”

The government also obtained highly damning Facebook content from much earlier, including a message he posted to a group, the “War of Northern Aggression,” on November 7. In it, he clearly acknowledges Joe Biden’s victory.

Will this group consider migration to MeWe and Parler? I think censorship is going to get worse with Biden win.

On November 9, he asked again to move from Facebook to MeWe and Parler.

On November 30, he pushed MeWe and Parler again.

I already have MeWe and Parler … waiting for this drama to end before I delete my FB account.

Hey Graydon?!?! The drama for you is just beginning.

Meanwhile, Caldwell didn’t succeed in deleting all his evidence either. As early as January 17, in Crowl’s affidavit, they had a message (it’s unclear whether it’s public or private)

Here is the direct number for Comfort Inn Ballston/Arlington 1-571-397-3955 I strongly recommend you guys get one or two rooms for a night or two. Arrive 5th, depart 7th will work. She says there are five of you including a husband and wife new recruits. This time of year especially you will need to be indoors to set up, etc. Really, press this home, just get somebody to put it on a credit card. Even if you tell the hotel its double occupancy, you can STILL get a couple of people on the floor with bedrolls and the hotel won’t know shit. Paul said he might be able to take one or two in his room as well. I spoke to the hotel last night (actually 2 a.m. this morning) and they still had rooms. This is a good location and would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to. 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.

The later affidavits include Caldwell Facebook messages sent in November predicting violence.

I am very worried about the future of our country. Once lawyers get involved all of us normal people get screwed. I believe we will have to get violent to stop this, especially the antifa maggots who are sure to come out en masse even if we get the Prez for 4 more years.

On January 6, Caldwell continued to use Facebook, receiving a message informing him,

All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas.

And,

Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down

Between Young and Caldwell, Facebook evidence shows that this operation clearly targeted legislators even after they knew Joe Biden had been elected. It turns out that neither of them successfully deleted this Facebook content before the drama really got started.

The delayed reveal

As noted, it took some time for the affidavit for the southern Oath Keepers to be unsealed. In the interim period, the FBI would have been able to investigate the Oath Keeper whose name was on the hotel room Young paid for, and all the other people on the bus on which Young and his sister were pictured. The FBI surely has reviewed any role the War of Norther Aggression Facebook group had in the insurrection. The accounts for which the FBI just had subscriber information on February 11 are probably now being fully exploited (including the WeMe accounts on which they may have been more open about their plotting).

There are still members of The Stack at large, the others on the bus, the group from Mississippi those who provided “security” for Trump’s closest associates. We don’t know where the next Oath Keepers to be arrested are. We do know where the FBI was, 17 days ago.

Timeline of Oath Keeper conspiracy

January 4: Young travels from Englewood, FL to Thomasville, NC. Young tagged in planning messaging for the attack.

January 5: Young travels from Thomasville to Springfield, VA, then heads to DC for the evening.

January 6: Young travels into DC, then back to Thomasville that night. Watkins posts to Parler and Caldwell posts to Facebook. Young posts, “we stormed and got inside” on Facebook.

January 7: Young deleted Facebook content going back to March 2019 (per Facebook record it goes into effect on January 8).

January 8: Caldwell unsends Facebook messages continuing evidence. Young returns to Englewood. Young writes an email saying that his “team leader” during the insurrection was “OK Gator 1” with Kelly Meggs’ phone number.

January 9: Watkins texts Bennie Parker telling him not to worry about the FBI investigating them.

January 11: Young has a vehicle registered to Steele’s address towed from a location near his home to Steele’s home in NC. Young deletes his Instagram account.

January 13: Watkins interview in Ohio Capital Journal. Guardian story on Watkins’ use of Zello. Young closes Instagram account.

January 14: Donovan Crowl story in New Yorker. Watkins and Crowl travel to Caldwell’s property in VA; he gives them OpSec tips for the drive. Bennie Parker texts Watkins asking if she put Sandi “out there” in the Capitol. FBI chases a false positive for Young on an Oath Keeper who lives in Kansas City, MO.

January 15: A tipster who has known Young for 35 years identified Young in an image published by NBC, informs the FBI that on January 4, other people had tagged Young in a discussion about traveling to DC. The tipster further revealed that on January 7, Young deleted his Facebook content going back to March 2019, then deleted the whole thing. FBI chases a false positive for Young to someone in CO.

January 16: Arrest warrant for Watkins.

January 17: Search of Watkins’ house discovers gear and other military items. Interview of her partner reveals she has left to stay with a friend, Commander Tom, and provides a phone registered to him at his VA property as the way to reach Watkins. Arrest warrant for Crowl. Search of a location where Crowl stays finds his tactical vest. Arrest warrant for Caldwell. Both Watkins and Crowl turn themselves in to the Urbana Police, where the FBI takes them into custody.

January 18: First arrest warrant for Graydon Young.

January 19: Caldwell, Crowl arrested by FBI, and Watkins arrested. Amended criminal complaint makes conspiracy charges against Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell more formal. Search of Caldwell’s property finds Death List targeting election official from a different, a Gadsden flag signed by Crowl and Watkins, and a sales invoice for a weapon designed to look like a phone.

Janaury 21: Stewart Rhodes declares Biden’s “not a constitutional government.” Kelly Meggs closes his Facebook account.

January 27: Indictment for Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell.

January 29: NYT does video analysis showing the movements of the Oath Keepers from the Ellipse to the Capitol.

February 11: Counterterrorism prosecutors Justin Sher and Alexandra Hughes join team. Motions for pre-trial detention for both Watkins and Caldwell. Sealed complaint filed against Kelly and Connie Meggs, Graydon Young, and Laura Steele.

February 12: Government moves for protective order against the original conspirators; Caldwell objects. Sealed complaint filed against Bennie and Sandi Parker.

February 16: Graydon Young arrested.

February 17: The Meggs and Laura Steele arrested.

February 18: The Parkers arrested.

February 23: Thomas Caldwell appeals detention.

February 26: Amit Mehta grants government motion to detain Jessica Watkins.

Update: I clarified that the email quoted at the top is from Stewart Rhodes, not Graydon Young.

Beryl Howell Takes an Early Swipe at the Trump Made-Me-Do-It Defense and Other Detention Standards

When DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell ordered Richard Barnett detained pending trial, the only record of her judgement — beyond her strong language at the detention hearing — was the order itself, including a paragraph about Barnett’s, “brazen conduct.” When she ordered Rachel Powell released to home detention, she released no opinion.

But when she ordered Proud Boy William Chrestman detained until trial, she wrote a 32-page opinion explaining her thinking. With regards to Chrestman — who threatened a cop, carried an axe-handle as weapon, and organized a cell of people who worked together to prevent police from expelling insurrectionists — Howell judged that his pre-trial detention wasn’t a close call: he poses a danger to the nation.

Defendant’s conduct on January 6 and blatant disregard for the law clearly show that he is a serious danger to the community and the nation, and that no condition or combination of conditions can be imposed that will ensure his compliance with the law pending trial in this matter.

But as one after another DC District judge struggles with the difficult pre-trial detention questions and just days after Judge Amit Mehta noted that some of these legal questions will pertain to a significant number of January 6 decisions, Howell used her decision on Chrestman to address three issues that have been and will continue to be litigated by insurrectionists:

  • Standards for review of magistrate decisions from other districts
  • The distinctions between different roles in the insurrection
  • The claim that Trump ordered or sanctioned insurrection

Magistrate decisions from other districts

As she did with a number of other defendants, after a magistrate in Kansas granted Chrestman pre-trial release, Judge Howell granted an emergency request from prosecutors staying that order for another review. And in at least one case where DC judges reviewed a magistrate’s decision (Dominic Pezzola), the defendant has tried to limit the scope of the review.

In most cases, January 6 defendants will have their cases initially reviewed by a magistrate local to their homes, only to be prosecuted in the DC District.

Perhaps to establish both the primacy and the scope of these District Court orders, in her opinion Howell reviews the requirements for granting a hearing on detention (both Jessica Watkins’ and Thomas Caldwell’s attorneys had argued their charged crimes did not merit a review).

As generally pertinent to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, a detention hearing must be held on the government’s motion when the charged offense involves:

1. “[A] crime of violence,” id. § 3142(f)(1)(A), which is defined broadly as an offense having as an element the attempted, threatened, or actual use of physical force against a person or property of another, or a felony offense that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense, id. § 3156(a)(4)(A)–(B);

2. “[A]n offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed,” id. § 3142(f)(1)(A), which “list” includes “a violation of . . . [18 U.S.C. §] 1361 (relating to government property or contracts),” id. § 2332b(g)(5)(B)(i);4

3. “[A]ny felony that is not otherwise a crime of violence that involves . . . the possession or use of a firearm or destructive device . . . or any other dangerous weapon[,]” id. § 3142(f)(1)(E);

4. “[A] serious risk that such person will flee,” id. § 3142(f)(2)(A); or

5. “[A] serious risk that such person will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, or threaten, injure, or intimidate, or attempt to threaten, injure, or intimidate, a prospective witness or juror,” id. § 3142(f)(2)(B).

