Arlington, VA

On Jan. 6, a group of ten or so men — at least one of whom was wearing a tactical earpiece — watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol from across the Potomac in Arlington.

Previously unpublished photos taken by ARLnow that day show the men loitering near the Marine Corps War Memorial, with the overrun Capitol in the background. Parked nearby are numerous vehicles, mostly pickup trucks and SUVs with out-of-state license plates.

One pickup truck, with large toolbox in the back, was left running.

The man with the earpiece appears to have been focused on some sort of communications device with an antenna. He was among a group standing outside, in the cold, wearing hooded sweatshirts and other inconspicuous cold weather gear. None were wearing the tactical vests and helmets that militia members who charged into the Capitol that day wore.

Still, the group was deemed suspicious enough that Arlington County police received at least one call from a passerby, concerned about what they were doing there. An officer drove by after the 4 p.m. call but didn’t see anything, according to police department spokesman Ashley Savage.

“At approximately 4:09 p.m. on January 6, the Emergency Communications Center received a report of 9-10 males acting suspiciously and looking around on the Iwo Jima War Memorial property,” Savage said in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “The United States Park Police was notified to check the park area. ACPD patrol units checked Meade Street and Arlington property, nothing was located and the call was cleared.”

“I have no additional details to provide,” Savage added.

The photos above were taken by ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott around 3:30 p.m., just before Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he was sending the Virginia National Guard into D.C.

In recalling the moment, Westcott — a Navy veteran — said the gathering “had the feeling of a rally point.” He shot the scene from a distance with a 600mm lens, reluctant to get any closer due to potential safety concerns.

By nightfall, the men had dispersed, as ARLnow originally reported in an article about the curfew that night.

It’s unclear what the as-yet unidentified men were doing at the memorial that afternoon. Was their presence purely coincidental, or somehow connected to the pro-Trump rally and subsequent violence at the Capitol?

What is known is that somewhere outside of the District that day, according to federal prosecutors, a “quick reaction force” with a stockpile of weapons was allegedly ready to join the fight if ordered to do so by President Trump.

At a Friday court hearing for Jessica Watkins, a member of the Oath Keepers militia from Ohio who is accused of helping to plot the attack on the Capitol, prosecutors told a federal judge that “[it is] our understanding” that the quick reaction force did exist and was stationed somewhere near D.C.

A court document filed on Feb. 11, as cited by The Daily Beast, details the purpose of the quick reaction force, at least according to federal prosecutors.

The next day, Watkins exchanged text messages with Co-defendant Thomas Caldwell about the operational plans for January 6, 2021. This included coordinating about where and when to meet and where to stay. Operational plans also contemplated the possession and use of weapons in D.C. before and on January 6. Caldwell referenced “a quick reaction force [QRF] [that would be] bringing the tools if something goes to hell. That way the boys don’t have to try to schelp weps on the bus.” Watkins previously stated that the QRF provided ready access to guns during operations. As she explained to a contact when preparing to attend a November election fraud rally in Washington D.C., QRF was designed so that “If it gets bad, they QRF to us with weapons for us,” but that, otherwise, “[w]e can have mace, tasers, or night sticks. QRF staged, armed, with our weapons, outside the city” and advised “to be prepared to fight hand to hand” while “guys outside DC with guns, await[] orders to enter DC under permission from Trump, not a minute sooner.”

A separate Justice Department document, in the case against Watkins and two other militia members, seemingly links the quick reaction force to militia members who were staying at the Ballston Comfort Inn hotel.

On January 1, 2021, CALDWELL wrote to CROWL, “Check with. Cap. recommended the following hotel to her which STILL has rooms (unbelieveble).” CALDWELL then sent a link to the Comfort Inn Ballston, the same hotel that he recommended to others on January 1. CALDWELL continued, “[PERSON TWO] and I are setting up shop there. [PERSON THREE] has a room and is bringing someone. He will be the quick reaction force. Its going to be cold. We need a place to spend the night before minimum. [PERSON ONE] never contacted me so [PERSON TWO] and I are going our way. I will probably do pre-strike on the 5th though there are things going on that day. Maybe can do some night hunting. Oathkeeper friends from North Carolina are taking commercial buses up early in the morning on the 6th and back same night. [PERSON THREE] will have the goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy.”

An FBI spokeswoman said the bureau “does not have any additional information to share” about the “quick reaction force” nor the group at the Marine Corps War Memorial that day.

In court, Watkins and other militia members have downplayed their roles in the violence, expressed regrets, and suggested the blame lays elsewhere, as they argue that they should be released from jail.

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