A member of the far-right paramilitary group the Oath Keepers who’s been charged with conspiring to storm the Capitol was ready “for violence” during the deadly riot and had plans for a “further insurrection,” federal prosecutors said Friday.
“The plan was never for peaceful protest,” a Virginia prosecutor said during a detention hearing for Donovan Crowl, a former U.S. Marine. “The Oath Keepers arrived in D.C. prepared for violence.”
Crowl, 50, is one of three members of the right-wing group who’ve been charged with conspiring to disrupt the congressional session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, an apparent leader of the Oath Keepers, and Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old Army veteran, have also been charged with conspiracy. All three have since been ordered held without bail.
“I note that the charges against the defendant are very serious,” Magistrate Judge Sharon L. Ovington said Friday. “The government alleges that [Crowl] conspired with others in advance to forcibly storm the United States Capitol to impede or injure officers in order to obstruct an official proceeding. [He was] seen on video stating, ‘We overran the Capitol.’ His criminal history includes alcohol and violence-related offenses. He also has demonstrated non-compliance with court order supervision.”
Federal authorities have described the Oath Keepers as “a large but loosely organized collection of [the] militia who believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights” and who heavily recruit former military, law enforcement, and first responders.
During the Friday hearing, prosecutors said Crowl took his organization’s beliefs seriously, as one of his main objectives when he drove halfway across the country to join the riots was to hunt “for ANTIFA members.”
“[Crowl’s] been preparing for literal war because that’s what his organization told him to do,” the prosecutor added.
A majority of the more than 100 rioters who have been charged in the siege face minor charges. The trio’s conspiracy charges were the first of their kind in the wide-ranging investigation into the insurrection, and imply federal authorities are tracking the rioters’ efforts to coordinate in the days before the storming of the Capitol.
Prosecutors also revealed on Friday that while exercising a search warrant at Watkins’ home, investigators found directions on how to make explosives—suggesting the Oath Keepers intended to do further violence.
The Oath Keepers allegedly began plotting at least five days before the insurrection, according to court papers. In a Jan. 1 Facebook message, Caldwell admitted he was looking for housing for several individuals at a Comfort Inn in Ballston, Virginia.
The hotel, which is eight miles from the Capitol, “would allow us to go hunting at night if we wanted to,” Caldwell said in a Facebook message to Watkins, according to the affidavit.
“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,” Caldwell continues in the Jan. 1 post, apparently referring to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes.
Watkins, a 38-year-old Army veteran, allegedly breached the Capitol with other members of the Ohio State Regular Militia, the far-right group she founded in 2019. Watkins’ militia is a subset of the Oath Keepers, prosecutors have said.
Crowl’s involvement in the insurrection has been documented on social media—and he gave an interview with the New Yorker in which he identified himself as both an Oath Keeper and a member of the Ohio State Regular Militia. In the interview, Crowl “admitted that he attended events representing those groups to include the incursion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021,” according to court papers. Crowl also claimed he had been drinking and went to the Capitol to “do security” for “V.I.Ps” but declined to name the individuals.
The Oath Keepers are among several extremists who have been charged for participating in the violent riot that left five people dead. Several Proud Boys, including Dominic “Spazzo” Pezzola, who allegedly smashed a window at the Capitol with a police shield, and members of the Three Percenters have also been arrested.
A federal judge on Friday ordered Robert Gieswein, an alleged member of the Three Percenters militia, to be detained pending a trial for his role in the riots, saying he had “prepared for battle.” Prosecutors said Friday Giewswein used bear spray on Capitol cops during the riots before shoving a bike rack into the officers.