U.S. prosecutors announced Friday the arrest of six more people associated with the far-right Oath Keepers militia in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Five of the six were part a group of militia members who used a military-style “stack” formation to breach the Capitol, along with hundreds of others, in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying the election victory of Trump rival Joe Biden, prosecutors said.
In a statement, the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia said the rioters donned paramilitary gear, “marched up the center steps on the east side of the U.S. Capitol, breached the door at the top and then stormed the building.”
They marched on the Capitol after attending a Trump rally near the White House where Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”FILE - President Donald Trump holds a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
The riot left five people dead, including a police officer, dozens of others seriously injured and extensive damage to the Capitol complex, which houses Congress. The attack triggered a nationwide manhunt by the FBI for the hundreds of people who were caught in video footage ransacking the Capitol and attacking police and others.
The House of Representatives impeached Trump for inciting the insurrection, but the Senate acquitted him on February 13 after a five-day trial.
Those associated with the Oath Keepers to be arrested this week were Kelly Meggs, 52, the self-styled leader of the group's Florida chapter, as well as three members: Connie Meggs, 59, Graydon Young, 54, and Laura Steele, 52.
Two others, Ohio couple Sandra Ruth Parker, 62, and Bennie Alvin Parker, 70, were arrested Thursday. While the two were not described in court papers as members of the Oath Keepers, prosecutors said they traveled to Washington with two members of the militia to take part in the riot. Bennie Parker is the only one of the six arrested this week who was not part of the stack formation that breached the Capitol.
Three other Oath Keepers — Jessica Watkins, 38, Donovan Crowl, 50, and Thomas Caldwell, 65 — were arrested last month by the FBI on conspiracy charges.
All nine are being prosecuted as a group and face multiple criminal charges, including one count each of conspiring to commit an offense against the United States. If convicted, they face years or potentially decades in prison.
The arrests marked the culmination of a weekslong effort by the FBI to arrest the eight to 10 individuals it said took part in the Oath Keepers “stack.” But just how many members of the Oath Keepers took part in the insurrection remains uncertain. In a message sent on the audio app Zello during the riot, Watkins claimed that “we have 30-40 of us,” according to court documents.
The Oath Keepers are loosely organized collection of far-right activists, some of whom are associated with militia groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes them as “one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today.”FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, center, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, June 25, 2017.
Who are the Oath Keepers?
Founded in 2019 by Stewart Rhodes, a U.S. Army veteran, the Oath Keepers recruit current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel. Rhodes, who allegedly encouraged members and affiliates to travel to Washington last month in support of Trump’s fight against what he falsely called a Democratic coup and was seen outside the Capitol during the riot, has not been arrested.
In court documents, prosecutors said some members of the Oath Keepers began coordinating and planning the January 6 attack as early as November and used social media, text messaging and messaging apps to recruit “as large a following as possible to go to Washington, D.C., to support the January 6 operation.”
In early November, Watkins, the self-styled commander of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a subset of the Oath Keepers she created in 2019, invited new recruits for training in paramilitary combat tactics. On November 9, she texted one recruit, “I need you fighting fit by inauguration.”
This purported planning by the Oath Keepers and other groups was cited by Trump’s lawyers during his impeachment trial to argue that the riot would have happened regardless of Trump’s exhortations. But court documents show that as right-wing activists were planning, they were doing so in response to Trump’s call to arms.FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump clash with police at the west entrance of the Capitol during a "Stop the Steal" protest outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
'Wild' event promised
In late December, after Trump urged his ardent supporters to come to Washington for a rally that he predicted would be “wild,” Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter, wrote in a Facebook message, “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***!!”
And in a December 9 text message to another Oath Keeper, Watkins wrote, “We plan on going to DC on Jan. 6. Trump wants all able-bodied patriots to come.”
Prosecutors said Watkins provided “logistical assistance” for the attack on the Capitol, finding a hotel for several Oath Keepers to stay in around the January 6. And for days afterward, she thought she would escape the FBI manhunt, texting Bennie Parker on January 9, “I wouldn’t worry about them coming after us.”
But on January 17, the FBI arrested her and two of her comrades.
An estimated 700 people took part in the January 6 riot. A recent analysis of the more than 200 Capitol rioters arrested so far revealed that just 10% had ties to militias and other far-right groups; the rest were “normal” Trump supporters angry over the former president’s defeat.
In addition to the Oath Keepers, several members of another militia known as the Three Percenters and more than a dozen members of the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump far-right group, have been arrested.