Man charged in Capitol riot plot to be released from jail

Politics

An illuminated traffic barrier is seen on the Capitol grounds before sunrise in Washington, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A man charged with conspiring with members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group in the attack on the U.S. Capitol will be released from jail while he awaits trial, a judge ruled Friday after challenging the strength of the evidence against him.

The decision is a serious blow for prosecutors, who fought to keep Thomas Caldwell locked up, calling him a a threat to the community and major player in the Oath Keepers’ plot to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

Judge Amit Mehta of U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. expressed concerns with Caldwell’s conduct, but noted that Caldwell did not enter the Capitol and said there is no direct evidence that Caldwell plotted in advance to do so.

“There are no text message communications by him that speak to actually entering the building or trying to enter the building and ultimately he did not enter the building,” Mehta said.

“There is evidence here that I think is favorable to Mr. Caldwell,” the judge added.

The judge also noted that Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia, is suffering from serious medical issues issues behind bars. He ordered him to be released to 24-hour home confinement with GPS monitoring.

Caldwell is one of nine defendants linked to the Oath Keepers and charged with conspiring with one another in the Jan. 6 attack that resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer. It’s the biggest conspiracy case the U.S. has brought so far in the Capitol attack, as investigators narrow in on organized extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and another far-right group, the Proud Boys.

Authorities have acknowledged there’s no evidence Caldwell was a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers but have described him as a supporter who appeared to play a “leadership role” within the group.

Caldwell’s lawyer, David Fischer, said prosecutors have provided no evidence that the riot was anything but spontaneous. Fischer said Caldwell is “suffering” in jail and has been unable to get the medical attention he needs for serious back issues.

“He has been perhaps the most honest straightforward client I’ve had in 25 years, and I truly believe this man is innocent,” Fisher told the judge.

Prosecutors say Caldwell and the Oath Keepers were not whipped into a frenzy by President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 but came into Washington prepared for violence and intent on stopping the certification of the vote.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Leigh Rakoczy said the Oath Keepers were “prepared to do whatever was necessary to stop the certification” but conceded prosecutors do not have records in which someone explicitly says the plan was to breach the Capitol.

Authorities have said the Oath Keepers and their associates prepared in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 as if they were going to war, discussing things like weapons and training.

Days before the attack, Caldwell suggested in a text message getting a boat to ferry weapons across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors say.

The Oath Keepers also discussed stationing a “quick reaction force” outside Washington that could bring in weapons “if something goes to hell,” according to court documents.

Hours after the siege, Caldwell was already talking about another attack “at the local level,” authorities said.

“If we’d had guns I guarantee we would have killed 100 politicians. They ran off and were spirited away through their underground tunnels like the rats they were,” Caldwell said in one message, according to court documents.

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