WASHINGTON—An FBI agent testified on Oct. 11 that he was not aware of any direct communications involving the Oath Keepers that would directly show that they planned to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 and interfere with the certification of the Electoral College vote.
FBI Special Agent Justin Eller testified as part of the seditious conspiracy trial against four Oath Keepers members in a federal court in Washington. A defense lawyer asked Eller if, from all the Oath Keepers members’ and affiliates’ communications he reviewed, there were any that specifically read that the Oath Keepers were going to storm the Capitol.
“No,” Eller said.
The defense attorney then asked if there were any communications to prove that the Oath Keepers planned to stop the certification of electoral votes on January 6, 2021.
“No,” Eller said, and, after a pause, added, “directly.”
Eller was initially assigned to investigate defendant Jessica Watkins in January 2021. He said he interviewed about 20 to 30 individuals during his investigation.
Defense attorney David Fischer asked Eller if he preferred to spend a “substantial amount of time” before charging someone or “do a quick investigation to arrest.” Eller said he has no preference.
“I only gather the information, facts, and evidence and turn it to my supervisor,” Eller said.
The defense attorney asked Eller if he asked the people he interviewed if the Oath Keepers conspired to storm the Capitol on January 6. Eller responded, yes.
The attorney then asked, “Did you ask if they stopped the certification of the electoral votes?” Eller responded, “Yes, possibly.”
Prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy showed the jury messages from Watkins from the Parler social media app. In those messages, Watkinss appears to try to recruiting people with a military background to train with her. Eller said he obtained the messages from Parler through a search warrant.
The government showed the jury items the FBI found in Watkins’ house and car on Jan. 17, 2021, including a helmet with goggles, a bulletproof tactical vest, pepper spray, gloves, and a radio.
The prosecutors also showed pictures of rifles found on Watkins’ property. In one photo of Watkins on Jan. 6, she was seen wearing the items shown to the jury. Eller confirmed that Watkins was not armed on Jan. 6.
Like other FBI special agents who testified at the Oath Keepers trial, Eller doesn’t recall seeing evidence of military training equipment on the property of Thomas Caldwell, another defendant.
Defense lawyer Juli Haller asked another FBI agent if the bureau ignored the tip they received on Nov. 25, 2020, from a former Oath Keeper member, Abdullah Rasheed. Earlier that month, Rasheed secretly videotaped a post-election meeting with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, one of the defendants in the trial. On the conference call, the participants allegedly discussed their strategy to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
The special said, “Ignored? No, but filed away for future reference,” explaining that the FBI receives dozens of tips daily.
At the prosecutor’s request earlier in the morning, FBI Special Agent Byron Cody read various text messages between defendants and others whom the agent confirmed he had investigated. He agreed with the defense attorney that the government presented text messages in an inconsistent chronological order.
The defense attorney also asked Cody if he used the search feature when investigating the Oath Keepers’ communications to find out which text message was more relevant to his investigation. The agent denied it, “not that I can remember.”
The defense attorney asked Cody if he reviewed Rhodes’ Dec. 24, 2020, messages about “craving for peace” and other messages related to security from Nov. 20, a month prior. The prosecutors objected to the questions, and after a sidebar with the judge, Cody did not respond to the query.
Rhodes, Watkins, Caldwell, Kelly Meggs, and Kenneth Harrelson are charged with seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties, destruction of government property, civil disorder, and tampering with documents.
Caldwell was an affiliate of the Oath Keepers, while the other defendants were members of the organization on Jan. 6.