A subset of the types of offenses requiring a detention hearing triggers a rebuttable presumption “that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community if the judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed” that subset of offenses. Id. § 3142(e)(3). As pertinent to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, that subset of offenses includes “an offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) of title 18, United States Code, for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed.” Id. § 3142(e)(3)(C).

4 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5) provides a definition for “the term ‘Federal crime of terrorism,’” when the offense is “a violation of” an enumerated list of Federal offenses set out in § 2332b(g)(5)(i)–(iv) and the offense “is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” id. § 2332b(g)(5)(A). While individuals involved in the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol expressed publicly the intent to disrupt a government function in certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and to coerce such disruption by breaching the Capitol, to date, to the knowledge of this Judge, no person charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol has been charged with a “Federal crime of terrorism,” under chapter 113B of title 18, United States Code, but only with separate, predicate enumerated offenses, such as violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361 (relating to government property or contracts).

Howell then reaffirms that when conducting such reviews, District Court judges conduct a de novo review (Dominic Pezzola’s attorney, for example, asked the District judge for a more limited review).

[B]oth the BRA and the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636, support the conclusion, reached by every circuit to have considered the question, that a district court reviews a magistrate judge’s release or detention order de novo.

[snip]

First, the BRA vests the authority to review and ultimately to “determine[]” a motion for review of a pretrial release or detention order in a “judge of a court having original jurisdiction over the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 3145. Even when reviewing an order issued under § 3142, then, the district court exercises its original jurisdiction over the case as a whole, not appellate jurisdiction over the magistrate judge’s release or detention order.

Thus in the Chrestman case and in the hundred or so detention motions that will come, Howell lays out, the DC District judge will — if the government requests a review under the available offenses — decide the detention question.

Distinctions between different roles in the insurrection

Howell then turns to the difficult question of presiding over the detention reviews for hundreds of defendants involved in an unprecedented crime. Before assessing the question with respect to Chrestman, she addresses the question more generally:

The BRA, of course, requires a reviewing court to assess the specific conduct of each defendant, but the varying results in these cases raise the natural question, given the undeniably traumatic events of January 6, of the standard against which a particular defendant’s actions on that day should be evaluated. Before evaluating the nature and circumstances of defendant’s specific conduct, then, consideration of the differentiating factors that warrant pretrial detention of certain defendants facing criminal liability for their participation in the mob and pretrial release of others is helpful.

She lays out the kind of things judges might consider (all but one of which happen to work against Chrestman, but which provide useful guidelines for others). This analysis covers three pages, but the questions she asks (I’ve changed the order slightly) are:

  • Was the defendant charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses?
  • Did the defendant remain on the Capitol grounds or breach the building?
  • Did the defendant engage in planning before arriving at the Capitol, for example by obtaining weapons or gear?
  • Did the defendant carry or use a dangerous weapon?
  • Did the defendant coordinate with other participants before, during, or after the riot?
  • Did the defendant assume a formal or de facto leadership role?
  • Did the defendant injure or attempt to injure others?
  • Did the defendant damage or attempt to damage federal property?
  • Did the defendant threaten federal officers or law enforcement?
  • Did the defendant specifically promote the disruption of the electoral vote?

These questions aren’t surprising. Similar questions (excepting the first) seem to guide the government’s charging decisions. Still, as Howell says explicitly, they offer a “useful framework” to help contextualize each defendant’s actions.

Using these guidelines, she assesses that Chrestman’s actions pose a particularly grave threat to the country.

The nature and circumstances of defendant’s offenses evince a clear disregard for the law, concerted and deliberate efforts to undermine law enforcement, and an apparent willingness to take coordinated, pre-planned, and egregious actions to achieve his unlawful aims, all of which indicate that he poses a danger to the community. This first factor weighs heavily in favor of detention.

Without relying on the framework of terrorism (though she describes Chrestman as “terrorizing elected officials”), Howell places the danger in Chrestman’s pre-planning and coordination to undermine government.

Defenses claiming to be following Trump’s orders

As I noted, in his bid for pre-trial release, Chrestman suggested that he believed he was operating with Trump’s approval.

To prefigure how those offenses relate to the likelihood of Mr. Chrestman succeeding on pretrial release, we must start long before January 6.

It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement. Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did. They watched as their “pro-America, pro-capitalism and pro-Trump” rhetorical strategy “allowed the Proud Boys to gain entry into the Republican mainstream.”11 They watched as law enforcement attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism protestors, but escorted Proud Boys and their allies to safety.12 They watched as their leader, Enrique Tarrio, was named Florida state director of Latinos for Trump.13 They watched the Trump campaign, “well aware of the organized participation of Proud Boys rallies merging into Trump events. They don’t care.”14 They watched when then-President Trump, given an opportunity to disavow the Proud Boys, instead told them to “stand back and stand by.”15 They understood that phrase as “a call to arms and preparedness. It suggests that these groups, who are eager to do violence in any case, have the implicit approval of the state.”16 Having seen enough, the Proud Boys (and many others who heard the same message)17 acted on January 6.

In the guise of addressing Chrestman’s claim that he has a viable defense, even in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him, Howell takes an early swipe at a defense many, if not most, defendants are offering: Trump invited or ordered the insurrectionists to take the illegal actions.

Howell admits she’s reviewing the particular form of the argument Chrestman presented before it has been sufficiently briefed (without also noting that one after another defendant is already trying some version of it).

This theory has not been fully briefed by the parties, and the question of former President Trump’s responsibility, legal, moral, or otherwise, for the events of January 6, 2021 is not before this Court.

Defendant presents this defense only for the limited purpose of counterbalancing the overwhelming weight of the evidence against him.

Nevertheless, Howell reviews the precedents Chrestman invokes to suggest that he might be excused for following Trump’s directions by distinguishing — first of all — between believing that a government official was describing the law accurately and, as happened here, believing that a government official could bless a “waiver of law.”

Nonetheless, in order to measure properly defendant’s potential privilege against liability against the government’s proffer, some exploration of the proposed due process defense is necessary.

Defendant invokes a novel iteration of a complete defense to criminal liability that arises when an individual criminally prosecuted for an offense reasonably relied on statements made by a government official charged with “interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense” and those statements actively misled the individual to believe that his or her conduct was legal. United States v. Cox, 906 F.3d 1170, 1191 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (outlining the elements of the defense). “The defense . . . is based on fundamental fairness concerns of the Due Process Clause,” United States v. Spires, 79 F.3d 464, 466 (5th Cir. 1996), and thus relies on an assessment of whether the challenged prosecution “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental,” Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 202 (1977) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), because of the lack of notice and fairness to the charged defendant. The Supreme Court recognized this defense, sometimes called “entrapment by estoppel,” in three cases, Raley v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 423 (1959), Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559 (1965), and United States v. Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Corp. (“PICCO”), 411 U.S. 655 (1973). Examination of these decisions shows first, that entrapment by estoppel is a narrowly tailored defense, available in very limited circumstances, and second, that this defense does not excuse defendant’s conduct in the instant case.

[snip]

[T]his trilogy of cases gives rise to an entrapment by estoppel defense under the Due Process Clause. That defense, however, is far more restricted than the capacious interpretation suggested by defendant, that “[i]f a federal official directs or permits a citizen to perform an act, the federal government cannot punish that act under the Due Process Clause.” Def.’s Mem. at 7. The few courts of appeals decisions to have addressed the reach of this trilogy of cases beyond their facts have distilled the limitations inherent in the facts of Raley, Cox, and PICCO into a fairly restrictive definition of the entrapment by estoppel defense that sets a high bar for defendants seeking to invoke it. Thus, “[t]o win an entrapment-by-estoppel claim, a defendant criminally prosecuted for an offense must prove (1) that a government agent actively misled him about the state of the law defining the offense; (2) that the government agent was responsible for interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense; (3) that the defendant actually relied on the agent’s misleading pronouncement in committing the offense; and (4) that the defendant’s reliance was reasonable in light of the identity of the agent, the point of law misrepresented, and the substance of the misrepresentation.” Cox, 906 F.3d at 1191 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The Court need not dally over the particulars of the defense to observe that, as applied generally to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, an entrapment by estoppel defense is likely to fail. Central to Raley, Cox, and PICCO is the fact that the government actors in question provided relatively narrow misstatements of the law that bore directly on a defendant’s specific conduct. Each case involved either a misunderstanding of the controlling law or an effort by a government actor to answer to complex or ambiguous legal questions defining the scope of prohibited conduct under a given statute. Though the impact of the misrepresentations in these cases was ultimately to “forgive a breach of the criminal laws,” Cox, 379 U.S. at 588 (Clark, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), none of the statements made by these actors implicated the potential “waiver of law,” or indeed, any intention to encourage the defendants to circumvent the law, that the Cox majority suggested would fall beyond the reach of the entrapment by estoppel defense, id. at 569. Moreover, in all three cases, the government actors’ statements were made in the specific exercise of the powers lawfully entrusted to them, of examining witnesses at Commission hearings, monitoring the location of demonstrations, and issuing technical regulations under a particular statute, respectively.

