A key member of the Oath Keepers militia told associates he had coordinated alliances with the Proud Boys and other paramilitary groups in advance of Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, according to new evidence filed by the Justice Department.
Spurred on by the president’s incendiary rhetoric at that day’s rally, Trump supporters, including Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, rioted at the Capitol and assaulted police officers later that day in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Kelly Meggs, the Florida leader of the Oath Keepers — who’s been charged along with nine others with conspiring to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election — said in private messages obtained by prosecutors that he’d been in touch repeatedly with Proud Boys leadership in particular. He said he had worked out a strategy to confront potential violence from antifa, a loosely organized collection of left-wing extremists.
“This week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers, and Proud Boys,” Meggs wrote in a Dec. 19 message to an associate via Facebook. “We have decided to work together and shut this shit down.”
In Dec. 22 and Dec. 25 messages, Meggs got more specific, describing tactical maneuvers they would conduct with the Proud Boys if they encountered antifa: “We’re going to march with them for awhile then fall to the back of the crowd and turn off. Then we will have the Proud Boys get in front of them the cops will get between antifa and Proud Boys. We will come in behind antifa and beat the hell out of them.”
The evidence is the first to suggest coordination among the various extremist groups as they prepared to descend on Washington. Oath Keepers attorneys have emphasized in court papers that evidence they were preparing for violence was limited to potential confrontation with antifa — not a plan to storm the Capitol.
But prosecutors say the planning, plus a growing body of evidence that the Oath Keepers executed a coordinated plan to enter the Capitol and rallied to the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, after first breaching the building, suggesting it was an element of their effort. In addition, prosecutors revealed messages of Oath Keepers celebrating the Capitol assault and promising to “reload” for further action.
Prosecutors unveiled an indictment last week against four Proud Boys leaders for similarly coordinating movements in advance of Jan. 6, with an emphasis on dividing into small groups ahead of their march on the Capitol. Along with the Oath Keepers cases, the Proud Boys charges are the gravest to arise from the Jan. 6 assault. Prosecutors have arrested more than 300 participants in the Capitol attack. Dozens unaffiliated with either militia have been charged with brutal assaults on police and breaching the building or causing property damage.
Michael Sherwin, who until recently was the leader of the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 investigation and the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., told CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday that he believes evidence would support a charge of “seditious conspiracy” against some of the rioters, a rarely used charge meant to signal an intent to overthrow the government. And anonymous DOJ officials told The New York Times that they believed such a charge would likely be aimed at the Oath Keepers.
The reports led a top federal judge to admonish the Justice Department and threaten sanctions Tuesday for comments he said could taint the jury pool and undermine the case against the 10 Oath Keepers.
According to court papers filed by prosecutors, the Oath Keepers moved on the building in a military-style “stack” formation and were among the first to enter the Capitol complex. They then dispersed to various points in the building, and messages show they were intent on heading to the Senate, where then-Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over a GOP-led challenge to Arizona’s electoral vote count. Prosecutors note they’re still reviewing footage to determine whether Oath Keepers followed the mob to the Senate chamber.
Meggs’ messages indicated that just days before the Jan. 6 attack, he and others anticipated that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, which they viewed as permission to aid his effort to stay in power.
“Trump’s staying in, he’s gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act,” Meggs wrote in a Dec. 26 Facebook message.
“Any idea when?” an associate replied.
“Next week,” Meggs said. “Then wait for the 6th when we are all in dc to insurrection.”
Meggs’ messages also show that Pence’s actions ahead of Jan. 6 — in which he agreed he would entertain challenges to the counting of electoral votes, as procedures required — emboldened the group. “That checks all the boxes,” Meggs wrote. “I think this is why we were called there.”
Meggs also indicated that about 200 Oath Keepers had heeded what rioters said was a call to come to Washington. It’s unclear how many actually showed up. Ten have been indicted as part of the conspiracy, and prosecutors indicated they anticipate up to about five more being added to these particular charges.
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