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Investigators Continue Efforts To Identify People Responsible For Capitol Riot

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It has been nearly three weeks since Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol. Since the riot, investigators have been frantically working to identify, track down and charge those responsible for what unfolded on January 6. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now with an update on where things stand.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right, so just give us an overview of where we are in this investigation at this point.

LUCAS: Well, so far, more than 140 people are facing federal charges. A lot of these cases have been what you could say would be on the easy side. They're often based on photos or videos that were posted online. And as we said before, folks weren't really hiding the fact that they had broken into the Capitol.

CHANG: Right.

LUCAS: We've seen a lot of charges of unlawful entry, disorderly conduct, things along those lines in many of these instances. Some of the defendants appear to either believe in conspiracy theories like QAnon. Some of them are Trump supporters who took part in the riot but don't have any obvious ties to violent groups.

CHANG: Right. OK, so investigators have said from the beginning that it's going to take more time to determine the exact role that extremist groups played. Has there been much progress on that front?

LUCAS: Well, yes. We have seen one significant case with conspiracy charges against three people who authorities say are members of the Oath Keepers. That's a right-wing anti-government paramilitary group with chapters, so to speak, across the country. Investigators say the trio was led by a man by the name of Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old Virginia man. He allegedly coordinated and planned with two other members to storm the Capitol. They were in contact before the events of January 6. They arranged hotel accommodations around D.C. And then during the riot, Caldwell received a Facebook message telling him that lawmakers were down in the tunnels three floors down and what appears to be instructions on how to find them.

But court papers also carry hints of a possible larger presence and potential role for members of the Oath Keepers. In the court papers of another riot case, for example, a video taken off the defendant shows what appears to be an encounter with an Oath Keeper who was heard saying, quote, "there's 65 more of us coming."

CHANG: OK, so plenty of evidence involving the Oath Keepers. But there also has been evidence of people linked to other extremist groups, right?

LUCAS: Absolutely, absolutely. There was a vast array of people on Capitol Hill that day and folks with ties to various extremist groups. There are a couple of Proud Boy members who have been charged so far. One of them, Joseph Biggs, is allegedly an organizer of the Proud Boys in Florida. According to court papers in his case, investigators say people identified in photos as Proud Boys appear to have earpieces used to communicate with others on Capitol Hill in real time. Others appear to have devices that look like walkie-talkies, so that could suggest organization. It could suggest planning and coordination. Biggs himself has told investigators that he doesn't know anything about any preplanning done ahead of time to storm the Capitol.

CHANG: All right. Well, meanwhile, the Senate is getting ready to hold an impeachment trial, the second impeachment trial for...

LUCAS: Right.

CHANG: ...Former President Trump, for his actions around this riot. Are there any security concerns surrounding the upcoming trial?

LUCAS: Well, certainly security at the Capitol after the massive failure that we saw on January 6 is an issue. National Guard troops remain in Washington to guard the Capitol. There were 25,000 or so around on Inauguration Day. That number will drop to 7,000 in coming weeks, but that means that there will still be a significant National Guard presence during the impeachment trial. On the law enforcement front, officials are clearly mindful of the potential for violence. At least four people who were not at the January 6 riot have been charged in recent weeks for threats against lawmakers or Congress. So clearly, this is something that authorities are on alert for.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thank you, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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