In contrast, January 6 defendants asserting the entrapment by estoppel defense could not argue that they were at all uncertain as to whether their conduct ran afoul of the criminal law, given the obvious police barricades, police lines, and police orders restricting entry at the Capitol. Rather, they would contend, as defendant does here, that “[t]he former President gave th[e] permission and privilege to the assembled mob on January 6” to violate the law. Def.’s Mem. at 11. The defense would not be premised, as it was in Raley, Cox, and PICCO, on a defendant’s confusion about the state of the law and a government official’s clarifying, if inaccurate, representations. It would instead rely on the premise that a defendant, though aware that his intended conduct was illegal, acted under the belief President Trump had waived the entire corpus of criminal law as it applied to the mob. [my emphasis]

Moreover, the instructions Trump purportedly gave cannot be deemed part of his job. Howell argues that under both the Take Care Clause and the Constitution, Trump cannot sanction illegal or unconstitutional acts.

No American President holds the power to sanction unlawful actions because this would make a farce of the rule of law. Just as the Supreme Court made clear in Cox that no Chief of Police could sanction “murder[] or robbery,” 379 U.S. at 569, notwithstanding this position of authority, no President may unilaterally abrogate criminal laws duly enacted by Congress as they apply to a subgroup of his most vehement supporters. Accepting that premise, even for the limited purpose of immunizing defendant and others similarly situated from criminal liability, would require this Court to accept that the President may prospectively shield whomever he pleases from prosecution simply by advising them that their conduct is lawful, in dereliction of his constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

[snip]

[A] President cannot, within the confines of his constitutional authority, prevent the constitutionally mandated certification of the results of a Presidential Election or encourage others to do so on his behalf, nor can he direct an assault on the coequal Legislative branch of government. Were a President to attempt to condone such conduct, he would act ultra vires and thus without the force of his constitutional authority.

This gets close to the argument I keep making, that a key step Trump took that day (and riled up the mob when it didn’t work) was to give another Constitutional officer, Mike Pence, an unconstitutional order. And I was surprised that Howell didn’t mention pardons, a means by which Trump, at least, has forgiven the illegal obstruction of justice done for his behalf. Similarly, I would expect more focus on the separation of powers.

Still, it’s a framework for responding to what already is a sea of defendants claiming they can’t be held accountable for their crimes because Donald Trump invited or ordered them to commit the crimes. And does so within a broader framework that may provide DC District judges some way to approach the detention challenges with some measure of consistency.

Dominic Pezzola Guesses Wrong, Gets Labeled a Terrorist for His Troubles

As I’ve been following, the detention challenges for January 6 defendants have raised real questions about how the government and the courts will treat the event. The government and Jessica Watkins have provided additional briefing on whether her actions merit a rebuttable presumption of detention; they will revisit these issues today in a hearing before Judge Amit Mehta.

As I’ve noted, the Watkins case is close because the people with whom she conspired with did not, themselves, commit the acts of violence the government is using to argue for pre-trial detention.

Not so Dominic Pezzola, the Proud Boy who was the first to break a window to enter the Capitol. Earlier this week, he filed a motion to review bail arguing, in significant part, that the witness on whose testimony the government relied to establish intent of future violent crimes was the guy who recruited him into the Proud Boys, someone Pezzola claims bragged of macing a cop during the insurrection.

Pezzola guessed wrong about the witness, the government says. As far as the government knows, there was no tie between this witness and Pezzola prior to January 5 (which suggests this is someone Pezzola met the night before the attack).

The defendant speculates that W-1 is a “cooperating witness” with deeper ties to the Proud Boys than the defendant. The defense is incorrect. W-1 has not been charged with a crime in connection with the events of January 6, 2021, and the government is unaware of any affiliation between W-1 and the Proud Boys or any indication that W-1 knew the defendant prior to January 5, 2021.

But, having been given a chance to respond to Pezzola’s bid for release, the government has solidified the argument they’re making in other cases, in which they have less direct evidence than they have against Pezzola.

In Magistrate Robin Meriweather’s initial judgement denying Pezzola bail, she judged that no conditions of bail would eliminate the public safety risk posed by Pezzola. But she found that Pezzola had presented sufficient evidence to overcome a rebuttable presumption of detention, and specifically found that his family ties to Rochester, NY, made him less of a flight risk.

When Pezzola requested a review of Meriweather’s decision, he argued that Judge Timothy Kelly should accept Meriweather’s rulings in his favor, but revisit her judgment that he posed a threat to society.

That’s not how it works, noted prosecutor Eric Kennerson.

Although he acknowledges that this Court’s review is de novo, the defendant asks this Court not to reconsider certain findings made by the Magistrate Judge, including her finding that the presumption in favor of detention was rebutted and her decision not to address the government’s arguments regarding the defendant’s risk of flight. ECF No. 19 at 1-2. Because this Court’s review is de novo across the board, the government asks the Court to apply the statutory presumption of detention, which we submit has not been rebutted for the reasons stated below, and find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is a serious risk of flight.

He used his response to a request a reconsideration of those earlier decisions relying, in part, on the indictment that was obtained on the same day he had submitted his earlier motion for detention, in which Kennerson noted that, “The government acknowledges that the defendant is not charged with these offenses at the time this memorandum is submitted,” presumably knowing that Pezzola would be charged with such crimes within hours.

Relying on the indictment, Kennerson argued that Pezzola committed two crimes — felony destruction of government property (for breaking the window of the Capitol) and robbery of US Government property (for stealing a cop’s riot shield, which he used to break the window) — that constitute crimes of violence bringing a presumption of detention, and then labeled the conduct a crime of terrorism.

Felony destruction of property, under the facts as laid out above, is a federal crime of terrorism. Title 18, U.S.C., Section 2332b(g)(5), defines “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that “is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct” and is included in an enumerated list of statutes, which includes § 1361. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 2332b(g)(5)(A) & (B). The Grand Jury found probable cause in Count Seven of the Indictment to believe that the defendant intended to obstruct an official proceeding by committing, among other things, acts of civil disorder and breaking a window. The defendant has conceded that his conduct was calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government—specifically the certification of the Electoral College vote—and his actions show that he participated in doing so by intimidation and/or coercion. Moreover, because § 1361 is listed in § 2332b(g)(5)(B), there is a rebuttable presumption that no conditions or combination of conditions can assure community safety or the defendant’s appearance. See 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(B).

Felony destruction of government property is also a crime of violence. For purposes of the bail statute, as relevant to these offenses, a crime of violence is defined as “an offense that has an element of the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another,” if that crime is punishable by ten years or more in prison. See 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(A) & 16. Section 1361 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code meets those requirements. It is punishable by ten years if the property damage was greater than $1,000, and its elements include the use of physical force against the property of another. See United States v. Khatallah, 316 F. Supp. 2d 207, 213 (D.D.C. 2018) (Cooper, J.) (holding that destruction of government property under a substantially similar statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1363, satisfies a substantially similar elements clause statute to qualify as a crime of violence).

Robbery of U.S. Government Property is also a crime of violence. See United States v. Alomante-Nunez, 963 F.3d 58, 67 (1st Cir. 2020), citing Stokeling v. United States 139 S. Ct. 544 (2019) (holding that common-law robbery meets the elements test of a different, but substantially similar statute, to qualify as a crime of violence). But see United States v. Bell, 158 F. Supp. 3d 906, 919 (N.D. Cal. 2016) (holding that § 2112 does not meet the elements test, although that opinion was issued prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Stokeling).

Kennerson’s filing repeatedly tied the violence to the admitted ends of delaying the vote certification, relying among other things on a citation to Pezzola’s own filing.

The defendant concedes in his motion that smoked the victory cigar because “he considered the objective achieved, stopping the certification of the election pursuant to the instructions of the then President.” ECF No. 19 at 4.

[snip]

The defense’s admission that the defendant’s objective that day was to stop the certification of the Electoral College vote does not help his position. In essence, he took an active role at the front of a mob that displaced Congress, in an attempt to stop that body from certifying the result of a Presidential election. As Judge Lamberth recently found, “[s]uch conduct threatens the Republic itself.” See United States v. Munchel, et. al., No. 21-cr-118 (RCL), ECF No. 24 at 11. See also United States v. Meggs, No. 5:21-mj-1036-PRL (S.D. Fla.) (Lammens, M.J.), ECF No. 17, at 4 (“The [January 6] attack wasn’t just one on an entire branch of our government (including a member of the executive branch), but it was an attack on the very foundation of our democracy.”)

[snip]

The defendant’s actions show that as recently as a month and a half ago, he was willing to partake in and take advantage of violence to achieve his political ends. The Court can have no assurance that he will refrain from doing so again, despite his alleged disavowal of the Proud Boys since he has been detained.

The cases for detention against the January 6 defendants are all over the map, with more evidence of direct violence in some cases and more evidence of coordination with a terrorist group in others. As the government tries to detain members of the latter — including Watkins and her co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell — they have inched closer to using the terrorism label to describe what happened on the day.

In Pezzola’s case, they’re doing so with a defendant who actions played a singularly important role in the success of the insurrection, someone who directly engaged in violence, and someone who has already admitted that the goal was to intimidate Congress.

All these other cases will be influenced by (and in some cases, will build on) these earlier seminal cases. By asking for reconsideration of bail, Pezzola gave the government an opportunity to present the evidence they had not yet made public earlier in this prosecution.

