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Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege

Authorities cited this video evidence against apparent Oath Keepers Thomas Edward Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl in the attack on the Capitol. (Video: TWP)

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, his deputy and three members who guarded Roger Stone exchanged nearly 20 phone calls over three hours on Jan. 6, coinciding with the first assault on police barricades protecting the U.S. Capitol and spanning the time the three members breached the building, prosecutors charged Thursday.

In a new indictment adding previously charged Stone guards Joshua James, 33, of Arab, Ala., and Roberto Minuta, 36, of Prosper, Tex., to an Oath Keepers conspiracy case that now has 12 defendants, prosecutors bluntly laid a path to Rhodes and a person they said he put in charge of his group’s operations that day.

Prosecutors identified that individual only as “Person 10.” Rhodes in interviews has said he tapped a former Army explosives expert and Blackwater contractor nicknamed “Whip” as on-the-ground team leader.

Neither Rhodes nor Person 10, who has not been publicly identified, has been charged or accused of wrongdoing. Efforts by The Washington Post to reach a person matching Rhodes’s description of “Whip” were unsuccessful. The 12 co-defendants face charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

James, Minuta and two others have not entered pleas, while eight have pleaded not guilty.

Read the new indictment here

Rhodes has denied any plan to enter the Capitol and accused prosecutors of trying to manufacture a nonexistent conspiracy.

“I may go to jail soon, not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes,” Rhodes told Texas Republicans at a rally in Laredo last Friday. He urged supporters of former president Donald Trump to “not cower in fear” and claimed the federal government “was trying to get rid of us so they can get to you.”

“If we actually intended to take over the Capitol, we’d have taken it, and we’d have brought guns,” Rhodes said.

In a statement announcing the new charges, the Justice Department said the defendants engaged in “frequent and consistent communication leading up to the attack.”

The indictment highlighted a moment at 2:30 p.m. when James and Minuta allegedly raced to the Capitol from an undisclosed location in a golf cart, swerving around police. Minuta was dressed in “battle apparel,” including hard-knuckle tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, a radio with an earpiece and bear spray, prosecutors said.

“Patriots are storming the Capitol building; there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now . . . it’s going down, guys; it’s literally going down right now Patriots storming the Capitol building . . .” Minuta allegedly stated during the drive, the indictment said.

DOJ seeks to build large conspiracy case against Oath Keepers for Jan. 6 riot

The government did not indicate that it knew the contents of the 19 calls, but it presented their timeline and duration, showing many came back-to-back or seemingly relay-style among Rhodes — usually referred to as “Person One” in court filings — Person 10, James, Minuta and previously charged Florida “state lead” Kelly Meggs.

Prosecutors previously asserted that Rhodes forwarded a message around 2:15 p.m. by a person in charge of Oath Keepers security details — apparently Person 10 — to an encrypted Signal message group called “DC Ops 1” that included regional leaders from several states, including several charged riot participants.

They “have taken ground at the capital[.] We need to regroup any members who are not on mission,” the message said moments after the mob at 2:13 p.m. smashed its way into the Capitol from its West Front.

Roger Stone keeps appearing in Capitol breach investigation court filings

Prosecutors have also alleged that Meggs and Rhodes spoke for 97 seconds about nine minutes before Meggs helped lead a file of Oath Keepers in helmets and camouflage gear to force entry into the building through broken rotunda doors on the east side around 2:41 p.m.

The 25-page indictment handed up Wednesday and made public Thursday lays out a more intricate timeline of travel, lodging and payment arrangements for Rhodes, Person 10 and the dozen co-defendants.

According to the indictment, Person 10 on Jan. 4 checked in to a room reserved and paid for using a credit card in Rhodes’s name at the Hilton Garden Inn in Vienna, Va. Rhodes and Minuta, a Newburgh, N.Y., tattoo parlor owner, who moved to Texas, apparently traveled separately to Washington and checked in to the same hotel the following day, charging papers said.

The charges also presented a seemingly minute-by-minute glimpse of their communications at key moments of the Capitol attack.

Around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, Minuta and Rhodes allegedly exchanged two calls totaling about three minutes as a crowd of Trump supporters first surged through police barricades onto Capitol grounds from First Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Over another 17-minute span from 1:59 to 2:15 p.m. — the time of the rioters’ first break-in — Person 10 and Rhodes spoke, and then Person 10 and James exchanged five calls totaling about 6½ minutes, and Rhodes called Meggs for 15 seconds.

About that time, Rhodes allegedly forwarded Person 10’s “we need to regroup” message to the Signal group, and Person 10 called Meggs for 42 seconds.

Calls, texts by Oath Keepers founder contain ‘substantial evidence’ of Capitol conspiracy, prosecutors allege

Between 2:24 and 2:33 p.m., Person 10 and Rhodes spoke for nearly 5½ minutes before Meggs and Rhodes exchanged their call, James checked back with Person 10, and Minuta and James jumped into the golf cart. At 3:15 p.m., Minuta and James allegedly entered the Capitol through the same Rotunda doors, pushing past police.

Between 3:40 and 4:05 p.m., James and Person 10 later connected for three minutes and Minuta and Rhodes for 3½ minutes before more than a dozen Oath Keepers, including many of those who entered the building, gathered around Rhodes just outside the Capitol not long after 4 p.m., the indictment charged.

Although some charged Oath Keepers were seen acting as body guards for Stone earlier in the day and photographed with him in December, he has consistently said he was not involved in the Capitol riot and did not have advance knowledge of any illegal acts there. Stone has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Rhodes has said that he did not set foot on Capitol grounds until after the riot began and that initially charged co-defendants “went totally off mission” and “didn’t coordinate with us at all while they were there.”

He said he recommended members bring helmets, tactical gear and weapons such as metal batons to protect themselves against left-wing extremists, but only went to the Capitol because “there was a bunch of chaos. . . . And I wanted to make sure my guys didn’t get into trouble. . . . But it was too . . . late. Some of them had gone stupid and jumped inside.”

Robert Klemko, Emily Davies and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.