United States v. Caldwell

Decision Date20 December 2021
Docket Number21-cr-28 (APM)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Amit P. Mehta United States District Court Judge


Thousands descended upon the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021 as Congress convened to certify the Electoral College vote. Among them were the seventeen Defendants who stand before the court. All are alleged to be members of or affiliated with an organization known as the Oath Keepers. According to the Sixth Superseding Indictment, some Oath Keepers “believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” The government contends that Defendants acted on this belief on January 6. Defendants are indicted on a host of offenses, but this opinion concerns only two: Count One charges each Defendant with conspiring to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, the Certification of the Electoral College vote, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2); and Count Two accuses each Defendant individually of violating section 1512(c)(2).

Defendants move to dismiss Counts One and Two, raising a host of arguments why those counts are fatally deficient. The court is persuaded by none of their contentions. In short, the court concludes that Counts One and Two state offenses that are encompassed by the plain text of section 1512(c)(2) and that section 1512(c)(2) is neither void for vagueness nor vague as applied to these Defendants. The charged offenses also do not run afoul of the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court denies Defendants' motions to dismiss.

A. The Allegations

On January 6, 2021, a Joint Session of Congress convened in the U.S. Capitol building to certify the results of the Electoral College vote of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Sixth Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 513 [hereinafter Indictment], ¶ 4. The Joint Session commenced at 1:00 p.m., with Vice President Michael R. Pence, as part of his constitutional duty as President of the Senate, presiding. Id. ¶ 6. Crowds began to gather outside the perimeter of the Capitol building as the Joint Session began. Id. ¶ 7. “Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up, and over Capitol Police barricades and . . . forced entry into the Capitol building by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol Police officers.” Id. These individuals were “not lawfully authorized to enter or remain” in the Capitol building, and none of them submitted to the requisite security and weapons screenings by Capitol Police officers. Id. Over the course of this hours-long siege of the Capitol, members of Congress were evacuated, dozens of law enforcement officers were injured, and [t]he Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage-including broken windows and doors, graffiti, and residue from pepper spray, tear gas, and fire extinguishers.” Id. ¶¶ 8-10.

Among those who entered the Capitol building that day are Defendants (except one), [1] all of whom are alleged to be members of or affiliated with a group known as the Oath Keepers. The Oath Keepers are “a large but loosely organized collection of individuals” and associated militias recruited extensively from “current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel.” Id. ¶ 11. Some of its members “believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” Id. On January 4, 2021, the Oath Keepers' leader posted a message to the group's website exhorting members to “get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump's fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup, through the massive vote fraud and related attacks on our Republic.” Id. ¶ 12. Defendants allegedly answered this call.

Even before this posting, Defendants began preparing for January 6. They scheduled and attended military-style and combat trainings. Id. ¶¶ 41, 52. They recruited others through social media and messaging applications, with Defendant Jessica Watkins telling one potential recruit, [I]t is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.” Id. ¶¶ 43, 47. They collected “paramilitary gear and supplies-including firearms, camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection, and radio equipment[.] Id. ¶ 39. Over half of Defendants joined various encrypted Signal chats for planning purposes in the days leading up to January 6. Id. ¶¶ 60, 79. That planning included having firearms at the ready, if needed. For instance, Defendants Thomas Caldwell, Watkins, and Joshua James discussed amongst themselves and others the creation of a “quick reaction force” that would be “on standby with an arsenal” “if something goes to hell.” Id. ¶¶ 57, 63. The “operation” they planned and prepared for, according to the Indictment, was “to interfere with the Certification of the Electoral College vote.” Id. ¶ 39a. Defendant Caldwell warned in writings, “It begins for real Jan 5 and 6 on Washington D.C. when we mobilize in the streets. Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets. This kettle is set to boil....” Id. ¶ 58 (ellipsis in original).