Government Uses T-Word about the Oath Keepers

As noted in an update here, Jessica Watkins has now conceded that she didn’t meet with the Secret Service on January 6. Rather, as she entered a pen for VIPs, she obeyed when they told her stash her tactical gear outside the pen, which means hours before she stormed the Capitol believing that protected persons Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Grassley, and Kamala Harris were inside wearing that tactical gear, she had been told by the Secret Service not to wear it around protected persons.

She has also admitted that the Butler County jail put her on suicide watch when she went on a hunger strike, but insists that because she doesn’t believe she was suicidal, the treatment must have been retaliation because she’s transgender (which wasn’t public at the time). None of that eliminates the danger to transgender people in prison or the inhumanity of suicide watch as imposed by US jails and prisons, but she does admit she has been, “treated with respect and dignity” in the DC jail.

That “clarification” was submitted too late for the government to address it. But in their response to Watkins’ motion for bail, they addressed the problem I laid out — that the government has not provided direct evidence tying Watkins’ cell to the violence of destroying the Capitol doors, but has relied on the destruction, generally, to adopt a presumption of detention — this way:

The defendant cannot rebut the presumption of detention in this case. First, she has been charged and now indicted by a federal grand jury for Aiding and Abetting in the Destruction of Government Property, an enumerated offense under 18 U.S.C § 2332(b)(g)(5)(B) from which the presumption of detention arises. The evidence remains unrebutted that she participated in a violent mob that broke the door through which she “forc[ed] entry into the Capitol” moments later. The defendant argues that she did not intend to destroy property and even told others not to engage in such conduct (at 8), however, has no explanation for the video depicting her, along with other Oath Keeper members and associates, gleefully embedded within this mob outside of the Capitol building before moving inside with them after the door was breached. As she stated in the “Stop the Steal J6” Zello app channel, “We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.” (ECF 15 at 2). Any confusion about the defendant’s intent behind this action, as well as whether law enforcement approved of the breach and entry, is clarified by her January 6 Parler post in which she responds to a comment challenging whether she actually forced entry by confirming, “Nope. Forced. Like Rugby. We entered through the back door of the Capitol.” See Criminal Complaint, January 19, 2021 (ECF 1 at 9).

Second, because the defendant has been indicted on an enumerated offense “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government,” the defendant has been charged with a federal crime of terrorism as defined under 18 U.S.C §§ 2332b(g)(5). Therefore, an additional basis for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(g)(1) is applicable. Indeed, the purpose of the aforementioned “plan” that the defendant stated they were “sticking to” in the Zello app channel became startlingly clear when the command over that same Zello app channel was made that, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” Id. [my emphasis]

The government further relies on communications from October 15 (again, demonstrating the problems with Watkins’ own timeline) and texts directly with Stewart Rhodes to lay out her ideology.

While the defendant asserts that she was just following the constitution and is respectful of law and order (at 4), her adherence is clearly subject to her own understanding of what the Constitution and law mean. As Watkins stated in a text message sent to a recruit on October 15, 2020, when describing her militia: “We are Constitutionalists: non-racial, non-partisan, pro-government so long as that Gov’t follows the Constitution.” The notion that “[s]he recognizes that former President Trump is just that – a former President,” (at 4-5) is belied by the defendant’s statements urging for the need to “fight, kill, and die for our rights” should Biden “still be our President.” (ECF 15 at 4).

[snip]

Finally, detention is necessary because the defendant’s release poses a serious risk of flight. 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(2). She has indicated a willingness to go “underground if this coup [Biden election] works,” which comports with the “Warning” issued by the Oath Keeper leader, Person One, calling the current administration “an illegitimate regime” and on members to refuse to obey any acts or orders flowing from this government that are necessarily unconstitutional. (ECF 15 at 13). Moreover, her allegiance to the Oath Keepers and belief in the righteousness of her actions on January 6th has only calcified in the days since. When discussing over text with Person One a media report that portrayed her conduct and that of her fellow Oath Keepers from that day in a negative light, the defendant maintained,

If he has anything negative to say about us OATHKEEPERS, I’ll let you know so we can sue harder. Class action style. Oathkeepers are the shit. They rescued cops, WE saved lives and did all the right things. At the end of the day, this guy better not try us. A lawsuit could even put cash in OK coffers. He doesn’t know who he is playing with. I won’t tolerate a defamation of character, mine or the Patriots we served with in DC. Hooah?!

She has a detention hearing today, which will be an early test of the government’s attenuated use of the damage to the Capitol to label this as terrorism.

The government has shown she planned and trained a cell to fight Joe Biden’s government starting even before the election. Watkins herself has now shown that the Secret Service told her to take off her tactical gear when entering a secured area. The government has now shown she doubled down on her allegiance to the Oath Keepers after the destruction of the insurrection became clear.

We’ll see later today whether that’s sufficient cause to label someone a terrorist.

The Broken Windows Terrorism Enhancement and Detention of the January 6 Insurrectionists

In this post, I described how Jessica Watkins’ defense attorney, Michelle Peterson, admitted how damning her client’s own description of her actions was, but then invented a false timeline to explain away those statements. Peterson also said that evidence about Stewart Rhodes’ plans for the Oath Keepers to replicate January 6 can’t be held against her client because Watkins was already in jail when Rhodes made those comments, but also says Watkins — who in November, before the Trump rallies that Watkins’ own lawyer cited to explain Watkins’ actions, said she’d go underground if Biden assumed the Presidency — can be released while those plans are ongoing. (Peterson is also arguing that Watkins should go back to running the bar where she recruited co-conspirator Donovan Crowl.)

I think Peterson’s argument fails because the evidence doesn’t match her claims. But she makes an argument that I think will be compelling for some other Oath Keeper defendants.

The government conspiracy charge against nine Oath Keepers alleges a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (the counting of the electoral vote), obstruction of that proceeding, and forcibly entering the Capitol while the Vice President was present. The evidence for those allegations is all clear cut.

But as I described in the post, the government also charges the nine Oath Keepers with destruction of government property and aiding and abetting such destruction.

The indictment only describes destruction in two places: in the general boilerplate description of the event used against all January 6 defendants, and describing the door through which The Stack entered the Capitol, around 40 minutes after the Capitol was initially breached.

In the course of these events, approximately 81 members of the Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage-including broken windows and doors, graffiti, and residue from pepper spray, tear gas, and fire extinguishers deployed both by crowd members who stormed the Capitol and by Capitol Police officers trying to restore order. Additionally, many media members were assaulted and had cameras and other news-gathering equipment destroyed.

[snip]

The Capitol building doors through which CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, YOUNG, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, and the others in their group breached suffered significant damage.

The government implicates the Oath Keepers in this destruction via an aiding and abetting charge.

It’s on that basis that the government initially moved to detain Watkins.

Watkins made her initial appearance in the Southern District of Ohio on January 19, 2021, and the government moved for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(f)(1)(A), on the basis that 18 U.S.C. § 1361 is a crime of violence.

While they don’t explain it specifically in that motion (but the government does elsewhere for other defendants, such as for the Proud Boys’ Ethan Nordean), effectively the government is using the damage done to a government building to get presumption of detention under 18 USC 2332b‘s terrorism enhancement.

Peterson argues that the Watkins’ crimes are not crimes of violence.

The offenses charged are not crimes of violence. While violence was committed on January 6, 2021, and those responsible will be held accountable, that is not the issue before the Court in determining whether Ms. Watkins must be held in custody pending the outcome of her case. Rather the question is solely whether or not there are conditions that can reasonably assure the safety of the community and her appearance until this case is resolved in whatever manner it is resolved. Here, the government has not presented any evidence that Ms. Watkins committed any violence. Their evidence is that 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached, she went to the Capitol and entered the building. By that time, the door had already been opened. The government acknowledges that “the crowd aggressively and repeatedly pulled on and assaulted” the doors of the building to get inside, causing damage. Ms. Watkins is charged with aiding and abetting this offense, but there is no evidence that this was something she had a criminal intent to do. She would have to have shared in the intent to destroy property, when in fact, she attempted to stop people from destroying property.

Peterson argues that the body cameras of some of the cops with whom Watkins interacted will show her trying to prevent damage (though, as noted, Peterson’s explanation for Watkins’ description of the beauty of breaching the Capitol is utterly inconsistent with the actual comments Watkins made, which framed that beauty specifically in terms of fighting cops).

Peterson’s argument here is important, and it will be very compelling for those Oath Keeper defendants who didn’t leave tracks of messages describing efforts to train a militia to take out the federal government even before Trump’s incitement to violence cited by the defense started. While there might be evidence from other Oath Keepers the government is investigating (remember there is a busload of Oath Keepers from NC who were coordinating with the charged co-conspirators, along with the Quick Reaction Force ready to bring additional weapons, as well as a few more known Oath Keepers who directly confronted cops), nothing in the record thus far shows The Stack had a direct role in the damage to the Capitol.

Compare with the Proud Boys to understand the significance of this. In that case, Dominic Pezzola, in fairly obvious coordination with others, was the very first person to break a window allowing the breach of the Capitol. While the other Proud Boys are not yet charged in a conspiracy with Pezzola, there’s every likelihood they will be, in which case a claim that they worked together to break that window will be reasonable and detention claims based on that property damage against co-conspirators substantiated.

In the apparent Proud Boys plot to breach the Capitol and delay the vote count, breaking that window was a fundamental part of the conspiracy.

