An accused organizer in the Capitol riots and associate of the paramilitary Oath Keepers group was released to home confinement Friday when a federal judge found that there was no direct evidence that Thomas Caldwell’s alleged role involved a specific plot to invade the Capitol.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said he was not disputing allegations that the 65-year-old Virginia man engaged in planning for the Jan. 6 uprising, but he described Caldwell as “differently situated” from eight other accused co-conspirators because the suspect did not ultimately enter the Capitol with the others that day.
Caldwell was among the first group of associates and members of the Oath Keepers to be charged in January with conspiracy in connection with the siege, when prosecutors detailed how Caldwell and the others allegedly planned their roles in the attack weeks in advance, then coordinated by radio as they moved into the Capitol in group formation, wearing helmets, reinforced vests and military-style insignia.
FEDS: Expect 100 more to face charges in Capitol riot, pursuing broad conspiracy
“All members are in the tunnels under the capital,” said a message sent to Caldwell during the attack, according to the FBI. “Seal them in turn on gas.”
A group of men, some of whom are wearing "Oath Keepers" insignia, gathers as rioters storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. (Photo: Jasper Colt/USA TODAY)
In a New Year’s Eve post on Facebook, Caldwell alerted the group that the protest against the Biden election “begins for real Jan 5 and 6.”
“Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets,” he allegedly wrote. “This kettle is set to boil.”
At 2:48 p.m. on Jan. 6, Caldwell, wrote to his Facebook contacts, “We are surging forward. Doors breached.”
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes sent similar messages from outside the Capitol while other members stormed inside, investigators say.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy cited Caldwell’s communications during Friday’s hearing, indicating that in the days after the attack the suspect reveled in what had taken place that day.
But Caldwell’s attorney, David Fischer, said that the “government has produced absolutely no evidence” of an actual plan to invade the Capitol.
And Fischer sought to distance his client from the Oath Keepers group, asserting that Caldwell, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, was not an actual member.
Fischer did not deny that Caldwell was involved in planning for that day, but the attorney said it was focused on organizing so called quick-reaction forces to contend with possible violence directed against supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
“They were not planning to go into the Capitol,” Fischer said.
Rakoczy acknowledged Friday that prosecutors did not have evidence that suspects directly referred to a plot involving “forced entry” of the Capitol. But she said there was ample information supporting an “intent to obstruct” the certification of the presidential election that day, and that rioters were “prepared to use violence to effectuate the plan.”
It was immediately unclear what the judge’s ruling might mean for the strength of the larger conspiracy case.
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