COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
Authorities charged a leader of the Oath Keepers and two members from Ohio for their role in breaching the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 as Congress was voting to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 49, both of Champaign County, are facing federal charges of entering restricted grounds, violent entry, and obstruction of a congressional proceeding.
Thomas Caldwell, 65, who the feds say has a leadership role in the collective of several unregulated ‘militia’ groups known as the Oath Keepers, was charged with the same counts, along with conspiracy to commit an offense.
The two Ohioans are dues-paying Oath Keeper members, according to an interview with Watkins, another outlet’s interview with Crowl, and the federal allegations.
Oath Keepers are predominantly former armed forces members (including Crowl and Watkins) and law enforcement who believe the government is stripping freedoms away from Americans. Members have been convicted of several acts of violence and weapons charges, even before the Jan. 6 raid on Congress, which left five people dead including a U.S. Capitol Police officer and an insurrectionist shot by police.
On Tuesday, authorities arrested Thomas Caldwell, who the feds say has a “leadership role” with the Oath Keepers, in connection with the raid. In an affidavit, an FBI agent cited information from an unidentified witness stating that on Jan. 14, the day the Ohio Capital Journal first identified Watkins at the raid, she left Ohio to stay with Caldwell in Virginia.
Caldwell was involved in planning and coordinating the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, federal officials allege. Charging documents cite Facebook messages sent to an unidentified recipient of Caldwell boasting about being an “instigator” and how the doors were “breached.”
“We need to do this at the local level,” he allegedly said. “Lets [sic] storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
Caldwell could not be reached for comment via a phone number contained in his charging documents.
At least 50 officers were injured during the course of events Jan. 6. Officials located pipe bombs at Republican and Democratic party headquarters near the Capitol, along with Molotov cocktails and other weapons on the Capitol grounds.
Watkins, in an interview before her arrest, acknowledged entering the Capitol amid the mob. She said she did not destroy any property inside or fight with any law enforcement officers.
“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash,” she said. “That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.”
Crowl, speaking to The New Yorker, made similar remarks.
Footage of the Jan. 6 raid reported by this outlet and later cited by federal prosecutors shows a train of Oath Keepers, including Crowl and Watkins, slicing through a crowd and up the stairs to the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was convened.
Radio communications through the Zello walkie-talkie app, intercepted by reporters and published in The Guardian, captured Watkins and other militia members communicating in real time as they enter the building.
“We’ve got a good group, there’s about 30, 40 of us,” she said. “We’re sticking together and sticking to the plan.”
Her last communication via Zello is candid.
“We are in the mezzanine, we are in the main building right now, we are rocking it,” she said. “They’re throwing grenades, they’re shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”
Footage posted to Parler, an alternative social media site favored by conservatives, and obtained by ProPublica depicts Crowl and Watkins inside the building.
“Look who took over the Capitol, over ran the Capitol,” Crowl, clad in a tactical vest, combat fatigues, and a helmet with goggles perched on top of it.
“We’re in the f***ing Capitol bro,” Watkins, similarly dressed, says to the camera.
Court records identifying attorneys for Watkins and Crowl were not available with federal court records as of Tuesday afternoon.
Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine closed the Ohio Statehouse and deployed National Guard troops to the building, citing threats of potentially violent armed protests at all 50 U.S. statehouses. He declined to share specifics on the threats.
A DeWine spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment on Caldwell’s remarks.
Under a heavy military presence, roughly 25 heavily armed members of the Boogaloo Movement, a far-right, anti-government group appeared at the statehouse to demonstrate. There was no violence.