Monday , April 19 2021
Justice Dept. Links Oath Keepers and Proud Boys Ahead of Capitol Riot

Justice Dept. Links Oath Keepers and Proud Boys Ahead of Capitol Riot

Leaders of the Oath Keepers militia and the far-right group the Proud Boys were in communication in the weeks before the Capitol riot and appear to have coordinated some plans for the day of the attack, prosecutors said in court papers.

The evidence presented in the papers effectively connects the two most prominent targets of the federal government’s vast investigation into the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The new disclosure about the links between two extremist groups was contained in a motion filed late Thursday night by prosecutors seeking to keep Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, in jail before his trial. Prosecutors cited several of Mr. Meggs’s private Facebook messages in which he told others that as many as 100 Oath Keepers planned to be in Washington for a rally in January answering a call by President Donald J. Trump.

“He called us all to Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!!” Mr. Meggs wrote on Dec 22. “Sir yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC.”

That same day, prosecutors say, Mr. Meggs wrote to an unknown correspondent that he had recently made contact with the Proud Boys who, in his words, could act as a “force multiplier.” In a separate message, Mr. Meggs noted that he had “organized an alliance” among the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and the Florida chapter of the Three Percenters, a radical gun rights movement that takes its name from the supposed three percent of the U.S. colonial population that stood up to the British.

On Christmas Day, court papers say, Mr. Meggs wrote that his group of Oath Keepers would be serving as security guards during the days surrounding the pro-Trump event — a likely reference to protecting Mr. Trump’s old friend and former adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. — but had “orchestrated a plan with the proud boys” at night.

According to the messages, Mr. Meggs had already been in touch with a leader of the Proud Boys whose name was redacted in the papers. Apparently expecting a conflict with the antifascist activists known as antifa, the two men had devised a plan to catch their left-wing adversaries in a kind of pincer move on the streets. “We will have the proud boys get in front of them,” Mr. Meggs wrote. “The cops will get between antifa and proud boys. We will come in behind antifa and beat the hell out of them.”

Unlike at previous pro-Trump events, however, there were no major conflicts on Jan. 6 between right- and left-wing activists. Lawyers for some of the other nine Oath Keepers charged with Mr. Meggs in a conspiracy to disrupt the certification of the presidential election have nonetheless argued in their own court papers that they were not preparing for an offensive assault on the Capitol, but were instead getting ready for potential violence from leftists. Lawyers for some Proud Boys charged in connection with the riot have made similar arguments in filings and in court.

By the day after Christmas, however, Mr. Meggs appeared to have abandoned all discussion of antifa and was focused on overturning the results of the election. On Dec. 26, the new court papers say, he wrote a message announcing that “Trumps staying in” and planned to use the “emergency broadcast system on cellphones” to invoke the Insurrection Act, effectively establishing martial law.

“Wait for the 6th,” Mr. Meggs wrote, “when we are all in DC to insurrection.”

Mr. Meggs’s lawyer, David A. Wilson, declined to comment on the filing. Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, said he did not know Mr. Meggs and did not believe the reference in the Facebook message was to him.

From the start of the investigation, agents and prosecutors have focused on the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, if for no other reason than the two groups both sent large contingents of members to the Capitol. The organizations have a history of working and appearing together at right-wing street events dating to the early days of the Trump administration.

This week, The New York Times published an article saying that federal prosecutors were weighing sedition charges against some of the Oath Keepers arrested in connection with the Capitol attack — a rare crime that has not been successfully prosecuted in more than 20 years. The article came on the heels of an unusual interview that Michael R. Sherwin, the prosecutor who until recently was leading the riot inquiry, gave to “60 Minutes” in which he said that evidence obtained by the government investigators almost certainly meets the bar needed to file sedition charges.

After the interview was aired and the article appeared, a Justice Department official told the federal judge overseeing the Oath Keepers case that Mr. Sherwin had been referred to the department’s internal watchdog office for investigation.

Even though the filing in the Meggs case was the first time that investigators have revealed evidence connecting the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, there is no indication that the government intends to merge the separate inquiries. Fifteen members of the Proud Boys have been identified by name in court filings and are facing charges including conspiracy to resist law enforcement officers and disrupt the workings of the government.

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