Judge Frees Oath Keeper, Questions Strength of Conspiracy Case Against Him in Capitol Riot
Judge frees Oath Keeper ‘commander’ Thomas Caldwell, 65, says there’s no evidence he entered Capitol during MAGA riot
- Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old veteran from rural Virginia, was released on Friday
- He was charged with a large conspiracy related to the January 6 riot.
- Caldwell has been charged with eight members of far-right group Oath Keepers
- The judge noted his poor health and said there were gaps in the evidence
- Caldwell was released on house arrest with GPS monitoring ahead of trial
- More than 300 people have been charged in connection with the insurgency
A Virginia veteran accused of being a member of the Oath Keepers and indicted for the Capitol riot was released on bail on Friday after the judge in his case questioned the strength of the charges against him.
Thomas Caldwell, 65, was in poor health, noted Judge Amit Mehta, presiding over a Washington DC court.
Federal prosecutors have charged him with conspiring for months beforehand with other associates of the anti-government Oath Keepers militia.
Caldwell, a retired US Navy lieutenant commander who held a security clearance and formerly worked for the FBI, was charged along with Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl with conspiracy, obstruction of official process, destruction of property governmental and entry into a restricted building.
Thomas Caldwell, seen posing at CPAC in February 2019, was released from prison on Friday
Prosecutors showed members of the Guardians of the Oath during the January 6 uprising
Caldwell is shown at a pro-Trump rally in a handout provided by prosecutors
Caldwell, Watkins and Crowl are accused of concocting a plot to organize an armed ‘quick reaction force’ outside Washington that would be ready to step in and fight ‘hand-to-hand’ if Donald Trump ordered.
They planned to cross the Potomac River with “heavy weapons”.
Watkins and Crowl remain in custody.
Prosecutors said the FBI found a document titled “Death List” during a search of Caldwell’s home, with the handwritten name of an election official in another state.
Mehta criticized Caldwell’s ‘fanciful’ beliefs that the 2020 election should be canceled and strongly criticized oath keepers for preparing for possible violence.
But he noted that Caldwell did not enter the Capitol himself.
Jessica Watkins (2nd from L) and Donovan Crowl (center) during the Capitol Riot on January 6
“There is no direct evidence of Mr. Caldwell planning to enter the Capitol building,” Mehta said.
“There are no texts, communications from him that talk about entering a building or trying to enter the building. And finally, he did not enter the building.
More than 300 people have been charged in connection with the riot, and the Justice Department says the figure could easily exceed 400.
Charges are also likely to be brought against other members of the Oath Keepers, building on the existing conspiracy case which already has nine defendants, prosecutors said in court Thursday.
Mehta put Caldwell under house arrest with GPS monitoring, banned him from using electronics, and warned him against communicating with anyone associated with the Oathkeepers.
Rioters are seen inside the Capitol on January 6. Caldwell never entered the building
Mehta’s decision reversed a previous ruling he made last month to keep Caldwell in jail pending trial.
Caldwell pleaded not guilty and his attorney said on Friday he was “innocent” of the charges.
“Don’t take this as a reflection of the seriousness of what you’ve been accused of or your conduct,” Mehta said.
“But I have standards to follow under the law and I think they warrant your release. Don’t get me wrong – if you violate my terms, you’ll be back in jail very quickly.
Caldwell’s attorney, David Fischer, said his client was afraid Antifa would attack Trump supporters.
Fischer said that was why Caldwell and other co-conspirators discussed having an armed ‘quick reaction force’ across the river in Virginia, ready to enter Washington in case of problem.