WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Five alleged members of the far-right Proud Boys group have been accused by federal prosecutors of a criminal conspiracy in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol last month that sought to keep then-President Donald Trump in power.
On Thursday, prosecutors also disclosed that members of the anti-government Oath Keepers group had plotted to have a "quick reaction force" (QRF) staged outside Washington on Jan. 6 ready "to fight hang to hand" if ordered to do so by Trump.
More than 200 people have been charged in the assault on Congress, which led to Trump's impeachment trial this week on a charge of inciting insurrection.
Democratic prosecutors in the impeachment trial have laid out in detail how they said Trump laid the groundwork for the attack by falsely claiming the election had been marred by fraud and then calling his supporters to "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."
At the same time the U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to charge members of the groups under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, normally used against organized crime.
In the new Proud Boys complaint, prosecutors charged William Chrestman, Christopher Kuehne, Louis Enrique Colon, Felicia Konold and Cory Konold with conspiring together to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.
It alleges that as far back as December, organizers of the Proud Boys, including its leader Enrique Tarrio, encouraged their members to travel to Washington on Jan. 6.
Tarrio was arrested two days before the Capitol riots on charges of possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines and for burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by Trump supporters.
To date, the United States has charged at least 18 people who are believed to be associated or allied with the Proud Boys.
Prosecutors on Thursday offered more details about the alleged planning, training and coordination that some members of the Oath Keepers undertook after Trump lost the November election.
In a 21-page memo, they asked a federal judge to detain Jessica Watkins, whom they describe as the leader of an Ohio-based militia tied to the Oath Keepers, saying she harbors extreme views that the Biden presidency poses an "existential threat" and actively recruited people to participate in a coup.
Prosecutors quote her on Nov. 17 as telling a recruit that if Biden was president, then "our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights."
Thursday's detention memo for Watkins suggests that some of Trump's most fervent supporters believed he sought to signal them into action.
In the memo, prosecutors say Watkins exchanged texts with another co-defendant and other unidentified contacts about coordinating a "quick reaction force" which would be there as back-up with guns if needed on Jan. 6.
"We can have mace, tasers, or night sticks. QRF staged, armed, with our weapons, outside the city," she wrote, noting the armed team would be "outside DC with guns, await ... orders to enter DC under permission from Trump."
Watkins is imprisoned awaiting trial, has yet to enter a plea and could not be reached for comment. The court docket does not list a lawyer for her.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)
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