Ex-Intelligence Officer Downplays Jan. 6 Violence As Oath Keepers Defense Rests

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As the trial of five Oath Keepers associates accused of conspiring to keep Joe Biden from taking office wrapped up, retired Navy intelligence officer Thomas Caldwell seemed to be grappling with a problem that all the defendants were facing off in court: trying to explain their references to violence related to the January 6, 2021, videotaped and text message attack on the United States Capitol.

Caldwell, 68, called his past remarks a “gross exaggeration, as are the charges against me”. He testified that a “militia” is just “neighbors helping each other”. And he said messages from him about taking out enemies with sniper fire or staging and transporting “heavy weapons” across the Potomac River by boat were “creative writing.” “.

Caldwell was one of two defendants to speak in week seven of the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial in federal court in Washington. His testimony echoes earlier testimony by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and two other people on trial who did not testify but offered to prove to friends and family that their sometimes graphic and inflammatory communications did not reflect their true intentions. A fifth defendant, Ohio militia leader Jessica Watkins, surprised the court by announcing plans to testify after lunch Wednesday.

Caldwell claimed he hadn’t seen any violence on Capitol Hill and until a few days later thought reports of it were “hooey.” But in messages sent the night of the attack, he talked about stealing riot shields, throwing fire extinguishers through windows and watching the Proud Boys fight off police. “It was a good time,” he wrote.

Caldwell and his wife only reached the inaugural scaffolding; like Rhodes, he did not enter the building. But the prosecutors Argue that the two conspired with the keepers of the oath co-accused Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson and Jessica Watkins try to keep Donald Trump in power by force.

What we learned from the government case

Caldwell was not an official member of the Oath Keepers but had befriended them after meeting Rhodes at a pro-Trump Stop the Steal rally in Purcellville, Va. on Nov. 8, 2020 Caldwell and his wife, Sharon Caldwell, testified. For the pro-Trump Million MAGA march the following week in Washington, about 15 oath keepers camped at Caldwell Farm in Berryville.

Watkins’ fiancee testified that their militia was a small group that only joined forces with the Oath Keepers in late 2020, and that she wanted them to be ‘fit’ on the day of the inauguration not to launch a coup but to protect against a possible “forced vaccination” under President Biden and UN forces, or a Chinese invasion through Canada.

“We were talking about the Insurrection Act, but no one was taking it seriously. I would put it below the Chinese invasion,” Watkins said when explaining his texts to the oath keepers after Jan. 6 about an “eviction” plan to retreat to the hills of Kentucky to fight as the “ NVA”, or the North Vietnamese Army. .

During cross-examination, prosecutors repeatedly pointed to comments showing a willingness by defendants and their allies to engage in political violence following Rhodes’ calls to prepare for civil war and lay down their lives. to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Don Siekerman, a 69-year-old retired police officer and former Army doctor, said he was not aware of any plans to enter the Capitol or stop voter certification. If he had been the ground commander of the Oath Keepers in Washington as planned on Jan. 6, he said, he would have ‘directed people away from the scene, not towards it’ – but it went covid three days earlier.

Despite his sweet demeanor and slow delivery to the stand – which he attributed to the covid fog – his text messages were fiery.

What you need to know about the Oath Keepers lawsuit

In a November 6 Speak message, Siekerman called on “millions of American patriots” with military training to prepare for an impending “big showdown,” writing, “There will be a clearing of the liberty tree.”

“Cleaning up the Tree of Liberty means killing people, right?” asked prosecutor Louis J. Manzo.

“Yes, sir,” Siekerman replied.

“Stewart Rhodes says we’re in a bloody civil war, and your reaction is, ‘Am I in?'”

“It seems so,” Siekerman said.

The defense has at times struggled to present evidence, having accused prosecutors of muzzling potential witnesses by criminally indicting them. A member of Oath Keepers described as Rhodes’ “fight buddy” on Jan. 6 invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before the jury. Another Oath Keepers board member and former vice president was exposed as an FBI informant and did not appear, a leak prosecutors wanted to investigate.

A key defense witness testified despite the charges laid on January 6. Michael Greene, described as Siekerman’s successor as the Oath Keepers operations coordinator for Jan. 6, told jurors there was no plot or plan to breach the Capitol or use force in any way it would be.

Rhodes’ discussion of the Civil War and the call for oath keepers to be willing to lay down their lives to keep Trump in power was “nothing different from the old man in the barbershop talking,” Greene said. . The rioters, he said, were “a lot of old guys”, noting wryly, “I’m charged with them”.

Watkins, unlike Caldwell or Rhodes, entered the Capitol. She said she wanted to apologize to police and jurors for shouting “Push!” while part of a crowd attempted to break through police lines to reach the Senate Chamber.

Watkins described herself as “gullible” and crazy. She said she watched Alex Jones’ Infowars online for five hours a day and was “swept away” in the riot.

“I had a lot of pain [from a December accident], pissed off for stealing the election, certified the election. And now I’m crushed in a hallway, and they’re not even listening to me,” Watkins explained. “I reacted. It was stupid.

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