Feb 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ: Extremist leader was "awaiting direction" from Trump ahead of Jan. 6

A crowd of Capitol rioters on the steps of the building
Protestors at the Capitol steps on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A leader of the far-right "Oath Keepers" militia who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 "indicated that she was awaiting direction from President Trump" as Biden's inauguration approached, federal prosecutors said in a court filing on Thursday.

Why it matters: Multiple defendants have told media outlets and law enforcement that they attended Trump's Jan. 6 rally at the president's request. But the assertion made Thursday, which was first reported by CNN, is the most direct link yet that prosecutors have drawn between Trump's rhetoric and the breach at the Capitol.

Prosecutors say the defendant Jessica Watkins' concerns about taking action without Trump's support are evident in a Nov. 9 text: “I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it’s not legit. The POTUS has the right to activate units too. If Trump asks me to come, I will. Otherwise, I can’t trust it.”

  • "Watkins had perceived her desired signal by the end of December," prosecutors wrote in the memorandum seeking to keep Watkins detained pending a trial.

State of play: Watkins has been indicted on charges including conspiracy, with the Justice Department alleging that she and others made plans and coordinated ahead of the attack.

  • The DOJ said in the Thursday filing that she recruited and trained people to be in "fighting shape" for the presidential inauguration.

The big picture: Some rioters have said they breached the Capitol at Trump's urging or that they were welcomed into the building at the "invitation" of the president.

  • The lawyer of another person who has been charged told USA Today their client traveled to D.C. from Pennsylvania with about 50 other conservatives "with no intention of rioting or storming the Capitol," but that this allegedly changed after he heard speeches from the former president, Rudy Giuliani, and others.
  • In a video showing 13 minutes of the chaos and violence that unfolded on Jan. 6 used by House impeachment managers on Tuesday, the mob was seen chanting “fight for Trump,” “traitor Pence,” and vowing that they would “take the Capitol” and “stop the steal.”

What they're saying: “There is nothing they showed today that in any way tied this to Donald Trump,” attorney David Schoen argued on “Hannity” Tuesday evening, in reference to the opening presentation by impeachment managers.

Go deeper: Impeachment managers show graphic video of Capitol riot violence at start of trial

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