COLUMBUS, Ohio — Two Ohioans who are part of a right-wing militia group began plans for military-style training in November in Ohio with an eye on the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, weeks before they participated in the Jan. 6 violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to new details contained in federal court records.
In text messages on Nov. 9, the week Biden was declared the winner of the presidential election, Jessica Watkins invited others interested in joining her self-styled Ohio militia group to come to a week-long “Basic Training class coming up in the beginning of January,” telling one recruit, “I need you fighting fit by innaugeration [sic],” according to an indictment filed in federal court late Wednesday.
“It’s a military style basic, here in Ohio, with a Marine Drill sergeant running it. An hour north of columbus ohio,” Watkins wrote in a text message, according to the indictment, which offers no additional details about the training camp, including its specific location.
Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50, both of Champaign County, have been charged along with Thomas Caldwell, 65, and accused of being part of a group who stormed the Capitol while Congress attempted to confirm the results of the election. They have been charged with conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, destruction of government property and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds.
Prosecutors said all three are military veterans affiliated with Oath Keepers, a right-wing, loosely organized anti-government group that recruits law enforcement and military members to join, although Caldwell’s attorney told the Washington Post he is not a member.
Court records didn’t list an attorney for Watkins. Jim Fleisher, listed in media reports as Crowl’s attorney, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. But during a federal court hearing in Dayton earlier this month, Fleisher described Crowl as a law-abiding citizen who helped rescue injured people during the riot, according to the Dayton Daily News.
The trio was arrested earlier this month and charged along with dozens of others, accused of being part of a pro-Donald Trump mob that stormed the building, leading to the deaths of five people, including one Capitol Police officer.
Crowl also attended a training camp in North Carolina in late December, according to prosecutors.
The indictment filed this week includes additional details, including describing the training camps and other preparations prosecutors said the self-described militia members took leading up to Jan. 6.
In a statement, defense attorney Thomas Plofchan called Caldwell “a highly decorated veteran” and said his client “expects to have the charges dismissed or to be acquitted at trial,” the Washington Post reported.
Plofchan also called the indictment “a deliberate attempt to find a scapegoat for activities on January 6.”
Prosecutors previously have said the trio used a walkie-talkie app to communicate with each other, and include transcripts of the recorded communications. Caldwell at one point discussed trying to also storm the Ohio Statehouse, prosecutors said.
“We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan,” Watkins said in one recorded walkie-talkie message, according to charging documents.
“You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud,” another man said on the walkie-talkie channel, according to charging documents.
The documents also include Facebook messages the FBI said Caldwell received while in the Capitol, including “All members are in the tunnels under capital seal them in. Turn on gas” and “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down.”
Asked by a federal magistrate earlier this month if she understood the charges against her, Watkins said: “I understand them but I don’t understand how I got them,” according to the Dayton Daily News. Court records don’t list attorneys for either her or Cowell.