Caldwell has in many ways become the poster child for the effort on certain portions of the right to claim that Jan. 6 defendants are political prisoners.
On Thursday, we learned that same poster child was among the first Americans in more than a decade to be charged with seditious conspiracy.
But he’s not alone. Several of the 11 indicted people linked to the Oath Keepers extremist group have been keyed in on by Jan. 6 conspiracy theorists. Two of them — Caldwell and Kelly Meggs — have received sympathetic treatment by insurrection-doubters on Fox and elsewhere. One of them — Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes — was the subject of theories that he was actually a government informant, because he hadn’t been indicted.
All of those treatments have now been cast in a new light given the very serious charges announced Thursday.
Back in June, Carlson previewed his effort to attach Jan. 6 to the federal government by introducing Caldwell suggestively as someone “who by the way is a 65-year-old man” but who the government has claimed "is a dangerous ‘insurrectionist.’ ” The impetus for the segment was a highly conspiratorial story by former Trump White House aide Darren Beattie that baselessly suggested that the presence of unindicted co-conspirators in indictments such as Caldwell’s indicated those people were actually government agents.
Beattie, who was fired by the Trump White House for appearing on a panel with a white nationalist, made the claim despite the fact that government agents quite literally can’t be listed as unindicted co-conspirators. There were also plenty of other very established reasons for not naming these people — including that the government was still investigating cases such as the one unveiled Thursday.
By October, Carlson welcomed both Caldwell and his wife, Sharon, for an interview (while notably not asking her whether she was a government agent). The impetus was again a story from a dubious conservative website, American Greatness, which stated flatly that Caldwell had “committed no serious crime.”
Again, Carlson layered the whole thing with overwhelming implications that Caldwell had been persecuted for next to nothing.
“So, of the many Americans swept up in the hysteria and political persecution that took place and is still taking place after January 6th is a Navy veteran called Thomas Caldwell,” Carlson said.
“You think of all the people in Congress who support what has happened to you, it’s just — you know, Liz Cheney ought to be ashamed, and I hope she is watching this,” Carlson said.
He added: “I hope you crush these people, and we’re going to follow your case and I hope that you both will come back.” And: “It’s shocking this could happen in our country.”
Fox host Jesse Watters introduced a clip of Carlson’s interview with Caldwell by calling Caldwell “a political prisoner.”
All of this came after prosecutors alleged that Caldwell had compiled a “death list” which included a state election official. The charges against him have also alleged he spoke about having “heavy weapons” on standby for Jan. 6.
Caldwell appeared again on Carlson’s show Thursday night, after the seditious-conspiracy charges were announced. This time, Carlson dug a little deeper into what the government actually alleged, and there was less of a suggestion that Caldwell was just some kindly senior citizen. But Carlson did suggest that the “heavy weapons” were potentially oversold — “Do you have Howitzers or anything like that?” — and that perhaps the feds did something wrong by obtaining Caldwell’s encrypted communications.
Another man now charged with seditious conspiracy is Kelly Meggs. Back in June, he was also pitched as a victim of persecution by Fox host Will Cain, who invoked Meggs even while citing the lack of sedition charges.
“But you know what: No one has been charged with sedition,” Cain said — echoing a talking point that has now blown back on its promoters. Cain added: “Instead, people like Kelly and Connie Meggs walked into the Capitol — no vandalism, no violence — but instead, were guilty of being members of the Oath Keepers. … They walked in while being a member of the wrong group.”
Others including the author of the American Greatness piece have pointed to Kelly Meggs’s pretrial detention as being wrong. They did so despite the government having said early on that Meggs texted with someone who said they were “hoping to see Nancy [Pelosi]'s head rolling down the front steps." Meggs allegedly responded, with an apparent typo, "We looked forward her.” The indictment unsealed Thursday said Kelly and Connie Meggs were among those looking for Pelosi. It also features Kelly Meggs allegedly talking in advance about bringing ammunition.
“Ammo situation,” Meggs allegedly said in a chat room, adding: “I’m gonna have a few thousand just in case.”
The indictment states that both Meggs and Caldwell on Jan. 5 provided “firearms, ammunition, and related items” to what they called a “quick reaction force."
The last person indicted on a charge of seditious conspiracy and whose name might be familiar to those who consume such conspiracy theories is Rhodes. Beattie, in addition to baselessly suggesting that unindicted co-conspirators were government agents, has suggested the same of Rhodes — also because Rhodes hadn’t been indicted by that point.
“Federal Protection of ‘Oath Keepers’ Kingpin Stewart Rhodes Breaks The Entire Capitol ‘Insurrection’ Lie Wide Open,” read the headline of his June report. Beattie appeared on Carlson’s show in October and alluded to the theory, mentioning Rhodes alongside another unindicted person pegged by many on the right as a potential informant, Ray Epps. The effort continued as recently as this week.
The Jan. 6 committee said last week, after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) leaned in on the conspiracy theory, that Epps testified that he had never been an informant, making that the latest such theory to suffer a significant blow. And on Thursday came another one.
All of these defendants are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The point is that lots of people with an agenda and a narrative to build have jumped to all kinds of unwarranted conclusions about Jan. 6 figures’ status as political prisoners or part of a government conspiracy, based upon highly incomplete information and dubious inferences.
Some of those same figures now find themselves facing historic charges of conspiring against their government, meaning those preemptive and speculative defenses will now be seriously put to the test.