Oath Keeper militia member discussed 'civil war' ahead of Jan. 6, FBI testifies

FBI agents cataloged thousands of messages and cell phone records in the case.

October 14, 2022, 6:00 PM

The trial of several far-right militia members continued Friday in Washington as federal prosecutors called FBI agents to testify to messages they say were exchanged between those they tracked to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Relying on a what they said was trove of cell phone data and seized records, Justice Department lawyers painted a striking picture of a group they said had actively discussed the possibility of a "civil war" in the lead-up to the certification of President Joe Biden's election victory.

With an FBI agent attesting to their authenticity, the jury was shown what the government said were Facebook comments and private messages between the Oath Keepers including Kelly Meggs of Florida, Thomas Caldwell of Virginia and their leader Stewart Rhodes.

All three are standing trial on federal charges of seditious conspiracy and have pleaded not guilty.

The bulk of the messages presented Friday involved Caldwell, a member of the Oath Keeper's so-called "Quick Reaction Force," which prosecutors argued was prepared to descend on the Capitol with weapons.

PHOTO: Supporters of President Donald Trump overtake the U.S. Capitol during a protest, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Supporters of President Donald Trump overtake the U.S. Capitol during a protest, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images, FILE

"It's kill or be killed I am afraid," Caldwell wrote, prosecutors said, in a Nov 14 message presented to the jury. "I don't want to live in a communist country."

Judge Amit Mehta and the attorneys had extensively discussed whether the government could present the messages admitted Friday to the jury. After considering each objection raised by the defense, the judge ultimately decided the messages did speak to Caldwell's state of mind in the months leading up to Jan. 6.

"They've done what they've done, and at the end of the day, they can't un-ring that bell," Mehta said while the jury was out of the room.

The communications the government presented included a mix of Facebook messages, comments, private encrypted messages on the app Signal as well as emails.

PHOTO: Protesters clash with police outside the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.
Protesters clash with police outside the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"If we lose him [Donald Trump] from the White House, our country is dead," Caldwell is said to have written in one Facebook message read by the FBI agent. "They are asking that folks Trump Train it over there with flags flying. This may be the last hurrah, or a final push to let people know that we are not going down easily. Next step, I guess, if the Democraps throw out the Constitution, is Civil War."

"We must smite them now and drive them down," the government said Caldwell wrote in a Facebook comment just days before Jan. 6.

Further messages, the government said, show the extensive back-and-forth between Oath Keeper defendants Kelly Meggs and leader Stewart Rhodes about how they will arrive and group up in D.C. The group shared maps and location details, prosecutors said, even discussing how they might have to launch boats into the Potomac in case bridges close. Messages presented by the prosecution show Caldwell repeatedly asking around to borrow a boat.

"If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp ... we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across," Caldwell is alleged to have written in a Jan. 2, 2021, message to a member of the Three Percenters, another far-right group.

Court concluded Friday with a discussion of how to admit a jail call the government said Meggs had with his son in which the prosecution said he was "speaking in code" to describe how they hid or destroyed their guns so the government couldn't find them after Jan. 6.

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