Alleged Oath Keeper leader Thomas Caldwell was former FBI agent with top-secret clearance, attorney says
Those details were revealed in a motion filed Monday asking a judge to let Caldwell out of custody, citing his long military career and ability to pass vetting for the high security clearance. His attorney also claimed that Caldwell has disabilities from his military service that would have prevented him from storming the Capitol.
The FBI did not immediately return an inquiry about Caldwell’s past employment status late Monday.
The claims about Caldwell’s high security clearance and FBI service add to concerns about extremism in the military and law enforcement. The indictments against numerous alleged rioters with military and police ties have led local agencies to launch investigations and the Pentagon to order each military branch to dedicate time to addressing the problem in the coming months.
“The presence of law enforcement officers in the riot reinforces and substantiates the greatest fears many in the public had in the nature of law enforcement in the United States,” Michael German, a former FBI special agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, told The Washington Post.
“It’s incumbent on the Justice Department, if it wants to restore that confidence, to act quickly” to hold the most violent Capitol rioters accountable, he added.
Caldwell lives in Berryman, Va., and had been involved in local GOP politics. He was arrested on Jan. 19 in Virginia on charges of conspiracy, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding, and violent entry or disorderly conduct.
The government alleges that Caldwell, whom an FBI agent identified as having “a leadership role in the Oath Keepers,” sent Facebook messages coordinating with members of the self-styled militia and sharing video from within the Capitol.
“Us storming the castle,” Caldwell allegedly said in one message that accompanied a video that showed a crowd within the Capitol, according to the criminal complaint. “Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator!”
His case is one of several prosecutors are building against Oath Keepers and Proud Boys to make the case that the assault on Congress was premeditated and organized by extremists. Federal prosecutors are considering whether to file sedition charges against some of the accused rioters, the Associated Press reported.
In Monday’s motion for bond, Caldwell denied being a member of the Oath Keepers.
“Caldwell is not a member of the organization, nor has he ever been a member of the organization, and if he were, such membership would be protected activity under the First Amendment,” wrote his attorney, Thomas K. Plofchan.
The motion also questioned whether the Facebook messages allegedly posted by Caldwell prove his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot, arguing that he was “merely relaying news that was circulating through the crowd that some people were inside.”
Plofchan identified Caldwell as a retired lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, and said Caldwell worked as a section chief in the FBI from 2009 to 2010 after retiring from military service. His attorney listed multiple service awards Caldwell earned and also said he has had a “top-secret security clearance” since 1979.
After leaving the FBI, Caldwell founded a consulting firm that has done business with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Army Personnel Command, the motion said.
Caldwell has several service-related injuries and other disabilities, his attorney said, including injuries to both shoulders, degenerative lumbar disc disease, and chronic knee pain. He underwent spinal fusion surgery in 2010 that failed, the filing said, and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Moving, sitting for extended periods of time, lifting, carrying, and other physical activities are extremely painful and Caldwell is limited in his ability to engage in them,” the motion said.
His attorney also claimed that witnesses “will testify that [Caldwell] never entered the U.S. Capitol Building and that his physical limitations would have prevented him from forcibly entering any building or storming past any barrier.”
Plofchan noted that prosecutors did not include photos of Caldwell in the criminal complaint, although two co-defendants in the case are shown in photos.
“The Government has not identified any photo or video that shows Caldwell in the U.S. Capitol Building, on the grounds after overcoming any barrier,” the motion said.