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Oath Keepers, Proud Boys Are Under Intense Scrutiny Following Capitol Riot

NOEL KING, HOST:

Were the people in the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol in January planning and coordinating that assault? This is a key question for investigators.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following the investigation. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Where does this investigation stand right now?

LUCAS: Well prosecutors have said that this is one of the biggest investigations in American history. It spans the entire country. More than 300 people have been charged so far, and the Justice Department has said that it expects to charge around 100 more. But there is a small number of cases of particular interest because they involve conspiracy charges against two extremist groups, an anti-paramilitary - an anti-government paramilitary group called the Oath Keepers and the far-right Proud Boys. And these cases have drawn greater attention because of who's involved, because of the allegations that are made and because of what they tell us about advanced planning for January 6.

KING: Let's talk about these two groups. What is the government alleging in its case against, first, the Oath Keepers?

LUCAS: Well, this is the biggest conspiracy case at this point. There are 10 defendants who are either members of the Oath Keepers or associates, and they allegedly conspired to try to disrupt Congress' certification of the Electoral College vote. In court papers, prosecutors have cited chats and text messages that show the defendants discussing what kinds of weapons and what kinds of military-style gear to bring to D.C. on January 6. In one chat group, the Oath Keepers' founder offers his recommendations. He talks about a collapsible baton, gloves, eye protection and helmet. The defendants talk about having an armed quick reaction force just outside of D.C., across the river, ready to zip into the city if things downtown got messy. And ultimately, the government says most of the defendants in the case strapped on tactical gear on January 6 and forced their way into the Capitol.

KING: OK. And what are the allegations against the Proud Boys?

LUCAS: Well, there are several different conspiracy cases against Proud Boys. One of the most notable of these is against four alleged leaders of the group. Like with the Oath Keepers, prosecutors say the Proud Boys did their planning ahead of time on an encrypted messaging app, and they agreed to use, say, handheld radios to communicate on January 6. They agreed not to wear the group's traditional black and yellow colors in order to blend in. On January 5, there are messages about having a plan for the 6, and they agree on a time and place to meet the following day. And then during the riot, prosecutors say, the defendants and other Proud Boys played a key role in overrunning police lines and getting into the Capitol.

KING: All right - a lot going on here. So at this point, Ryan, what can we say about advanced planning to attack the Capitol?

LUCAS: The evidence presented by prosecutors in court filings and statements in court does not show, at this point, that the extremist groups in the mob that stormed the Capitol had a clear, coherent plan ahead of time to do so. Prosecutors have not alleged at this point a grand overarching conspiracy at all. Instead, what we see in the public record so far suggests that there were several smaller groups of extremists who coordinated and organized ahead of time and planned for violence on January 6, but not with the explicit aim of storming, overrunning, taking the Capitol. But here's a nugget to keep an eye on going forward. In a filing earlier this month, prosecutors cited Facebook messages in which one of the Oath Keepers in the conspiracy case claimed to have formed an alliance with the Proud Boys for January 6. So that raises the question of possible coordination between the two extremist groups in the runup to January 6 and then, of course, on the day itself.

KING: OK, so more investigation needed. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Thanks, Ryan.

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