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 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.
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.
Harrelson and the other Oath Keepers who have appeared before judges in Washington, DC, have pleaded not guilty.
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.
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.”
The QRF has come up repeatedly in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case and has been a key sticking point in prosecutors’ arguments that the defendants pose a greater threat than most of the Capitol rioters.
Federal Judge Amit Mehta, who is overseeing the large conspiracy case, has repeatedly pressed prosecutors 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.
Mehta 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.