A federal judge has decided to allow the pretrial release of an Arizona man accused of readying the so-called “Quick Reaction Force” for the Oath Keepers extremist group on Jan. 6.
Edward Vallejo, 63, is accused of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol. Prosecutors say that he was the main force behind the “Quick Reaction Force,” or QRF, at a hotel across the Potomac River from the Capitol.
As the scene at the Capitol grew increasingly chaotic that day, with Donald Trump supporters facing off against an outnumbered police force trying to beat back the angry crowd, Vallejo allegedly texted his fellow Oath Keepers that he was ready to provide support.
“Vallejo back at hotel and outfitted. Have 2 trucks available. Let me know how I can assist,” he messaged the group’s encrypted chat at 2:24 p.m., according to prosecutors.
“QRF standing by at hotel,” he texted the group at 2:38 p.m. “Just say the word[.]”
In April, Vallejo filed a motion asking to be released from jail, arguing that he is not a danger to the community and that he is a disabled military veteran who posed no risk of flight.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, have painted Vallejo as a key figure in a conspiracy to forcefully block the peaceful transition of power from Trump to Joe Biden.
“Guns Would Be Consistent with Talk of Guerrilla War.”
In a supplemental filing accusing Vallejo of obstructing justice, prosecutors submitted transcripts from jailhouse calls between Vallejo and two separate people shortly after he was arrested.
In one of the calls, an unidentified man tells Vallejo that prosecutors have obtained security footage appearing to show Vallejo hauling multiple large bins into the Comfort Inn at Ballston just outside of D.C. ahead of Jan. 6. Vallejo then calls his wife, Debbie Vallejo, and asks her to “go through everything” and emphasizes a “satchel in the black container with the yellow top.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutor Louis Manzo reiterated the government’s position that the “satchel” likely contained something dangerous.
“Guns would be consistent with talk of guerrilla war,” Manzo said, referring to comments Vallejo made on a podcast the morning of Jan. 6 indicating that Trump supporters would likely get violent if Congress certified Biden’s electoral win. “That’s a circumstantial argument. We can’t at this point nail down what is in those bins. But wars demand guns. [Vallejo and his co-defendants] here is calling for violence so it would be consistent with those ends.”
While it still isn’t clear what was contained in the satchel, Vallejo’s lawyer implied in a court filing that it wasn’t any sort of weapon, and that Vallejo’s request to his wife was in fact proof that he was eager to comply with conditions of pretrial release that would prohibit him to consume alcohol or drugs.
“Given this context, it is easy to guess examples of ‘contraband’ that an older gentlemen with a history of back pain and a distrust of the medical establishment might have stashed away, and why he would ‘cryptically describe’ such remedies,” attorney Matthew Peed said in a court filing. “Important here, Vallejo asked his wife to scour his belongings—not just the black bins—to ensure that any such contraband was eliminated and wouldn’t violate any conditions or ‘jeopardize’ his release. Such an effort to ensure complete compliance is to Ed Vallejo’s credit, not evidence of obstruction.”
Ultimately, Mehta decided that Vallejo was more of a “foot soldier” than a planner of the Oath Keepers’ alleged conspiracy, and therefore didn’t pose a danger to the community as some of his co-defendants, including Kelly Meggs, a Florida-based leader of the Oath Keepers, or Jessica Watkins, who ran a militia out of Ohio and bragged about being “proud” of her conduct on Jan. 6.
“The thing that I have tried to do since the outset of this case … is to identify the people who were the leaders of this conspiracy, and identify them as the most serious and most dangerous,” Mehta said. He identified Rhodes as the clear leader of the conspiracy, saying that he managed people and gave directions and instructions to “people like Mr. Vallejo who were willing to follow them.”
“You Were Referring to Yourself as the QRF.”
While Mehta determined that he didn’t think Vallejo posed a significant danger to the community, he indicated that he didn’t fully buy Peed’s characterization of Vallejo as somehow separate from his co-defendants, someone who had simply made plans to go to D.C. with his friends because that’s what Trump had asked them to do.
Mehta said Vallejo’s role appears to have been significantly more involved than that.
“You stood by over a stash of weapons [in the D.C. area] and offered to come into the District of Columbia with those weapons,” Mehta said pointedly to Vallejo, referring to Vallejo’s texts signaling his readiness to bring two trucks to the Capitol in support of the Oath Keepers.
“Your lawyer has a different version of what those words mean, and a jury will decide that, but it’s awfully incidental that as other Oath Keepers were rushing into the Capitol building, you’re saying ‘QRF at the ready’ or whatever your words were,” Mehta added. “You were referring to yourself as the QRF. You were not referring to yourself as anything else.”
But Mehta conceded that Vallejo did not, in fact, come to the District of Columbia, and there is no evidence he engaged in any of the actions he implied he wanted to take in the days following Jan. 6.
Mehta said Vallejo would be subject to the strictest possible conditions on release.
“He is not permitted to leave for any reason” except emergencies, the judge said. “He can’t leave for work, he can’t leave for dining out, he can’t leave to meet with his lawyer. His lawyer can come to him.”
“What about my dentist?” Vallejo asked. “Can I go to the dentist to get my teeth fixed?”
“Let’s take one thing at a time,” Mehta said, adding that if Vallejo needed to leave his house for “emergent medical treatment” they would find a way to make it work.
Vallejo’s wife will serve as his third-party custodian. She is required to report Vallejo if he commits any violations of the conditions of his release.
At the end of the hearing, Mehta issued Vallejo a stern warning not to break the rules of his release.
“I impress upon you that any violation of those conditions, Mr. Vallejo, and you’ll find yourself right back where you are,” he said. “It won’t take much.”
“No problem, sir,” Vallejo responded. “No problem at all.”
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to correctly identify Louis Manzo as the prosecutor at this hearing.
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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