Members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group likely stored weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, as part of their plan to have an armed rapid-response force during the January 6 insurrection, federal prosecutors said.
The new details flesh out previous accusations from prosecutors that members of the Oath Keepers assembled a “quick reaction force,” or QRF, in Virginia that could deploy into the nation’s capital if needed. For the first time, prosecutors have revealed photos of an alleged Oath Keeper carrying what looks like a weapon inside the hotel where the QRF was stored – the Comfort Inn in Arlington, Virginia.
Prosecutors said on Monday that Kenneth Harrelson, who has been charged in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, “likely contributed” weapons and brought “what appears to be at least one rifle case” into the hotel. Harrelson is one of 12 defendants in the case, the most prominent case tied to the insurrection.
At a court hearing Wednesday, federal Judge Amit Mehta said Harrelson was too dangerous to release from jail before trial because of his role with the QRF, which he said was “a sign of future dangerousness.”
“Thankfully, (the weapons) were not used on January 6, but nevertheless they show a degree of planning, and preparation, and sophistication,” Mehta said. “And it’s something that projects into the future, if there are public demonstrations or government proceedings in the Capitol or in statehouses where these types of confrontations might occur.”
Harrelson and the other Oath Keepers who have appeared before judges in Washington, DC, have pleaded not guilty. Harrelson’s lawyers dispute that he brought weapons to the DC-area hotel.
Prosecutors also revealed previously unknown details about the supposed QRF, telling the judge that there was additional surveillance video from the Comfort Inn showing alleged Oath Keepers militants “carrying up and down, from the lobby and back… multiple items” that look like weapons cases.
“Mr. Harrelson and others had stashed a large amount of weapons there,” federal prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said. “People who were affiliated with the group were at the Comfort Inn in Ballston … monitoring what was happening at the Capitol … and prepared to come into DC and ferry these weapons in to the ground team … on a moment’s notice, if anyone said the word.”
There is also footage of an Oath Keeper carrying “a rifle under a sheet or linen,” Nestler added.
Texts about the ‘QRF hotel’
These are some of the most concrete details about the QRF that the Justice Department has entered into the public court record. Up until now, it hasn’t been clear whether the QRF was aspirational or was a real-world effort to stockpile weapons to be potentially used in the streets of Washington.
Harrelson texted a group chat on January 5, asking for the location of the “QRF hotel,” according to court filings. Kelly Meggs, another alleged co-conspirator, said they should talk over private messages instead of the group chat. Hours later, Harrelson arrived at the Comfort Inn, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have obtained text messages from Oath Keepers discussing their plans and their goal of ferrying weapons across the Potomac River. Prosecutors later told a judge that they believed the planning turned into action on January 6, with real weapons at the ready in Virginia. One defense attorney claimed the QRF was a precautionary measure against potential violence from Antifa.
A shift manager at the suburban hotel, Jonathan Cordero, told CNN Tuesday that he wasn’t aware of the allegations regarding the Oath Keepers and that, regardless, hotel staff can’t check people’s bags.
“All we have is guests coming in and checking out,” Cordero said. “We don’t even know if they are members of the Oath Keepers or anything like that. We cannot check their personal belonging or things like that, and we don’t know what they’re bringing in. People check in and people check out.”
Defendant disputes weapons claims
Harrelson’s lawyers pushed back against the QRF accusations.
“There is no evidence that an actual ‘Quick Reaction Force’ even existed, or that Mr. Harrelson (or any of his co-defendants) ever possessed a firearm while in Washington, D.C., and no evidence that this supposed ‘QRF’ was ever called to provide backup or bring guns into the District,” the lawyers wrote in a court filing on Tuesday.
They also said Harrelson’s text message to other Oath Keepers on January 7 – where he said he wanted to pick up his “shit” from the Comfort Inn – does not prove that he was specifically referring to stockpiled weapons.
Mehta, the judge overseeing the large conspiracy case, has pressed prosecutors over the past several weeks to provide more details about the QRF. Prosecutors previously said that they believed it was real, and that their investigation was ongoing, but didn’t divulge that many specifics to the public.
He said Wednesday that “the circumstantial evidence is strong” regarding the alleged QRF at the Comfort Inn.
He has kept a few of the Oath Keepers leaders in jail, but he also released some of their co-defendants from custody because he said they didn’t pose enough of an ongoing danger to the public.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this story.