This is the same problem the government has — and will face on appeal — with Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, Lisa Eisenhart. While mother and son clearly had intent to obstruct the counting of the vote and Munchel came armed with a taser, there’s no evidence that they were working in concert with those who committed the violence or did the damage to the Capitol.

In both the Munchel case and the Oath Keepers case, the government might believe or might have believed they could rely on another terrorism enhancement, attempted kidnapping of  congressional or cabinet targets (18 USC 351), kidnapping of Presidential staff (18 USC 1751a) or hostage taking (18 USC 1203). The government has argued, for example, that Munchel and his mom are the only ones who saw the Capitol Police zip ties sitting out in public and seized them, after which Munchel headed to where the vote was being counted in the Senate chamber, supporting a supposition he would have detained Senators if he had had the chance.

One of the Oath Keepers on the Zello channel Watkins was using (it’s unclear whether the government has IDed this person yet) told her she was executing a citizens arrest based on probable cause for treason and election fraud, implying a plan to detain members of Congress.

An individual directed, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” WATKINS responded, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.” An individual responded to WATKINS, telling her to be safe, and stated, “Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

That is, in both cases, there’s reason to suspect the intent was to detain members of Congress — possibly even Mike Pence himself — but that hasn’t been charged against either Munchel and his mom or the Oath Keepers.

The government also may have reason to believe the Oath Keepers conspiracy will ultimately merge with the Proud Boys conspiracy, putting the former on the hook for the violence of the latter.

There’s evidence, for example, that Oath Keeper co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell was trying to coordinate between the militias. By December 23, he described to someone what he knew of the Proud Boys’ plans.

Okay. I got your msg that maybe a whole bunch of you will be going to the rally which is great. [Person Two] and I are going for sure and as of now a bunch of the Oathkeepers from North Carolina whowe hosted here on the farm for the Million Maga march are coming up on one or two buses so that will be neat. I am expecting a big turn out of the Proud Boys (didn’t know until the last march that they had a chapter in Charlestown) and of course the local Vietnamese will probably have at least 2 bus loads like last time. We will keep in touch. I gotta get off my ass and get on parler. I picked up Signal which is a free app that is encrypted talk and text. Thats how I do some secure comms with the Oathkeepers.

On December 30, he reached out to someone in the Three Percenter movement and asked to be included in their plans.

“[A]re you and any of your fellow 3-percenters having any kind of meetings coming up to discuss the 6th of Jan in d.c. or just getting together? I would like to meet some of the guys if you think I ‘m cool enough.” That individual responded, “You can join our group if you want but you have to be veted before you can attend any training events or zoom meetings. Ill get with ya this evening.” In part, Caldwell replied, “Outstanding!”

While there’s no sign yet of a conspiracy charge against the Three Percenters, one of the three people charged together in beating a prone cop, Thomas Lopatic, wore Three Percenter clothes. The father who threatened to kill his kids if they reported his involvement (who mounted the scaffolding used in a flanking move in the breach), Guy Reffitt, is a member. Most intriguingly, Robert Gieswein, who marched with and coordinated with the Proud Boys in the original breach and is also charged with assaulting cops while wielding a baseball bat and some kind of spray, also has ties to the Three Percenters.

There’s also reason to believe that the December MAGA March provided a key networking opportunity in advance of January 6 — for example, Pezzola spent time there with Roger Stone bodyguard, Robert Minuta.

Indeed, one of the likely nodes between the two main militia groups charged with conspiracy is Roger Stone, who was hanging out with both of them. Heck, even Rudy Giuliani, a key proponent of a very different theory of law enforcement involving broken windows, could be such a node.

So it’s possible that as FBI exploits more communications and starts to flip cooperators, they’ll tie the coordinated actions of the various militia together. But they’re not there yet. And until they do that, it’s not clear that the government has the evidence to detain Oath Keeper foot soldiers or random militia sympathizers pre-trial.

The government makes a very good case that the far right — particularly these three groups — have plans to follow up on January 6, plans for which the existing leadership arrested as part of January 6 could play a key role. This is what I’ve pointed to repeatedly (most clearly with Munchel). January 6 was an unprecedented insurgent attack on the country. But that unprecedented attack can look like either civil disobedience involving legally owned weapons or a threat to the Republic. Because of that, it’s not entirely clear how the government’s attempts to detain key figures pre-trial will work out.

Jessica Watkins Defends Herself by Claiming the Armed Militia Parade Was Part of the Plan

In a bid to spring her client from jail pre-trial, Jessica Watkins’ attorney Michelle Peterson accuses the government, twice, of wielding rhetorical flourishes to portray Watkins’ actions in the worst light.

The government’s rhetorical flourishes aside, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Ms. Watkins would be either a risk of flight or a danger to her community if she were released on stringent conditions.

[snip]

The government’s motion for detention is filled with rhetorical flourishes design to inflame the passions of its readers without supporting evidence, e.g., “Watkins single-minded devotion to obstruct though violence” p.1, “this was a moment to relish in the swirling violence in the air” p. 2, and references throughout to her attire as “camouflage.”

It’s true that the government motion for detention portrays Watkins’ actions as a grave threat.

The profoundly brazen nature of Watkins’s participation in the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol was uniquely dangerous and continues to impact security in the District and beyond. Watkins joined a violent mob that overwhelmed law enforcement and destroyed government property, re-creating in modern times events not seen in this nation since the War of 1812. In this backdrop, Watkins and her co-conspirators formed a subset of the most extreme insurgents that plotted then tried to execute a sophisticated plan to forcibly stop the results of a Presidential Election from taking effect. And she did this in coordination and in concert with a virulently antigovernment militia members.

But Peterson accuses the government of rhetorical excess while excusing Watkins’ own actions and inflamed self-description of them by suggesting that Watkins was simply helpless in the face of Trump’s lies.

His supporters said he would invoke the Insurrection Act to use the military to ensure his continued presidency despite the election results, which they viewed as fraudulently reported in large measure because of the rhetoric of the President, his congressional supporters, and the right-wing media.

[snip]

However, these statements if made, were made in November, shortly after the election in the wake of the then President’s heated rhetoric about the election being stolen.

[snip]

While some of the rhetoric she allegedly engaged in is troubling, she fell prey to the false and inflammatory claims of the former president, his supporters, and the right wing media.

Unless and until Trump’s own crimes get added to these conspiracy indictments, these detention memos will continue to dispute what to call the terrorist event that happened on January 6. Until that time, the government will be relying on legal maneuvers, like charging the Oath Keepers with abetting the physical damage to the Capitol — because the doors through which they breached the building suffered significant damage — as a way to get the presumption of detention tied to a domestic terrorism charge. And defense attorneys will continue to argue that entering the Capitol in military formation after two months of preparation for action in response to the election outcome does not amount to a crime of violence.

I don’t believe we need a domestic terror statute. But we need language to describe domestic terrorism. Because we don’t have agreed on language for this thing, an event that forced the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the Vice President-Elect to flee from threats of imminent assassination, these disputes will continue to struggle to fit these actions into our existing categories.

Still, even in Peterson’s description of the problem, there are problems with this story. Watkins’ brief admits that she engaged in apocalyptic rhetoric, but suggests that all happened in November, long before and dissociated from the apocalyptic event.

The government includes statements Ms. Watkins is alleged to have made about the election and the need to fight, kill, or die for rights and statements about being prepared to fight hand to hand. However, these statements if made, were made in November, shortly after the election in the wake of the then President’s heated rhetoric about the election being stolen. They are not even alleged to have been made about the January 6 events. The statements were not directed towards law enforcement and are as easily interpreted as being prepared to encounter violent counterprotesters as they had on earlier occasions. And importantly, according to the government, Ms. Watkins made it clear that she would do nothing that was not specifically requested by the President. However misguided, this shows an intent to abide by the law, not violate it. [my emphasis]

Peterson describes the events of January 6, by contrast, as the natural response of veterans anticipating that the then-President might invoke the Insurrection Act, as his disgraced former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and others demanded.

His supporters said he would invoke the Insurrection Act to use the military to ensure his continued presidency despite the election results, which they viewed as fraudulently reported in large measure because of the rhetoric of the President, his congressional supporters, and the right-wing media. The report of the potential invocation of the Insurrection Act took root in the online community of Trump supporters and led many local militias to believe they would have a role if this were to happen. Ms. Watkins was one of those people. In November, she believed that the President of the United States was calling upon her and her small militia group to support the President and the Constitution and she was ready to serve her Country in that manner. However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government.

The problem is, these claims are totally refuted by the timeline.

Flynn was probably the earliest prominent advocate for martial law. That was on December 1, after the November comments in question. Watkins, meanwhile, was looking for a sign even before that, on November 9.

Her concern about taking action without his backing was evident in a November 9, 2020, text in which she stated, “I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it’s not legit. The POTUS has the right to activate units too. If Trump asks me to come, I will. Otherwise, I can’t trust it.”

That’s before the earliest Trump incitement cited by the defense, a November 21 rally in GA.

See id., Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (Nov. 21, 2020 3:34 PM) (Watch: Hundreds of Activists Gather for ‘Stop the Steal‘ Rally in Georgia https://t.co/vUG1bqG9yg via Breitbart News Big Rallies all over the Country.

