90 Miles From Tyranny : The Unidentified and Uncharged Instigator in the Oath Keepers Case

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Unidentified and Uncharged Instigator in the Oath Keepers Case

With the reputation of the Justice Department and the FBI in shreds, it is reasonable at this point to suspect that any unidentified participant could have been a fed.

The long-awaited trial of the most high-profile January 6 case will begin later this month. Five members of the Oath Keepers, an alleged “militia” group involved in the Capitol protest, face charges of seditious conspiracy and other serious felonies. It is the first trial in a multi-defendant prosecution that has dominated the attention of the Department of Justice, the January 6 select committee, and the national news media.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the group, along with Thomas Caldwell, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins will face a highly biased D.C. jury pool—the government so far has an undefeated record in January 6 trials composed of Washington, D.C. residents—as they attempt to avoid life in prison for the seditious conspiracy count. (Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins have been detained in the D.C. gulag denied bail since spring 2021.)

At least a dozen other members of the Oath Keepers currently await trial for their nonviolent participation in the events of January 6. But one person won’t face trial. In fact, it appears this chief instigator isn’t even charged despite a trove of evidence showing how he incited at least one member of the group to engage in criminal behavior that day.

Someone identified only as “1%Watchdog” started a group chat on an encrypted application called Zello, which mimics a walkie-talkie. The channel, named “Stop the Steal J6,” was created on January 1, 2021; by noon on January 6, 2021, the channel had about 170 subscribers including Watkins, prosecutors allege.

According to a new motion filed by the government, “1%Watchdog” initially set the conversation on “Zelect,” a private setting where only the administrator determines who can speak and who can listen. The administrator of the “Stop the Steal J6” channel was “1%Watchdog.”

But at 1:48 p.m. on January 6, shortly before the first physical breach of the Capitol, “1%Watchdog” suddenly switched the setting to open—and that’s when a reporter just happened to access the nearly two-hour conversation as some members of the Oath Keepers discussed plans to enter the building, which they did around 2:40 p.m. But it wasn’t some random journalist who luckily discovered the crime-in-progress. It was Micah Loewinger, a reporter covering “internet culture, politics, and the far-right” for a New York City public radio station, tuned in just as the action unfolded. And he recorded the whole thing.

Prosecutors want to use Loewinger’s recording as evidence against Watkins and her co-defendants, since Zello does not archive audio content. (Lawyers for the defense object to presenting the conversation to the jury.) But far from proving Watkins’ guilt, or even confirming her identity in the chat, the conversation shows how “1%Watchdog” acted as the group’s leader, giving blow-by-blow accounts of what Congress was doing and encouraging listeners to invade the...

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