Washington, DC – A retired Navy veteran who allegedly worked as a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) section chief with a top-security clearance is among the more than 200 people who have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.
Thomas Caldwell, 66, has been accused of holding a leadership role in the Oath Keepers group – an allegation he vehemently denies, NBC News reported.
The Oath Keepers are a fringe-right group that actively works to recruit current and former military and first responders to prepare for the hostile takeover of local governments by the federal government or a foreign government.
“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,” his attorney, Thomas Plofchan, told the court during a hearing on Monday, according to The Washington Post.
Plofchan argued that his client has held a top-security clearance since 1979 and worked for the FBI as a section chief from 2009 until 2010, NBC News reported.
His consulting firm also carried out classified work for the federal government, to include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Personnel Command, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, his attorney said, according to WUSA.
“He has been vetted and found numerous times as a person worthy of the trust and confidence of the United States government, as indicated by granting him Top Secret clearances,” Plofchan said.
The FBI has not commented on Caldwell’s claims, but the GS-12 paygrade level he claimed to have worked under would have been significantly lower than the expected pay for an FBI section chief, WUSA reported.
Plofchan said his client was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy prior to his work with the federal government, NBC News reported.
According to his service record, Caldwell served in the Navy Reserve as an intelligence officer for 19 years before retiring in 1995, The Washington Post reported.
Caldwell suffered injuries to his knee, back and shoulder during his military career, and retired as a “100 percent disabled veteran,” according to his lawyer.
He underwent spinal surgery in 2010, but the procedure failed and contributed to chronic spinal issues and a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, the attorney said.
Plofchan argued that his client was nowhere near the U.S. Capitol on the day of the riot, and said his “physical limitations” would have prevented him from participating in a violent siege even if he had been there, NBC News reported.
“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,” Plofchan said in the court motion, according to The Washington Post.
But according to investigators, Caldwell allegedly helped arrange hotel rooms in the Washington, DC area in the days leading up to the riot, NBC News reported.
“Will probably call you tomorrow … mainly because … I like to know wtf plan is. You are the man COMMANDER,” one of his alleged Oath Keepers cohorts wrote in a Facebook message to him at the time, according to court documents.
Federal investigators alleged Caldwell sent communications to his accomplices about his plans to carry out a “pre-strike on the 5th,” and that he also encouraged them to “do some night hunting,” which the FBI said referred to patrolling for Antifa, WUSA reported.
During the riot, the group members messaged one another about where federal lawmakers were located, according to investigators.
“All members are in the tunnels under the capital,” one message sent to Caldwell read, NBC News reported. “Seal them in turn on gas.”
“Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down steps,” other messages read, according to court documents. “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3floors down.”
Caldwell allegedly sent a video of the crowd inside the U.S. Capitol with a caption that read, “Us storming the castle,” The Washington Post reported.
“Please share,” the message allegedly read. “I am such an instigator!”
Caldwell was arrested at his residence in Berryville, Virginia on Jan. 19, NBC News reported.
He and two other alleged Oath Keepers, 38-year-old Jessica Watkins and 50-year-old Donovan Crowl, have been charged with destruction of government property, obstruction of official business, violent entry, conspiracy to hurt an officer, and conspiracy, according to the Associated Press.