The earliest moment when Watkins spoke specifically in terms of the Insurrection Act was December 29, long after some of her most inflammatory comments.

In a text exchange with Co-defendant Donovan Crowl on December 29, 2020, she informed, “[w]e plan on going to DC on the 6th” because “Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,” and how, “[i]f Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it.”

Yet as early as October 26, Watkins was already timing militia training to inauguration.

Watkins emphasized this point to another recruit on October 26, 2020, noting, “the election is imminent. We do have Basic Training/FRX coming up in January though … others who join before then without experience will be REQUIRED to attend for the full week. Donovan already has his Drill Sergeant mode going haha. The rest of us will be training with them to get us all field-ready before inauguration.”

That shows a continuity between Watkins’ pre-election statements and post election plans.

On November 9,2020, WATKINS, the self-described “C.O. [Commanding Officerl of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” sent text messages to a number of individuals who had expressed interest in joining the Ohio State Regular Militia. In these messages, WATKINS mentioned, among other things, that the militia had a weekJong “Basic Training class coming up in the beginning of January,” and WATKINS told one recruit, “l need you fighting fit by innaugeration.”

And some of her most inflammatory language came in mid-November, such as when, on November 17, she spoke of killing and dying for “our” rights.

I can’t predict. I don’t underestimate the resolve of the Deep State. Biden may still yet be our President. If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.

and:

[I]f Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet.

Or, her comments on November 19 about going “underground if this coup works.”

Indeed, on November 19, 2021, Watkins went so far as to text a contact that, “If anything, we need to go underground if this coup works,” as well as for the need “to be cautious as hell going forward” since “[i]f they still this election, we are all targets after Jan 20th.”

Again, this precedes the first instance of incitement from Trump cited by Watkins’ attorney, on November 21.

Moreover, Peterson’s claim that when Watkins spoke of the beauty of the insurrection to a reporter, she was just referring to the National Anthem, is totally refuted by the actual record.

Their evidence is that 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached, she went to the Capitol and entered the building. By that time, the door had already been opened. The government acknowledges that “the crowd aggressively and repeatedly pulled on and assaulted” the doors of the building to get inside, causing damage. Ms. Watkins is charged with aiding and abetting this offense, but there is no evidence that this was something she had a criminal intent to do. She would have to have shared in the intent to destroy property, when in fact, she attempted to stop people from destroying property. She talked of the beauty of the peaceful protest, but acknowledged that it was only beautiful until she started hearing glass break. When she spoke of the beauty, she was referring not to the violence, but to the chants of USA and the singing of the National Anthem.

In the actual interview, Watkins specifically spoke of “standing our ground” against the cops because “they attacked us.”

“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash. That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.” Watkins also states, “We never smashed anything, stole anything, burned anything, and truthfully we were very respectful with Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us. Then we stood our ground and drew the line.”

Her claim that “they attacked us,” may reflect her co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell’s false claim that the cops were “teargassing peaceful protestors.”

On January 6,2021, at approximately 2:06 p.m., CALDWELL sent WATKINS a text message stating: “Where are you? Pence has punked out. We are screwed. Teargassing peaceful protesters at capital steps. Getting rowdy here… I am here at the dry fountain to the left ofthe Capitol[.]”

That is, it’s not just Donald Trump who riled her up. So did her buddies in the militia (as she riled up fellow members).

Moreover, Watkins’ lawyer makes much of the fact that Watkins’ formation did not enter the Capitol until 40 minutes after it was breached. But that was long after she operated on a belief that the cops had targeted “protestors,” and it reflected actions planned a week in advance.

Perhaps the most intriguing comments in Watkins’ filing — and the most unintentionally damning — are the description of Watkins serving as “escort” or “security” for pro-Trump politicians.

Ms. Watkins has no prior history of violence and has tremendous respect for law enforcement and the Constitution of the United States. Indeed, although misguided, she believed she was supporting the Constitution and her government by providing security services at the rally organized by Mr. Trump and the republican lawmakers who supported his goals.

[snip]

On January 5 and 6, Ms. Watkins was present not as an insurrectionist, but to provide security to the speakers at the rally, to provide escort for the legislators and others to march to the Capitol as directed by the then President, and to safely escort protestors away from the Capitol to their vehicles and cars at the conclusion of the protest. She was given a VIP pass to the rally. She met with Secret Service agents. She was within 50 feet of the stage during the rally to provide security for the speakers. At the time the Capitol was breached, she was still at the sight of the initial rally where she had provided security. The government concedes that her arrival at the Capitol was a full 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached. [my emphasis]

I believe this is the first description of the Oath Keepers’ role as “security” as these events in any of the legal filings in the case. But it doesn’t seem to help any of the co-conspirators.

Jessica Watkins was invited to an extremist revival event and given a VIP badge. She did so in the guise of providing security. But she admits she was almost 50 feet away from the stage, in no way the right location to be providing security (moreover, I think this claim is somewhat inconsistent with that the reported analyses shows, because members that would become the Stack left early, perhaps in response to Caldwell’s text).

Her brief further describes that she and her kitted-out militia were to provide “escort” to marchers to the Capitol, and she appears to know the intent was to march to the Capitol. One way or another, that still means her stated purpose — the reason she was wearing a VIP pass provided by official organizers (including Ali Alexander and Alex Jones) — was to ensure that those marching on the Capitol were accompanied by a militia that had plans to take up arms if things went badly.

I’m really grateful to Watkins’ attorney for providing the FBI reason to go ask the Secret Service and event organizers about this plan for an armed escort to the Capitol. This may accelerate the process of incorporating at least Roger Stone and Jones into these conspiracy indictments.

But it simply doesn’t help the cause of claiming that the Oath Keepers weren’t part of an organized conspiracy to interrupt the legal vote count. Does that mean that Jessica Watkins should be detained because people incited by the Proud Boys demolished the Capitol door? No. Does it mean she poses a threat because the organization she help[ed] lead started planning even before the election to have people trained to take action? Yes.

In November, Watkins wanted to make sure that Trump himself wanted her militia to take action. Her lawyer claims that Watkins was awaiting the invocation of the Insurrection Act. But even without that invocation, according to this filing, she envisioned serving as the military guard for a march of people from the White House to the Capitol seeking to overturn the election results.

And thanks to this defense filing, prosecutors can start talking about this earlier part of the conspiracy now.

Update: Peterson has submitted a clarification that has made the comments about the Secret Service even more damning. She didn’t meet the Secret Service. She spoke with them as she was coming through security for the VIP pen, from which she fancies she was “providing security.” And they told her to leave her tactical gear outside the pen.

Jessica Watkins, through counsel, respectfully submits this clarification to her motion for release pending the outcome of her case. Counsel apologizes for being less than clear on a couple of points raised in the original motion – something that unfortunately became obvious by media inquiries. Counsel in no way meant to imply that Ms. Watkins met with the Secret Service. A better verb would have been “encountered.” Ms. Watkins spoke with Secret Service members early in the day when she was coming through the check in point for the VIP area. The point counsel was attempting to make was that she encountered law enforcement, including Secret Service officer on her way to providing security for the rally. She was given directives about things she could and could not do, including directions to leave all tactical gear outside of the VIP area, and she abided by all of those directives. Ms. Watkins does not suggest that she has any direct knowledge that her role as security was sanctioned by anyone other than people involved in organizing the rally. She certainly did not mean to suggest that she was hired by the U.S. Secret Service to perform security. Counsel again apologizes for any confusion created by the inartful language used in the motion.

Effectively, then, hours before she entered the Capitol, which was full of protected people, including the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore, Vice President-Elect, and the Vice President that Donald Trump had just targeted, Watkins was told not to bring her tactical gear close to another set of protected people. And once she left the VIP pen where she was “providing security,” she put that tactical gear back on.

That only serves to emphasize the degree to which she was targeting Congress.

The New Recruits on the Front Line on January 6

In addition to adding six more people to the Oath Keeper conspiracy indictment originally charged against Jessica Watkins, DOJ added some new overt acts. Among others, it added training.

Training and recruitment were always part of Watkins’ alleged actions:

On November 9,2020, WATKINS, the self-described “C.O. [Commanding Officer] of the Ohio State Regular Militia,” sent text messages to a number of individuals who had expressed interest in joining the Ohio State Regular Militia. In these messages, WATKINS mentioned, among other things, that the militia had a weekJong “Basic Training class coming up in the beginning of January,” and WATKINS told one recruit, “l need you fighting fit by innaugeration.” WATKINS told another individual, “It’s a military style basic, here in Ohio, with a Marine Drill Sergeant running it. An hour north of Columbus Ohio[.]”

On November 9,2020, WATKINS asked a recruit if he could “download an App called Zello” and stated, “We all use Zello though for operations.”

On November 17 , 2020, when a recruit asked WATKINS for her predictions for 2021 , WATKINS replied, among other statements:

I can’t predict. I don’t underestimate the resolve of the Deep State. Biden may still yet be our President. If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.

and:

[I]f Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked the chair yet.

The original indictment also described Donovan Crowl attending a training session in December.

On December 12-13,2020, CROWL attended a training camp in North Carolina.

The superseding indictment adds to these details. It includes descriptions of how 54-year old Graydon Young and his 52-year old sister Laura Steele joined the Oath Keepers.

