An Oath Keepers member charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government or the execution of its laws told a federal jury that his remark about “storming the castle” on Jan. 6th was merely a reference to The Princess Bride.
Thomas Caldwell, a 68-year-old Virginia resident now entering his second day of testimony, posted his supposed allusion to the Rob Reiner-directed comedy classic on Facebook, along with a photograph of a pro-Donald Trump mob running riot around the U.S. Capitol.
“Us storming the castle,” the militia man wrote shortly after midnight on Jan. 7, 2021, referring to himself and his wife Sharon Caldwell. “Please share. Sharon was right with me! I am such an instigator! She was ready for it man! Don’t mind the tear gas.”
In the 1987 film, the castle is, in fact, invaded. Caldwell added that his other line about being an “instigator” was an allusion to Bugs Bunny, a point he made by botching his impression of the cartoon rabbit by saying: “I am such a stinker.” The bunny’s actual catchphrase was: “Ain’t I a stinker?”
Taking the stand in his own defense, Caldwell provided alternative, homespun takes on what prosecutors describe as his plot to prevent the lawful transfer of power by force. On Tuesday, he told a jury that a “militia” is just another word for “neighbors helping neighbors.” Caldwell allegedly organized an armed “quick reaction force” waiting with guns just outside of D.C. city limits on the day of the Jan. 6 attack. Members of the QRF, as it was known, stayed behind at a Comfort Inn in Arlington, Va., while Caldwell and other Oath Keepers went to Washington, D.C.
Caldwell denied those allegations, but when a prosecutor confronted him with an encrypted message talking about delivering “heavy weapons” over the Potomac River by “ferry,” the elderly extremist played off that phrasing as a “bit of creative writing.”
“It’s just poetic justice,” Caldwell testified on Tuesday. “I took something out of my screenplay, and I put it out there.”
Time and again, Caldwell offered innocent explanations for a torrent of Signal messages, social media posts, and video clips showing him spouting violent and threatening rhetoric. He claimed that he believed he was talking privately to his wife when heard on tape shouting in a mob that he knew where then-Vice President Mike Pence lived on Wisconsin Avenue.
His wife, who has not been accused of a crime, appeared to delight in the thought of elected officials fleeing the joint session of Congress in terror, calling the lawmakers “pussies.” Her husband interpreted that remark by telling the jury: “I think that what she’s saying is that it’s a great opportunity for us to begin the healing process.”
On Wednesday, Caldwell’s attorney David Fischer tried to rehabilitate his client on redirect examination, and he tried to recast the paramilitary group member from alleged Capitol plotter to an old, infirm victim of government overreach. Caldwell’s testimony contained multiple references to his incontinence, his use of adult diapers, and his multiple surgeries on his back and shoulder. It is undisputed that Caldwell and his wife did not enter the Capitol building.
Caldwell’s two-day stint on the witness stand ended with him weeping while recounting the FBI’s search of his home. As he tells it, FBI agents stormed into his home, as lights reflected from their weapons. He claimed that his terrified wife was cold because she didn’t have the opportunity to put on her socks.
His face in his hands, Caldwell told the jury that the thought that raced in his mind was: “God don’t let them murder my wife,” apparently referring to FBI agents.
With that display of emotion, Caldwell’s testimony ended, and he closed his case. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who also testified in his defense, previously wrapped up his case. The defense case of his accused co-conspirator Jessica Watkins has begun, and the government will present its rebuttal case.
Closing arguments are expected to begin as early as Wednesday afternoon.
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