The Justice Department has been making public what they’ve learned about the Oath Keepers paramilitary organization – which had at least a dozen of its affiliates amid the Capitol riot – and this week revealed new details about the group’s alleged discussions to arm themselves on January 6 or to arrange for others to back them up around the city.
But the prosecutors also told a judge about the group’s use of golf carts to race to the Capitol building – rebuilding one moment during the siege as illustrative of the Oath Keepers’ push for violence, with a hint of buddy comedy. On one level the details appear comical but the descriptions add to a greater sense of the willingness among Oath Keepers to participate.
One of the men, Robert Minuta, allegedly says during the chase, “We’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now.”
Minuta and defendant Joshua James “loaded into golf carts and began speeding toward the Capitol building” about 90 minutes into the siege, the prosecutors wrote. Minuta, apparently driving one of the golf carts while talking about war in the streets, swerves around law enforcement vehicles that are trying to close routes in.
James “does not bail from the golf cart,” the prosecutors note, “but rather punches the Capitol building address into his phone and audibly directs Minuta, aiding them in their endeavor.” In court on Friday, James’ defense attorney countered that the golf cart ride hadn’t met any resistance by law enforcement at the time.
There’s video showing this, prosecutors say. One court filing this week includes a still image from a surveillance camera of the golf carts under an office building, circled in red. The video is not yet available publicly.
After the Oath Keepers left the golf cart at an intersection near the Capitol and headed in on foot, they allegedly taunted law enforcement guarding the building, according to court filings.
On Friday, Judge Amit Mehta decided to release James from jail as he awaits trial, especially given what the judge said was a history prior to January 6 as an upstanding citizen and Purple Heart recipient as a veteran. James will be on home incarceration and electronically monitored, and his communication will be restricted as well.
“Mr. James, I’ve got to tell you. I’m not sure of why anyone in your position, given the life that you’ve led, would do this,” Mehta said at the hearing Friday. “It really does cut against what I think you stand for and what this country is all about.”
The judge also shared his thoughts on the attack generally, and the violent pro-Donald Trump reaction to the former President’s election loss.
“We treat everything like it’s a battle to the death,” the judge said. People who don’t like the outcome of an election can’t simply arm themselves to fight, Mehta added. “That’s not how democracy works … Just because America disagrees with you doesn’t give you a right to set up a quick reaction force.”
Prosecutors were seeking to cast him as a major leader among the Oath Keepers, but Mehta remarked that others charged in the case appeared to be on the top of the group’s hierarchy.
The 12 alleged Oath Keepers are charged with conspiracy and other crimes related to the siege, making it by far the largest criminal case to emerge from the Capitol riot.
All of the defendants who’ve appeared before federal district judges in Washington, DC, have pleaded not guilty.
A few alleged leaders among the group are imprisoned, after Mehta or other judges deemed them to be threats to public safety or law enforcement. Others have been released to their home states to await trial.
In the case, prosecutors also have fleshed out allegations of how members of the group discussed preparing for battle before January 6, met that morning, suited up in protective gear and infiltrated the crowd in a military-style “stack” formation, with hands on each others’ shoulders.
Minuta, for instance, wore battle gear including hard-knuckled gloves, ballistic goggles and a radio ear piece, and carried bear spray, prosecutors allege. Others in the group allegedly discussed what they called a “Quick Reaction Force,” or “QRF,” of armed comrades stationed around the Capitol to back them up with weapons, if needed. One defense lawyer has pushed back on the Quick Reaction Force, claiming it was a protective measure taken by the group.
On Friday, prosecutors noted that James’ Signal chats discussed with an unnamed person bringing a long rifle and side arm to the Capitol area, according to a court filing.
“So, I guess I am taking full gear less weapons?” another person allegedly asked James on January 2.
“Yeah full gear … QRF will have weapons Just leave em home,” James replied, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say James had also reached out to “operational leaders” on Signal to ask if “we have a farm location for weapons?”
Another leader in the group responded he wasn’t aware of one, “yet,” prosecutors say.
James’ defense lawyers argued in court on Friday that his Signal chats prior to January were about planning to provide VIP security to prominent Republicans and not to plan an attack.
After the riot
Prosecutors have also used the Oath Keepers’ alleged actions after January 6 to argue they could strike again or hurt the law enforcement investigation.
“After expressing to the others that they had lost after Trump conceded, the defendant took steps to conceal evidence or keep potential witnesses quiet,” the Justice Department wrote in a court filing Thursday night.
Prosecutors accuse James of “surgically” deleting a group chat on the messaging app Signal, after deeming then-President Donald Trump’s concession of the election after the insurrection a loss.
“We need to make sure that all signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned,” James wrote to members of his team, prosecutors say. “Just taking all necessary precautions,” James added on the app. Another person on the thread confirmed he had deleted messages, prosecutors say.
Photos on James’ device from January 6 also were deleted, according to the court filing this week.
Uncharged Oath Keepers
With every court filing, prosecutors add to the list of unnamed, uncharged others who they believe interacted with Minuta, James and the other Oath Keeper conspiracy defendants around January 6.
Two people whom prosecutors say James and Minuta spoke to throughout their joyride and breach of the Capitol, then met afterward nearby, are simply referred to as Person One and Person Ten in the indictment. CNN has previously identified Person One as Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes.
Prosecutors say Rhodes had put Person Ten in command in DC that day. Neither has faced charges at this time.
Prosecutors also haven’t been shy about Minuta and James’ connections to Roger Stone, the Trump confidante and key voice in the Stop the Steal movement. Previously, an FBI agent said in court that James was a driver for Stone and part of his security detail before the attack. Minuta is captured in video images acting as Stone’s security on January 6 as well.
Stone has not been charged with any crime related to the riot.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Emma Tucker and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.