Oath Keepers lawsuit: Cooperator alleges specific plan to stop vote count

Caleb Berry slept little on the night of January 6, 2021. The 19-year-old said he lay awake in his bed at a Hilton Garden Inn, not far from where he and other members of the far-right group Oath Keepers had just stormed the US Capitol, regretting what it had done.

Two years later, Berry, 21, testified in DC federal court against four other members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy – the second such group to stand trial. Going further than other cooperators, Berry said the extremists had hatched an explicit plan to enter the Capitol and stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory – which could be a boon to the prosecutors’ case.

But he also admitted he was not always honest with investigators, as defense attorneys sought to point out inconsistencies in his testimony. Those on trial argued that there was no plan or conspiracy, only a spontaneous decision to follow the crowd into the building, and that an armed “Quick Reaction Force” stationed in Virginia was only an elderly asthmatic who spent hours on January 6 looking for his car.

Berry said he joined the Oath Keepers Tampa group in November 2020, promising that he “was ready to die” to “defend the Constitution”.

But after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, which left dozens of officers injured and five dead in the aftermath, Berry said he “knew I made a huge mistake.”

Instead of a patriotic victory, he testified, “it was a traumatic event.”

Berry said he was confident to join the journey that brought the Oath Keepers to DC on Jan. 6. by Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida Oath Keepers. After a trial last year, Meggs and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy in November; associates, including another Florida oath keeper named Kenneth Harrelson, were acquitted of that charge but convicted of other crimes related to the riot.

Today, four others are on trial, accused of forcibly opposing the American government: Joseph B. Hackett, 52; Roberto Minuta, 37; David Moerschel, 44; and Edouard Vallejo, 64 years old.

Berry, a line cook, testified that he had joined the far-right group weeks earlier because he was “fed up with hiding my opinions”, especially from his girlfriend. She opposed Trump and the Oath Keepers and had already persuaded him not to join the military, he said. In a post, Meggs called Berry “bada–“.

Berry testified that he and Meggs drove with other members from Florida to DC, hiding weapons in a hotel in Ballston, Virginia. They provided speaker protection during the speech for President Donald Trump and their families, then followed those “VIPs” to the Capitol, he told me.

Along the way, they learned that the Capitol had been breached. On the east side of the building, Berry testified, Meggs led a group of oath keepers and told them that the election had been “illegitimate and unconstitutional” and that “we were going to try to stop the vote count”. They then organized themselves into a military-style “stack”, he said, and ran up the stairs into the building “like a ram”.

Other rioters followed the Oath Keepers’ lead because “we had armour, we had military, we were experienced,” Berry testified.

During the previous trial, prosecutors pointed to a three-minute phone call between Meggs and Rhodes just before the pile walked up the stairs. Rhodes denied giving Meggs an order, saying he couldn’t hear her on the call.

Berry described the friction between Rhodes and Meggs — a dynamic that Oath Keepers attorney Kellye SoRelle also conveyed to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. SoRelle, now charged with conspiracy and other charges, told lawmakers in April that the Florida Oath Keepers had “gone rogue” by working with the Proud Boys. Berry testified that the feeling was mutual; Meggs told him that “Stewart Rhodes was there for himself” and that the Florida Oath Keepers should “stand to ourselves”.

Berry did not testify against Rhodes, Meggs or Harrelson in the previous trial, although a prosecutor said in court Wednesday that Berry had completed two prep cycles to do so. The Department of Justice has a list of over a dozen cooperating oath keepers, allowing them to put witnesses on the stand who have not yet been cross-examined.

The two cooperators who testified in the previous trial said there was no explicit plan to enter the Capitol, only a tacit agreement that to do so would further the group’s goal of keeping Trump in power.

Berry played a key role in implicating Hackett, who prosecutors say organized Sarasota members and brought weapons to DC Berry testified that he and Hackett dropped off cases of long guns and ammunition in Ballston on January 5 for the “Quick Reaction Force” and that Hackett was in caucus with Meggs before they entered the Capitol. Berry also said that he and Hackett discussed removing evidence on the way back to Florida.

But under cross-examination by Hackett’s attorney, Angie Halim, Berry admitted to past dishonesty and continuing confusion about what happened on Jan. 6.

Berry had described the Oath Keepers as opening the east rotunda doors from the outside, pushing them in; the doors actually open outwards, from the inside. Prior to his first meeting with the FBI, Berry had written an 11-page Jan. 6 debrief that did not include Meggs’ directive to stop the vote count, and in earlier interviews with investigators he had stated that he did not remember who voiced it. He had also told the FBI that he had decided on his own to erase his phone and that he had done so in secret.

“I was trying to downplay and downplay,” Berry testified.

He claimed he was immediately ashamed of his part in the attack on the Capitol. But in a message to other Florida oath keepers on Jan. 11, Berry took a defiant tone.

“For those of us who are still interested in continuing, this fight is not over,” he wrote. “We must be aggressively free or we won’t be free at all.” Berry claimed the message was about the formation of a new group, separate from the Oath Keepers.

He said he was still with his “liberal” girlfriend.

“Did she say ‘I told you so?'” asked Scott Weinberg, Moerschel’s attorney.

Berry, who faces an indicative sentence of about five years in prison, smiled.

“Many times,” he said.

Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.


Washington

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