In a risky move on Tuesday, Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial defendant Thomas Caldwell chose to take the witness stand for the first time where he flatly denied allegations that he was part of a violent plot to stop the nation’s transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021.
Caldwell, a 68-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, is alleged by the Justice Department to have coordinated the extremist group’s plans to stage a heavily armed “quick reaction force” or QRF on Jan. 6.
Prosecutors and witnesses including FBI agents who testified during the weeks-long trial allege that the reaction force at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia was staged so that Oath Keepers on the ground in Washington, D.C. just over the Potomac River, could be supplied with guns, ammunition and other tactical gear as the attempt to stop the certification of electoral votes was underway.
Early in the trial, one FBI agent testified that she believed the group intended to occupy not just the Capitol, but Washington, D.C. itself if given the chance or called upon by former President Donald Trump.
When Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes testified last week, he did not deny that weapons were stored in Virginia. But much like with Rhodes, when it came time for Caldwell to square off with prosecutors for the first time and take questions he had clearly not prepared for, the tidy and often affable presentation of the defense started to crack.
Long before the trial began, Caldwell’s defense focused largely on his disability status as a veteran of the U.S. Navy. His attorney David Fischer contends Caldwell is simply not of the constitution to participate in a riot and his character and love of country furthermore, wouldn’t allow the veteran to facilitate those who would.
Caldwell testified that when he ascended the inaugural stage at the Capitol on Jan. 6 with his “beautiful wife” Sharon Caldwell, he felt pride because he was happy to be in the city he was born in.
His wife only a day ago told jurors she still supports now what she said in footage of her captured on Jan. 6: That members of Congress are “pussies.”
Thomas Caldwell beggared belief when he told jurors that his wife’s assessment amid the mob on Jan. 6 meant something else.
“I think she’s saying that it was a great opportunity for us to begin the healing process,” he said.
Caldwell described Jan. 6 as “a great day for me as a historian.” He further testified that he was unaware of any rioting or violence as he ascended the inaugural stage already packed with protesters. He didn’t realize there was violence happening until days later, he claimed. His wife compared those scaling scaffolding to children on monkey bars.
A picture Caldwell took of his wife on Jan. 6 featured her standing roughly 50 yards from the lower west terrace tunnel with her back to it. This was the site of some of the worst violence on Jan. 6. Though the tunnel is visible behind her, and Caldwell later wrote in texts that “we started stealing the cops riot shields,” he denies knowing what was happening in the tunnel where police were viciously assaulted and had shields ripped away from them.
For all the “fun” the couple testified about having on Jan. 6 in their respective testimonies, the evidence the Justice Department presented was stark. Though Caldwell never entered the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors say he aligned himself with Oath Keepers seditious goal before and after the assault.
In a series of text messages shown to jurors that at times involved Caldwell, members of the Oath Keepers, or Caldwell and his family members or friends alike, the Berryville, Virginia resident regularly commiserated over the “stolen” election of 2020. A shared hatred of “antifa” or Democrats or anyone who would upset his or the group’s ideal was often overt in the messages, prosecutors say.
Jurors saw some of those examples Tuesday, including messages where Caldwell discussed his high hopes that Trump would begin “rounding up and executing traitors” in December 2020 or how he “prayed that we are going to have to step into the streets” to support Trump.”
“If on the other hand, we had take on the military, it would be real tough,” he said.
Caldwell wrote off his remarks, saying they were jokes or he “didn’t mean it.” He was taking “creative license” as a writer of screenplays, he said. The same alibi would apply, he told prosecutor Louis Manzo, regarding a conversation he had with an individual named Adrian Grimes on Jan. 1.
Grimes wrote to Caldwell that Trump would “win on the 6th and if not, I’m personally gonna start the civil war myself.”
Caldwell replied, “I’m starting the night of the 6th if necessary.”
As he read his own words aloud in the courtroom, Caldwell often smiled and shook his head dismissively. Neither that nor texts where he discussed how Mike Pence needed to “stand tall on 1/6” if the former vice president wanted to live through the end of that week, were genuine reflections of his intent.
“They are a great exaggeration. Just like the charges are against me,” he said.
He defended other comments he made on Jan. 6, including remarks made on camera where, wild-eyed, Caldwell proclaimed: “Today, I wipe my ass on Pelosi’s doorknob.”
Reflecting on his comments now, Caldwell merely told jurors that Pelosi was a “good person to poke fun at at the time.”
Caldwell has denied being a member of the Oath Keepers. He denied having any association with co-defendant Kelly Meggs, the leader of the group’s Florida division, prior to Jan. 6. He has denied deleting and unsending roughly 180 messages on Facebook after Jan. 6. He denied attempting to procure a boat for the QRF though he admitted from the stand on Tuesday that at least one of the messages that were deleted pertained to the boat.
He attempted to get a dig in about the department’s handling of the overall investigation and in particular, of their claims about his destruction of evidence.
“I’m glad the government has been able to restore what’s been deleted,” he remarked.
“Sir, we have not been able to restore any of those messages,” Manzo replied.
The messages he unsent, including those to Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl, Manzo noted, have not been seen by anyone in the courtroom. Not by the government and not by the jury.
Asking him on the spot if he admitted to deleting messages to Crowl, Caldwell would not.
Much of what jurors saw on Tuesday was already admitted into evidence but by taking the stand, U.S. attorneys were able to introduce new rounds of texts and other correspondence where Caldwell’s so-called “creative” propensities skewed darkly violent.
In a review of messages shared with his 20-year-old nephew where Caldwell described how to gouge someone’s eyes out with a fork and suggested using a steak knife to evade genuine assault charges, Caldwell claimed he was giving “game hints” for the first-person shooter video game, Call of Duty.
The Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy case is expected to close this week and Caldwell will retake the stand on Wednesday to wrap up final questions under redirect from his attorney. The government could launch its closing arguments as early as Wednesday afternoon and jurors could have the case handed over to them by the week’s end.
For a blow-by-blow of everything that happened in court today, check out the Daily Kos live blog or take a scroll through the mega-thread on Twitter.
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