31. On December 3, 2020, YOUNG emailed the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers with a membership application and wrote, “looking to get involved in helping. . ..”

33. On December 19, 2020, YOUNG wrote to a Facebook group: “Please check out Oath Keepers as a means to get more involved. Recruiting is under way. DM me if you want more info.”

38. On December 26, 2020, YOUNG wrote an email to a Florida company that conducts training on firearms and combat. YOUNG wrote, in part, “l trained with you not long ago. Since then I have joined Oath Keepers. I recommended your training to the team. To that effect, four of us would like to train with you, specifically in your UTM rifle class.”

52. On January 3, 2021, STEELE emailed the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers with a membership application and wrote, “My brother, Graydon Young told me to submit my application this route to expedite the process.” Later in the day, STEELE emailed KELLY MEGGS and wrote, “My brother, Graydon Young told me to send the application to you so I can be verified for the Events this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.” The following day, STEELE sent an email to an Oath Keepers address, copying both YOUNG and KELLY MEGGS, attaching her Florida Oath Keepers membership application and vetting form, and writing, “I was just requested to send my documents to this email.”

And the arrest affidavit for the Parkers describe them discussing joining Watkins’ militia because their own had largely dissolved.

On December 27, 2020, Bennie Parker texted Watkins, “I may have to see what it takes to join your militia, ours is about gone.” Also on December 27, 202, Bennie Parker texted Watkins, “Yes and you and Sandi and I are like minded you guy [sic] aren’t that far away . . . . “

Effectively, that means that the organized stack (also included as an overt act in the superseding indictment) included at least three people — Crowl, Steele, Young, and Sandi Parker — who had just joined either Watkins’ militia or the Oath Keepers generally (Bennie, who’s 70, is not known to have entered the Capitol).

For all that it attracted media attention for that organized stack, the Oath Keepers weren’t as instrumental to the launch of the coup attempt as the Proud Boys.

But there, too, the militia was relying on new recruits. Dominic Pezzola claims (not entirely convincingly) that the insurrection was just his second action with the Proud Boys (though his first was the December MAGA March, where he was in close proximity to Roger Stone’s Oath Keeper body guard Robert Minuta).

Of more interest are the details Felicia Konold shared about her experience leading the mob.

She did a Snapchat video gleefully describing how much power she had exercised.

I’m watching the new guys

Fuuuck

Dude, I can’t even put into words. I. I. Never.

I never could [unintelligible] have imagined having that much of an influence on the events that unfolded today.

[Laughs]

Dude, people were willing to follow. You fucking lead, and everyone had my back, due, everyone, fucking wall, legit, in the air, up against the fence, [unintelligible], three lines of police, fence, me, not even on the ground, my feet weren’t even on the ground, all my boys, behind me, holding me up in the air, pushing back.

[Laughs]

We fucking did it.

Her arrest affidavit also quotes her on saying she was, “recruited into a fucking chapter from Kansas City,” complete with a challenge coin. The government’s detention memo for William Chrestman describes that he, “readily recruited two individuals from Arizona [Felicia and her brother Cory] to join the group of Kansas City Proud Boys, who then participated in the crime spree on U.S. Capitol grounds.” (It’s likely the case against Chrestman relies on an FBI interview of Konold, which has not been publicly cited.)

And it didn’t stop there. Experts have talked, abstractly, about how January 6 served as a recruiting boon for right wing terrorists. That’s shown tangibly in a detail from Royce Lamberth’s opinion  Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel granting the government’s motion for his detention. Even as images from Munchel’s antics in the Senate had attracted close focus and on the same day the government obtained a warrant for his arrest, Zip Tie Guy reached out — via Signal — to the Proud Boys in an effort to join up.

There is also no evidence that Munchel is a member of any violent groups, thought the government has presented evidence that Munchel was in contact with a member of the Proud Boys after January 6 and was interested in joining the group. See Signal Chat Tr. (Jan. 9-10, 2021).

On top of being an explicit attempt to prevent Joe Biden from assuming the presidency, January 6 was also a recruitment bonanza, providing both a goal in advance to work towards, but also a networking opportunity permitting in-person recruitment.

The insurrectionists breached the Capitol with flagpoles and bullhorns. And some of the key players leading that breach were recent recruits to the organized militia leading the way. Meanwhile, Stewart Rhodes, Joe Biggs, and Ethan Nordean were watching from relative safety.

Update: I’ve fixed the Stack numbers; I think Crowl may have been training rather than being trained at the came in North Carolina in December.

Mike Lee Provides Key Evidence Implicating Trump in the Existing Criminal Conspiracy

Because Donald Trump’s Personal Injury lawyer, Michael Van der Veen, made a specious argument about the First Amendment to successfully give 43 Republicans cover to vote to acquit the Former President in his impeachment trial, the discussion about Trump’s potential criminal exposure for January 6 (which according to CNN he is concerned about) has largely focused on incitement charges.

That’s true even though the trial led Mike Lee to offer up evidence implicating Trump in the same conspiracy charges already charged against 10 defendants: conspiring to delay Congress’ official proceeding to certify the electoral college vote. As I have noted, DOJ has started mapping out conspiracy charges against both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys:

While there are differences in the scope of the conspiracy and overt acts involved, all three charging documents charge defendants with conspiring “to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote,” effectively conspiring to commit 18 USC 1512, tampering with the official procedure of certifying the electoral college vote, an official procedure laid out in the Constitution.

And in spite of their votes to acquit the Former President last night, both Tommy Tuberville and Mike Lee provided evidence that the FBI might use to investigate Trump in that conspiracy. As I noted days after the attack, during the attack, Trump twice attempted to reach out to Tuberville to ask him to delay the count. The second time, Rudy Giuliani even left a message specifically asking for a delay as such, precisely the object of the already charged conspiracy charges.

I know they’re reconvening at 8 tonight, but it … the only strategy we can follow is to object to numerous states and raise issues so that we get ourselves into tomorrow—ideally until the end of tomorrow.

I know McConnell is doing everything he can to rush it, which is kind of a kick in the head because it’s one thing to oppose us, it’s another thing not to give us a fair opportunity to contest it. And he wants to try to get it down to only three states that we contest. But there are 10 states that we contest, not three. So if you could object to every state and, along with a congressman, get a hearing for every state, I know we would delay you a lot, but it would give us the opportunity to get the legislators who are very, very close to pulling their vote, particularly after what McConnell did today. [snip]

Over the last few days, both Tuberville and Lee offered up more details on the earlier call. Tuberville confirmed the content of the call, including that he told the President that his Vice President had been evacuated.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville revealed late Wednesday that he spoke to Donald Trump on Jan. 6, just as a violent mob closed in on the the Senate, and informed the then-president directly that Vice President Mike Pence had just been evacuated from the chamber.

“I said ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out, I’ve got to go,’” Tuberville (R-Ala.) told POLITICO on Capitol Hill on Wednesday night, saying he cut the phone call short amid the chaos.

And Lee — who twice demanded that references to this call be removed from the Congressional record — ultimately provided phone records showing that even after Pence had been publicly rushed to safety, Trump was still working on delaying the vote rather than addressing the danger. Trump tweeted about Pence at 2:24, specifically complaining that Pence hadn’t given states a chance to “correct” facts, effectively a complaint that Pence had not disrupted the orderly counting of the vote.

Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

And then, two minutes later, Trump attempted to call Tuberville and, after Lee turned over his phone to the former coach, spoke to him for four minutes. It matters that Tuberville told Trump about the evacuations, though it is highly unlikely he had not been informed both informally and formally at that point. But it matters just as much that even after the insurrectionists had breached the building, Trump took two overt acts to attempt to delay the vote.

A Trump defense might argue — as his Personal Injury Lawyer did this week — that he was just trying to count the votes, but Trump had already made an unconstitutional request of Mike Pence, something Trump’s team provided no defense for. And that’s before you consider the evidence that Rudy, at least, was in direct contact with James Sullivan, who is affiliated with the group, the Proud Boys, that has already been accused of conspiring to breach the Capitol (indeed, another conspiracy case, against Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, charges that they conspired to interfere with cops trying to keep protestors out of the Capitol, and the Chrestman indictment also includes that as a separate conspiracy).

I’m not saying this will definitely happen. The bar to charging a Former President remains high.

But DOJ has already charged ten people for doing what Trump was also demonstrably doing that day. And, partly because of Mike Lee’s desperate effort to avoid having the record of him implicating Trump in the congressional record, Lee ended up making the timeline of the events public without the FBI having to breach speech and debate concerns to obtain it. By doing so, Lee made it easier for the FBI to make a case against Trump if they ever attempt to do so.

Mike Lee may have helped prevent Trump from being barred from running for President again. But Mike Lee also made it easier to prosecute Trump for those very same acts.

Update: NYT just posted a story showing that six of the Oath Keepers Roger Stone was palling around with leading up to the attack entered the Capitol on January 6.

The Insurrection Affidavits Don’t Show Where the Insurrection Was Organized

The normally very rigorous Thomas Brewster has a piece purporting to fact-check Sheryl Sandberg’s claim, made days after the January 6 insurrection, that the insurrection wasn’t organized on Facebook.

