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Prosecutors: Oath Keepers' Founder Was In Direct Contact With Capitol Rioters

Rioters storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Among those charged in connection with the insurrection are members of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers.
Brent Stirton
Getty Images
Rioters storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. Among those charged in connection with the insurrection are members of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers.

Federal prosecutors allege that the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group, Stewart Rhodes, was in direct communication — in the runup to Jan. 6 and then during the Capitol insurrection itself — with militia members who stormed the building.

The allegations emerged in court papers filed late Monday by the government in the case against Thomas Caldwell, an alleged Oath Keeper who along with eight other people is facing conspiracy and other federal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection.

In the new filing, prosecutors allege that Rhodes was in a group chat called "DC OP: Jan 6 21" on the encrypted messaging platform Signal. Two of Caldwell's co-defendants, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins, as well as regional Oath Keeper leaders from states across the U.S., were also in the chat.

Rhodes, who is identified in the document as Person One, founded the anti-government Oath Keepers in 2009. He has not been charged in connection with the insurrection, but the latest government filing shows him in direct contact, including on Jan. 6, with several individuals who have been.

According to the government filing, Rhodes sent the group a message as the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, telling them to "Come to South Side of Capitol on steps," and then followed up with a photograph of the southeast side of the building.

At that same time, alleged Oath Keepers were forcibly storming the Capitol on the east side of the building.

The day before the riot, Rhodes also sent messages about preparations, including what to bring.

Rhodes, for example, warns the group, "DO NOT bring in anything that can get you arrested. Leave that outside DC," according to the government filing. He also recommends bringing a flashlight and a collapsible baton, which he called "a grey area in the law."

"I bring one. But I'm willing to take the risk because I love em," Rhodes texted the group, according to prosecutors. "Good hard gloves, eye pro, helmet. In a pinch you can grab Mechanix gloves and a batters helmet form Walmart. Bring something to put on your noggin. Anitifa likes brikes."

Rhodes also allegedly told the chat group that the Oath Keepers will have "several well equipped QRFs outside DC," referring to a quick reaction force that he said would be ready to move quickly to help those at the Capitol "in case of worst case scenarios."

Prosecutors say the Oath Keepers did take concrete steps to have a QRF outside Washington, D.C., ready to ferry weapons by boat from Virginia across the Potomac River and into the city and to the Capitol.

The government says Caldwell sent an email to an associate with maps to help plan how to get into the city.

Prosecutors say the Signal messages, as well as Rhodes' earlier call to supporters to get to Washington, "show that the co-conspirators joined together to stop Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote, and they were prepared to use violence, if necessary, to effect this purpose."

Federal prosecutors have charged more than 300 people so far in connection with the violence at the Capitol, including Oath Keepers and members of the Proud Boys extremist group.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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