Feds: Militia leader charged in D.C. riot wanted to ‘storm’ Ohio Statehouse

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Prosecutors have filed motions asking court to prevent two Champaign County residents accused in connection to the Capitol Building riot from being released.

New federal court records filed Tuesday describe the accusations against two people from Champaign County and a Virginia man, alleging the trio conspired with militia members to storm the U.S. Capitol, and saying one of them discussed attacking the Ohio Statehouse and another collected directions on making explosives.

The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charges the trio of conspiring to impede or injure an officer, destruction of government property, obstruction of official proceedings, entering restricted building or grounds, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

The complaint says Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, has a “leadership role” in the Oath Keepers and advocated storming the Ohio Statehouse as well.

Also charged were Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50, both of Champaign County. The two appeared in federal court in Dayton on Tuesday, where they were presented with the amended charges that mean they each face more than 40 years in prison if convicted.

Asked by a magistrate if she understood the charges against her, Watkins said: “I understand them but I don’t understand how I got them.”

The defendants didn’t enter pleas.

Charging documents against Watkins say she is a commanding officer of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a dues-paying subset of the Oath Keepers. A search of her home found explosives-making instructions, paramilitary gear, a paintball gun with rubber-steel balls, pool cues cut down to baton size and other supplies, the records say.

The complaint says a group of eight to 10 Oath Keepers in paramilitary gear were shown on video forcing their way to the front of a crowd gathered around a door to the U.S. Capitol.

Explore2 Champaign County residents held on federal charges tied to Capitol riot

Evidence against the three referenced in the complaint includes videos and messages posted to social media accounts on Parler and Facebook, recordings on a walkie-talkie app and media interviews.

The complaint says Caldwell on Jan. 1 replied to a Facebook comment saying: “I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I did the former, I have done the latter peacefully, but they have morphed into pure evil, even blatantly rigging an election and paying off the political caste. We must smite them now and drive them down.”

Court filings quote from Caldwell’s Facebook account saying he organized travel to Washington, D.C., including helping get rooms at a D.C.-area hotel in a “good location” that “would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to.”

It says on Jan. 5 a room was rented at that hotel under the name “Jessica Wagkins.”

The complaint quotes from audio recording allegedly of Watkins narrating the Capitol incursion on a walkie-talkie app. “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here,” it quotes her as saying.

An unknown man allegedly cheers her on, saying she is executing a citizens arrest for treason and elections fraud.

According to the affidavit, on Jan. 6, Caldwell posted a video to Facebook from inside the Capitol with a message saying: “Us storming the castle. Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator! She was ready for it man! Didn’t even mind the tear gas.”

Then two minutes later: “Proud Boys scuffled with cops and drove them inside to hide. Breached the doors. One guy made it all the way to the house floor, another to Pelosi’s office. A good time.”

Less than a minute later: “We need to do this at the local level. (Let’s) storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”

The affidavit says Watkins returned to Ohio after the incursion, then on Jan. 14 went to stay with Caldwell, whom she called “Commander Tom.” Watkins and Crowl turned themselves in to the FBI at the Urbana Police Department on Jan. 17 after driving back from Virginia, court records say.

“The Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights,” the affidavit says. “Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, what differentiates them from other anti-government groups is their explicit focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first responder personnel.”

At the hearing Tuesday, prosecutors asked the magistrate to keep the Champaign Count duo locked up while awaiting trial. The judge asked where each would like proceedings held. Crowl chose Dayton. Watkins chose Washington, D.C.