In line with courtroom information, paramilitary communications are being scrutinized throughout an investigation into the Capitol riot
Two court files on Thursday, as part of the Justice Department’s efforts to stay in prison for the Oath Keepers, an extremist militant group, rely heavily on text messages and other communications between extremists. Investigators have now quoted direct quotes from the Zello walkie-talkie app as paramilitaries trained each other – talking about “executions of citizens” and “everything we trained for” – in the Capitol. They found a text message from a suspected Oath Keepers organizer discussing an idea to bring guns to Washington DC on a boat crossing the Potomac River. And they have confirmed that they have found planning materials, including bomb-making documents, in several defendants.
Extensive searches of homes, private messages, and other data paths by investigators are not uncommon in criminal matters, although the number of arrests and criminal cases following the Capitol riot has become a near-unrivaled draw among major federal national security investigations that have been going on since far-reaching nationwide investigations did not take place on September 11, 2001.
In the Ohio conspiracy case against Jessica Watkins, prosecutors outline how the alleged Oath Guardian wrote to recruits to discuss training in the months leading up to the uprising. Watkins mentioned basic training in January – a full-week affair that included war games, counterinsurgency and bailouts as extremists prepared for the presidential inauguration, prosecutors say. And when police visited their home in mid-January, they found an obvious tool kit for rebellion, complete with a mini-drone, pool cues reduced to the size of baton and a recipe for making a destructive device, prosecutors said on a file Thursday .
In another detail, prosecutors said Watkins was involved in “national leadership calls” for the Oath Guards prior to January 6, but they did not disclose how much investigators learned about the calls. In the indictment against Watkins and two others late last month, prosecutors described that she had responded to an invitation to a call on the encrypted messaging platform Signal.
Watkins’ co-defendant Thomas Caldwell has received a similar level of attention from prosecutors. Another court filed Thursday from the Justice Department what they learned from the Navy veteran’s searches. Prosecutors described in the filing reports Caldwell received when another Capitol conspiracy accused Donovan Crowl texted him to thank him for visiting as “war is on the horizon,” Crowl wrote.
Prosecutors also note that Caldwell sent messages about the bidding on Ebay for a tomahawk ax named “Zombie Killer” and tickets to go “east to the target” from Virginia to DC, the court said Thursday.
Prosecutors have also made it clear that they have received many social media posts from the defendants, including, in Caldwell’s case, a video he sent and then failed to send through Facebook’s messaging app.
Watkins and Caldwell are both fighting to be released from custody, and the Justice Department is pushing the court to detain them. They have not yet been tried following their indictment in the DC Federal District Court.
Building on search warrants
The fruits of the investigators’ search add to an already extensive record of online public posts, livestreams, and even selfies created by the riot participants.
“All of these cases are not based on social media and Twitter and Instagram posts. We also have traditional law enforcement tools – grand jury summons, search warrants – and you don’t get that overnight,” said Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney in Washington , DC, who heads the Capitol riot cases, said at a news conference in late January.
Sherwin has spoken publicly about using more than 500 subpoenas and search warrants to gather evidence, and federal agents have descended on properties from California to the east coast.
Some of these searches, such as raids in Orange County, California, in late January, searched the property of men who were not accused of crimes. In these raids, the FBI confirmed to CNN that they had searched the properties of men who ran a group that co-sponsored a pro-Trump rally the day before the attack. And in court records on employees of the far-right group, the Proud Boys, prosecutors have described the fundraising efforts as they were found during a search of the home of Ethan Nordean, leader of the Seattle Proud Boys, “ledgers, notebooks, and other records the operations of the Proud Boys “.
Loosely organized extremists
One of the problems investigators face could be how loosely organized the extremist groups – essentially rallies of groups sometimes commenting on their support for President Donald Trump or their anger over the 2020 election and distrust of the Cross government.
In Nordean’s case, for example, prosecutors described him marching with fellow Proud Boys members on January 6th and interacting in the crowd with Robert Gieswein, a man from Colorado who allegedly belongs to the three percent extremist group that runs a paramilitary training group directs. After his arrest in mid-January, the public prosecutors revealed little in their case against Gieswein. Nordean and Gieswein have yet to officially face their charges in DC, and the Justice Department attempted to overturn a decision earlier this week that could release Nordean from custody. Gieswein is imprisoned according to court records.
“So far, evidence has shown that the individuals and groups responsible for the January 6 attack were not part of a cohesive group,” said George Selim, who led anti-extremism programs for the Department of Homeland Security and is now a senior Vice President at is the Anti-Defamation League.
“Instead, through the publication of various billing documents and the published footage, we have seen several differently organized groups from different geographic areas, with different backgrounds and aspirations, trying to band together for common goals,” said Selim.
Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.