“I think these events were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate and don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook chief operating officer, shortly after the Capitol Hill riots on January 6.

The piece has led both bad faith and good faith actors to grasp on the story to claim that Facebook is responsible for the violence.

Brewster purports to measure that by seeing how many mentions appear in the charging documents for the 223 people included on GWU’s list of arrestees.

But a few paragraphs later, Brewster admits he’s not measuring on what platform the riot was organized, but instead which was most popular among rioters.

Whilst the data doesn’t show definitively what app was the most popular amongst rioters, it does strongly indicate Facebook was rioters’ the preferred platform.

Even that is not proven (though it may well prove to be true), but obviously which platform is most used among rioters to boast about the riot is a very different question than on which platform (if any) the insurrection was organized.

Here’s why:

  • At least half the existing affidavits are a measure of which riot attendees were most likely to be outed and how
  • Expect parallel construction
  • There are a lot of dangerous rioters who’ve not yet been charged
  • The currently accused in no way represent all the known people who might be considered organizers of the riot or the larger operation
  • The existing affidavits are no measure of what platforms actual organizers used to organize

At least half the existing affidavits are a measure of which riot attendees were most likely to be outed and how

The police made just a handful of arrests on January 6, with the biggest component being curfew violators who did not even provably enter the Capitol (and so those non-federal cases should not be included in the analysis of rioters, as Brewster did).

In the four and a half weeks since the riot, the cops have engaged in a kind of triage, arresting those whom they could easily identify and then, over time, prioritizing those who — from video evidence of the insurrection — appeared to have committed more dangerous crimes. That means in the days after the insurrection, arrests largely focused on the people who appeared the most outlandishly stupid in videos, those whose own social networks of family, work acquaintances, and high school friends disapproved of their participation in the riot and so called the FBI with a tip, or those who identified themselves in media interviews (which often led to family, work acquaintances, and high school friends to then alert the FBI).

To understand the affidavits, it’s important to realize that any person who entered the Capitol without a legitimate purpose on January 6 (that includes a number of people who videoed the event but had no media credentials) were committing two crimes, both tied to it being the Capitol. So all the FBI would need to charge someone is to prove that they entered the building.

About half the current arrestees were charged with just these trespassing crimes, yet many of these people were among the first arrested. These people are in no way the organizers of the riot, and many of them are just Trump supporters who were caught up in the crowd. Some even credibly described trying to de-escalate the situation (including one such guy who got arrested because he had the misfortunate to show up in videos of the guy who stole Pelosi’s lectern).

The measure of how these people were arrested is quite often a measure of the fact that they shared their memories of the day or were caught by others who did. And to the extent that this happened on Facebook, it likely happened because Facebook is the platform where people have their broadest social networks, making it more likely that a lot of people who don’t sympathize with the riot would have witnessed social media content talking about it. Facebook is where ardent Trump supporters still share networks with people who vehemently oppose him.

In other words, in this initial arrest push, the people who bragged on Facebook were among the most likely to be arrested precisely because the network includes a broader range of viewpoints. It’s a measure of reach — and the political diversity of that reach — and not a measure of the centrality of the platform to the planning or violence.

Expect parallel construction

As noted, in the weeks since the insurrection, some agents at the FBI have obviously shifted to a reverse approach: rather than arresting those against whom tips came in from aggrieved ex-wives and people who were owed money, the FBI started to identify which rioters were the most dangerous and prioritize figuring out who they were.

One type of more dangerous rioter would be those with institutional ties that lead the FBI to believe there might be something more going on. But these are just arrest affidavits, which the FBI is acutely aware will be publicly scrutinized. As every single one of them say, they don’t reflect the totality that an Agent might know about the person. And in those cases, we should expect the FBI to parallel construct what they know about people and how they came to know it.

Social media is a wonderful way to do that.

And it does seem that the FBI relied on social media to establish probable cause for such people. Take the Lebanese-born woman who started engaging in the 3% community in November, which the FBI cites to Facebook. Or consider how the FBI pretends they did not know who Nick DeCarlo was until he showed up in Nick Ochs’ Twitter feed. Both rely on social media (in the latter case, one piece of evidence is something researchers found on Telegram and posted on Twitter, and so should be chalked up in the “uses Telegram” column).

But measuring how the FBI parallel constructed other knowledge is not a measure of what social media platforms people primarily use.

There are a lot of potentially dangerous rioters who’ve not yet been charged

As noted, one way the FBI shifted focus after the initial arrests of people identified by their disapproving family members was by identifying people involved in assaults — first of officers (designated by AFO), and then the media (designated by AOM) — and trying to identify them, in part through the use of Wanted posters (BOLO).

To date, the FBI has released 223 BOLOs, of which 40 precede the shift of focus to those involved in assault (and so include people who caught attention for another reason, such as the use of a Confederate or Nazi imagery). The FBI has arrested around 35 people identified in BOLOs, thus leaving around 190 people that the FBI has identified to be of particular interest based off video images, that they have not yet arrested.

For what it’s worth, I suspect that the FBI has identified a goodly number of these people, and may even have sealed complaints against some of them but is holding off on an arrest to gather more evidence. That is, they can arrest them now, but would prefer not to until they shore up their case. In a number of cases where people were identified off of BOLOs, the people turned themselves into the FBI but denied any physical contact was anything but a love tap (here’s one example, but there are others), potentially making it harder to prosecute for the violence.

If and when these people are identified, they may well prove to have used Facebook. But thus far, this group of people has shown better operational security and (unsurprisingly) a greater likelihood to flee or to destroy evidence.

But whatever their Facebook use, when counting the numbers of the 800 people who committed a trespass crime on January 6 by entering the Capitol, of which 200 have been arrested, it’s worth noting that almost another 200 — some of the greatest concern — have not been provably identified by bragging Facebook posts yet.

The currently accused in no way represent all the known people who might be considered organizers of the riot or the larger operation

Thus far, the government has filed the bare outlines of conspiracy charges against both the Oath Keepers (who spoke of a plan they had trained for) and the Proud Boys (who moved in obviously coordinated fashion communicating via radio on January 6). But those conspiracy charges currently include just three and two people, respectively (with a sub-conspiracy charged against two more Proud Boys).

According to claims quoted in charging documents, there were anywhere from 30 to 65 Oath Keepers involved in the riot (including a busload from North Carolina). There are at least three other key Proud Boys that have not been arrested for the riot (Enrique Tarrio, of course, was arrested days earlier for a different racist attack), and about half of those that have were charged with just the trespassing crimes.

In general, these people are not currently identified in BOLO posters.

In other words, this is a set of people — perhaps another 40 on top of the 190 outstanding BOLO figures — that the FBI likely considers key suspects.

And that’s just the organizers of the riot. That doesn’t include James Sullivan, who appears to have been in communication — via text — with Rudy Giuliani.  It doesn’t include people like Ali Alexander and Rudy and possibly Roger Stone who would tie the riot to the larger effort to delay the vote (which is the object of both the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys conspiracy). We know from Stone’s prosecution, at least, that he was de-platformed long ago and learned to use encrypted apps by August 2016.

In any case, before you can make claims about what platforms were used to organize the insurrection, you first need to identify the universe of people believed to have organized it. Right now, perhaps as few as 20 of the 200 people who’ve been arrested should be considered leaders of it, and there are probably at least another 40 who might be considered organizers of the riot itself who have not been arrested yet.

The existing affidavits are no measure of what platforms actual organizers used to organize

To be sure, both of the groups identified in conspiracies (and Three Percenters) made use of Facebook. As Brewster cited, accused Oath Keeper conspirator Thomas Caldwell posted updates to Facebook during the siege, and the co-conspirators did use Facebook to communicate both publicly and privately before the event. Among those referencing the Proud Boys in affidavits, Andrew Ryan Bennett uploaded video to Facebook,  Gabriel Garcia uploaded video to Facebook, and Daniel Goodwin used Instagram and Twitter. As noted above, Nick Ochs had a campaign Twitter account.

But some of the more substantive public communications from both groups, including important communications from before the riot, was posted on Parler. And both groups used other means — Zello for the Oath Keepers and radios for the Proud Boys — to communicate operationally during the day.

With the Proud Boys, in particular, Facebook and Twitter have long tried to exclude them from the platform, both because their speech violated platform guidelines but also because after expulsion the group tried to bypass that expulsion.

Importantly, aside from some quotations from Jessica Watkins’ Zello account and those Facebook messages, the FBI hasn’t shown what it has of operational communications between these groups, and it’s unlikely to do so, either, until trial. The FBI is not going to share how much it knows (if anything) about the operational contacts of these groups until it has to. Which makes any conclusions drawn from what it is willing to show of questionable validity.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to argue that Sheryl Sandberg is one of a number of Facebook executives who should be ousted. I agree that Facebook has fostered right wing violence, not least with the settings of its algorithms (which is the opposite of what Glenn Greenwald wants the Facebook problem to be). Because it has such wide breadth, it is a platform where people not already radicalized might get swept up in disinformation.

But I know of little valid evidence yet about Facebook’s role in organizing the insurrection, nor is there likely to be conclusive evidence for some time yet.

Update: Changed language to describe Tarrio’s alleged vandalism of a traditionally black church to make it clear he is not accused of assaulting another person.