Defendants stand accused of carrying out their plan. In the morning of January 6, various Defendants “prepared themselves for battle . . . by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles.” Id. ¶ 107. That afternoon, when news of individuals breaching the Capitol spread, Defendant James instructed Defendants in his group-including Defendants Roberto Minuta and Brian Ulrich-“to get their gear and get ready to head to the Capitol.” Id. ¶ 128. Defendant Minuta “donned battle apparel and gear, including hard-knuckle tactical gloves, ballistic goggles, [and] a tactical vest” and also brought along “a radio with an ear piece, and bear spray.” Id. Others likewise wore tactical gear. Id. This group of Defendants-who were joined by Defendant Jonathan Walden-raced to the Capitol building in two golf carts. Id. ¶ 137. Defendant Minuta said during the ride: “Patriots storming the Capitol building . . . fucking war in the streets right now . . . word is they got in the building . . . let's go.” Id.

Meanwhile, eleven other Defendants entered the Capitol grounds around 2:22 p.m. Id. ¶ 130. They formed a “stack of individuals wearing Oath Keepers clothing, patches, insignia, and battle gear.” Id. ¶ 141. The members of the “Stack” kept one hand on the shoulder of the member in front of them and maneuvered through the crowd and up the east Capitol steps. Id. ¶¶ 138, 141. They successfully entered the Capitol Rotunda. Id. ¶ 147. Some, including Defendants Watkins, Donovan Crowl, Sandra Parker, and Laura Steele, attempted to move into the Senate wing of Congress. Id. ¶ 151. They, along with Defendants William Issacs and James Beeks, joined a confrontation against “a line of riot police officers guarding the hallway connecting the Rotunda to the Senate.” Id. ¶¶ 143-153. Defendant Watkins commanded the crowd to “push” and “get in there” before they were rebuffed by the officers' use of chemical spray. Id. ¶¶ 153-154. Other members of the Stack went in a different direction. Defendants Kelly Meggs, Connie Meggs, Harrelson, Joseph Hackett, and David Moerschel walked toward the House side. Id. ¶ 156.

Defendants Minuta, James, and Walden, armed with Minuta's bear spray and tactical gear and accompanied by Walden's 82-pound German Shepherd named “Warrior, ” entered the Capitol about a half hour after the Stack. Id. ¶¶ 129, 163-164. Once inside, Defendant James grabbed one Metropolitan Police Department officer by his vest and pulled him toward the mob, yelling “Get out of my Capitol! This is my fucking building! This is not yours! This is my Capitol!” Id. ¶ 166. Defendant Minuta stood beside James and yelled, “This is what's bound to happen, just get out! Get out! Get these cops out! It's our fucking building! Get ‘em out, get out!” Id. ¶ 167.

All Defendants (except Defendant Caldwell, who never entered in the first place, see supra note 1) eventually left the Capitol building. Thirteen of them gathered afterwards approximately 100 feet from the Capitol building. Id. ¶ 178.

B. Procedural Background

Defendants are charged by indictment with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts. See generally Indictment. Only two of those counts are relevant to this opinion. Count One charges all seventeen Defendants with conspiracy to “commit an offense against the United States, namely, to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is the Certification of the Electoral College vote, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(c)(2).” Indictment ¶ 37. Count Two charges each Defendant individually with a violation of section 1512(c)(2). Id. ¶ 180.

Defendant Caldwell was the first to file a motion to dismiss on June 15, 2021. Caldwell Mot. for Dismissal of Indictment, ECF No 240 [hereinafter Caldwell MTD]. Defendants James and Harrelson next moved for dismissal on July 1, 2021, James's Mot. to Dismiss Count 8 & Portions of Count 13 of the Indictment, ECF No. 269; Harrelson's Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 278 [hereinafter Harrelson MTD], followed by Defendant Crowl on July 5, 2021, Mot. to Dismiss Counts One & Two, ECF No. 288 [hereinafter Crowl MTD]; Crowl's Second Mot. to Dismiss Counts I & II & for Disclosure of Grand Jury Minutes, ECF No. 382. Defendant Connie Meggs likewise filed a motion to dismiss on September 2, 2021. Def. Connie Meggs' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF...

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