Thomas E. Caldwell, 66, of Berryville, is charged with conspiring with two Ohio members of the conservative Oath Keepers to obstruct the electoral vote count, destroy government property and enter a restricted area, though prosecutors acknowledge he didn’t enter the Capitol building. Caldwell spoke up three times as U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta in the District explained his reasons for detaining the retired Navy commander and former FBI employee.
“Your honor, these things are taken out of context,” Caldwell said as Mehta quoted messages allegedly sent by Caldwell discussing a “Quick Response Team” on the Potomac River “with the heavy weapons standing by,” and one message after the Jan. 6 siege that read, “Lets storm the capitol in Ohio. Tell me when!”
“I didn’t send that,” Caldwell interjected. “My life hangs in the balance,” he also told the judge, who repeatedly advised him not to speak.
Mehta cited a series of communications Caldwell allegedly had since November, over Facebook and other media, to support his finding that Caldwell was a danger to the community and not eligible for release. He said Caldwell apparently joined with others “to plan a potential militarylike incursion on the Capitol on Jan. 6,” noting one message allegedly sent by Caldwell that said, “I believe we will have to get violent to stop this.”
The judge was also troubled by prosecutors’ contention that after the riot Caldwell deleted Facebook messages and photos he had posted of himself at the Capitol, which Mehta characterized as destroying evidence. Caldwell also allegedly invited co-defendants Jessica M. Watkins and Donovan Crowl, from Woodstock, Ohio, to stay at his house and store their military equipment with him. Both Watkins and Crowl appear in photos inside the Capitol.
Caldwell was arrested at his home on Jan. 19, and federal officials said a search turned up a document titled “Death List.” Mehta asked for specifics about the item, which prosecutors said named “an election official from another state.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn L. Rakoczy sent a photo of the list to the judge and Caldwell’s attorney, Thomas K. Plofchan Jr., during the hearing; she said it contained the name of one election official from another state who had been in the news, as well as a relative of the official.
Mehta and the lawyers did not name the official, and the judge said he did not consider it in his ruling.
Plofchan said Caldwell denies that he has any death list. “My client doesn’t even recall the words ‘death’ or ‘list’ being on a piece of paper in his house,” the lawyer said.
The judge said Caldwell’s use of undetectable electronic communications couldn’t be monitored round-the-clock. “Given the extensive planning” for Jan. 6, Mehta said, “given the extensive degree of communications, I don’t have any confidence that Mr. Caldwell won’t continue to engage in this kind of conduct and this behavior and planning with others if he were to be released.”
Caldwell is being held at the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange. Plofchan said after the hearing, “The government controls at this stage. As my client kept trying to say, context is everything. And a defense attorney can’t counter what we don’t know about.”
Plofchan said Caldwell was not a member of the Oath Keepers, had no history of violence and didn’t pose a threat to the community.
At least two other alleged participants in the Jan. 6 riot also appeared Friday before federal judges in Washington. Daniel Adams, an East Texas man accused of mobilizing rioters to push past police, also unsuccessfully sought his release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards said Adams was one of the first people in the building and was so aggressive with police that they responded with force and left him with a head injury.
Defense attorney Gary Proctor said Adams was at most “middle management” in the assault and that his behavior at the Capitol was an “aberration.”
Judge Zia Faruqui agreed that Adams “was incited.” Without naming anyone, the judge said “Someone poured the gasoline around the capitol building,” and “all it took was one spark to light the bonfire.” But, Faruqui said, he couldn’t let Adams out of jail for fear he would be inflamed again: “We’re at a moment still that is a tense moment.”
An attorney for another defendant, Matt Bledsoe, asked U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell to remove his GPS monitoring, saying Bledsoe didn’t mean he himself intended to “execute them all” — as he texted after the Jan. 6 riot — but instead that, as a subscriber to the extremist ideology QAnon, he imagined that lawmakers would be executed by proper authorities in a Judgment Day apocalypse. Howell rejected that, saying “QAnon believers will confront facts and reality in court.”
“What happened January 6 is no fantasy for people inside the Capitol,” Howell said, “or for people in the country. The defendant is entitled to his beliefs. He can believe the QAnon theory. He can believe the earth is flat. He can believe what he wants, but he is not entitled to break the law, and his conduct was such a risk to others that keeping track of his whereabouts while pending trial is a wise decision.”
She said that in six months, if the case remains pending and Bledsoe abides by his release conditions without exception, his attorney could argue that he had shown his responsibility.