A retired Ohio couple who joined the Oath Keepers have been charged with conspiracy for allegedly plotting for months with other members of the far-right militia group to storm the U.S. Capitol.
Sandra Parker, 60, and her husband, Bennie Parker, 70, have been charged with several federal crimes, including conspiracy, destruction of government property, and aiding and abetting, for their plan to disrupt the Jan. 6 congressional session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory, prosecutors said.
A criminal complaint alleges that Sandra Parker, dressed in “camouflaged-combat attire,” breached the government building with other Oath Keepers while her husband assisted the group elsewhere on the Capitol grounds.
The couple are among six people associated with the Oath Keepers who were arrested and charged this week for allegedly conspiring to participate in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The other rioters are 54-year-old Graydon Young, of Englewood, Florida, and his sister, 52-year-old Laura Steele, of Thomasville, North Carolina, and 52-year-old Kelly Meggs, 52, and his wife, 59-year-old Connie Meggs, of Dunnellon, Florida.
Prosecutors previously charged 38-year-old Army veteran Jessica Watkins, Thomas Edward Caldwell, the 65-year-old apparent leader of the Oath Keepers, and Donovan Crowl, a 50-year-old former U.S. Marine for their roles in the siege.
The FBI describes the Oath Keepers as a “large but loosely organized collection of the militia who believe the federal government has been corrupted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
In a superseding indictment filed Friday, prosecutors said Kelly Meggs is a self-described leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, of which Connie Meggs, Young, and Steele are also members.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, prosecutors allege Watkins spent at least two months coordinating election-related attacks, including training recruits to get them in “fighting shape” for another attack at the inauguration and vetting people interested in the Jan. 6 riot. Among those recruits, according to the complaint, was Bennie Parker, who began texting with Watkins in November.
“I may have to see what it takes to join your militia, our [sic] is about gone,” Parker texted Watkins on Dec. 27, adding that they are “like minded.”
Prosecutors on Friday alleged that nine people were involved in the conspiracy, and they all attended or scheduled training “to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics in advance of the January 6 operation,” in addition to other logistical coordination. The indictment, which details the chilling lengths the group went to while coordinating the attack, also notes that the Oath Keepers were motivated, in large part, by former President Donald Trump and their fear of a Biden presidency.
“Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!” Kelly Meggs wrote in a series of Facebook messages in December, adding that “[w]e will have at least 50-100 OK there.”
The complaint states Watkins and Parker exchanged “numerous text messages” related to preparations for the Jan. 6 trip to the nation’s capital, including travel arrangements. In one December exchange, after asking if Watkins or “any of your members” were planning to go to D.C., Parker stated, “Sandi and I want to go but would like to possibly meet with you and go with you guys. Safety and parking issues to name a few.”
After Watkins insisted that “parking is no issue, if you roll with the militia, we have a guarded Rally point,” Parker said he would let his wife know and asked her to keep him posted on any updates.
On Christmas Day, Kelly Meggs wrote in a Facebook message that his group had booked hotel rooms near the Capitol for Jan. 6, adding, “Dc is no guns. So mace and gas masks, some batons. If you have armor that’s good.”
Around the same time, Young arranged—for himself and other militia members—firearms and combat training from a Florida company, prosecutors allege.
Days later, on Dec. 29, prosecutors state Watkins and Parker texted again—this time to discuss Oath Keeper membership and how to meet before the Jan. 6 siege.
“Great we need to get together and find out what we need to do to become member, we are retired so we can meet anytime. Also let me know what you all are doing on the 6th,” Bennie Parker wrote.
Watkins offered to meet the couple at the bar where she works. According to BuzzFeed News, Watkins and her boyfriend owned and ran the Jolly Roger, a rural bar in Woodstock, Ohio, where they also lived in an upstairs apartment. The complaint suggests the Parkers ultimately met Watkins at the bar.
Three days before the insurrection, Bennie Parker and Watkins exchanged messages again, this time discussing the “uniforms, gear, and weapons they would wear... on January 6, 2021,” the complaint states. During the conversation, Watkins said the group did not plan to bring firearms because a QRF—or “quick reaction force”—with “law enforcement members of Oath Keepers” would be attending.
Prosecutors have previously argued that the QRF, which Watkins helped coordinate with Caldwell, was an armed group that was ready to bring guns to Oath Keepers if things got “bad” or if Trump somehow ordered them to storm the city.
Watkins, however, changed course in another text message later that day, telling the Ohio couple, “Weapons are ok now as well. Sorry for the confusion.” She also asked the couple to “pack khaki/tan pants.”
“We don’t have any khakis. We have jeans and our b d u’s. So I can bring my gun?” Bennie Parker responded, in an apparent reference to the military’s “Battle Dress Uniform,” or camouflage.
Steele also allegedly joined the group’s plan to storm the Capitol on Jan. 3, emailing the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers that her brother, Graydon Young, told her to “send the application..so I can be verified for the Events this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.”
On Jan. 4, Young flew from Tampa to North Carolina, then met up with Steele and three others the next day to travel to D.C. At the same time, Crowl, Watkins, and the Parkers were traveling to the nation’s capital.
Prosecutors state that most of the group arrived at the Comfort Inn in Ballston, Virginia, on Jan. 5. Early the next morning, Watkins texted Bennie Parker asking if he was up and getting ready, before stating she was “grabbing gear and heading to van.”
Surveillance video from the hotel shows the couple wearing camouflage and meeting with Watkins, Crowl, and Caldwell in the lobby around 5 a.m. before heading out. Prosecutors state Young and Steele traveled to D.C. from Springfield, Virginia.
When the group of nine finally met, the indictment states, “they prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.”
“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 of the Capitol[.]” Caldwell texted Watkins at around 2:06 p.m.
Soon after, thousands of MAGA supporters stormed the Capitol. The Oath Keepers, including some members of the charged group, were clearly visible in photos and videos, marching closely together up the steps of the east side of the Capitol in their combat outfits. The group was also wearing clothing with Oath Keeper paraphernalia.
While photos and videos of the riot show both Parkers marching alongside several Oath Keepers, it seems only Sandra Parker breached the Capitol, along with a “stack” of militia members who were seen inside the Rotunda with their hands on each other’s backs, prosecutors said. She was joined by Crowl, Watkins, Young, Steele, and the Meggs.
The complaint states that investigators believe the 30 Oath Keepers, who were “sticking together,” wanted to make citizen arrests.
After the riots, Watkins and Bennie Parker kept in communication about the “ensuing federal investigation” into the siege. Prosecutors allege several of the other Oath Keepers tried to tamper with evidence in the aftermath of the insurrection, including Caldwell, who was accused of deleting photos from his social media accounts, and Young, who allegedly deleted his Facebook page.
“I’ve been following FBI wanted list, seems they’re only interested in people who destroyed things. I wouldn’t worry about them coming after us,” Watkins texted on Jan. 9, to which Parker responded, “I’m sure they’re not on us see some pics but no militia.”
Five days later, Bennie Parker texted Watkins, “Hay, I got to ask did you put Sandi out there in the Capital [sic]?” On Jan. 17, Watkins and Crowl were arrested.