Between the texts organizing people to go to Washington, D.C., for what they themselves called an “insurrection,” those advising people what weapons to bring, and others advising that various groups were coordinating their plans to “shut this shit down,” the evidence in the cases of the 24 people charged so far with conspiracy is not just piling up, but is looking damning indeed.
It was already clear from external evidence that far-right extremist like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and III% militia groups played a central role in the violence that day, particularly in breaking down police barricades and entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Now the evidence clearly demonstrates that a conspiracy among the participants had been in the works for several weeks, and that the siege was not merely a protest that got out of hand, but a carefully organized assault on the American election process.
The affidavits filed by prosecutors in the sprawling insurrection case—particularly in the five separate conspiracy cases, all of which intersect—accuse most of them of conspiring to “stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote,” as well as encouraging attendance, advertising to raise funds and recruit, bring paramilitary gear, travel to Washington, coordinating in advance, using communication equipment during the siege, and storming past the barricades.
The nexus of the conspiracy primarily lies in the intersecting coordination between and among groups of Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. At least one member of the Oath Keepers—the leaders of the group’s Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs—boasted in mid-December:
Well we are ready for the rioters, this week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers, and Proud Boys. We have decided to work together to shut this shit down
Meggs posted another message three days later referencing Donald Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet inviting supporters to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, saying it “will be wild!” Meggs wrote: “He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!”
A few days later, on Dec. 26, Meggs messaged his cohorts that they were targeting Jan. 6 for an “insurrection”: “Trumps staying in, he’s Gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act.”
“That’s awesome,” someone replied. “Any idea when?”
“Next week,” Meggs answered, adding: “Then wait for the 6th when we are all in DC to insurrection.”
In its new filing last week, the government contended that Meggs engaged in “extensive planning and financing” to travel to Washington, D.C., and to “coordinate with his coconspirators and others on how to accomplish his goals of disrupting Congress,” presenting several of Meggs’ Facebook messages and posts that they said document his outreach to and coordination with other groups following the Nov. 3 election.
“I figure we could splinter off the main group of PB and come up behind them. F****** crush them for good,” he wrote in describing plans for that day. “We can hang for a while they’ll see one group then we all fall to back of the pack and peel off. We catch them in the middle … game over.”
In another Facebook exchange from Dec. 25, Meggs explained their weapons strategy: “We are all staying in DC near the Capitol we are at the Hilton garden inn but I think it’s full,” he wrote. “Dc is no guns. So mace and gas masks, some batons. If you have armor that’s good. During the day it’s kind of boring but when it starts getting dark Game on.”
The Proud Boys’ conspiracy primarily unfolded on the encrypted platform named Telegram, where, according to the conspiracy indictment filed last week against Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, and others, the men used two channels for organizing their insurrection: a larger “Boots on the Ground” channel involving over 60 Proud Boys members present in Washington that day, and a smaller “New MOSD” channel evidently reserved for top leadership, whose membership prosecutors did not identify.
“Shortly after the [‘Boots on the Ground’] channel’s creation, Biggs posted a message to the channel that read: ‘We are trying to avoid getting into any shit tonight. Tomorrow’s the day’ and then ‘I’m here with rufio [Nordean] and a good group,’” the affidavit read.
As Marcy Wheeler observes, one of the men implicated in the affidavits but not yet charged is Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, around whom prosecutors have been circling for several weeks now. A recent court filing asserted that Rhodes exchanged a 97-second phone call with Meggs. At the time, Meggs was with Jessica Watkins, the Ohio-based Oath Keeper who helped lead the paramilitary “stack” formation of her cohorts in their attack on police barricades. The call took place at 2:32 PM, prosecutors say, “as, Meggs, Watkins, and the rest of the stack embedded themselves at east side Capitol building double doors.”
Shortly afterward, at 2:41 PM, the Oath Keepers “stack” led by Meggs and Watkins forcibly entered the Capitol, pushing past police and causing severe damage to the Capitol doors. Rhodes posted a photograph of them, as well as a comment: “Trump better do his damn duty.” (Rhodes had been calling for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare martial law.)
Later that evening, Rhodes continued to embrace his members’ actions in another social media post: “The founding generation Sons of Liberty stormed the mansion of the corrupt Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and trashed the place … We are actually in a far more deadly situation given the FACT that enemies foreign and domestic have subverted, infiltrated, and taken over near every single office and level of power in this nation,” he wrote. He did not call the siege an aberration from the Oath Keepers “mission” on Jan. 6 until the next day.
However, as The Washington Post notes, Rhodes adamantly denies participating in the preplanning: “Just so we’re clear on this: We had no plan to enter the Capitol, zero plan to do that, zero instructions to do that,” Rhodes said on Feb. 28. He has neither been charged nor accused of wrongdoing.
Rhodes is not the only high-profile figure ensnared in the web of conspiracy: As Wheeler reports, former Trump adviser Roger Stone was provided a security detail on Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 by some of the same Oath Keepers who were later indicted as part of the “stack” team that invaded the Capitol, primarily Robert Minuta and Joshua James, as well as Meggs and his wife, Connie. Meggs’ boast about forming an alliance with other extremist groups came only five days after Connie Meggs and Graydon Young had provided security for Stone at a “Stop the Steal” event in Florida.
As Wheeler notes, the Oath Keepers’ plans involved not just stopping certification of the vote, because they went to Washington, D.C., believing that either Vice President Mike Pence would follow Trump’s urgings to declare the ballots invalid, or Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act—rather, these conspirators intended to conduct a straight-up insurrection against the government. As the indictments continue to mount along with the evidence, the web of that conspiracy is likely to snag some very large flies.