'Zombie killer' ax part of U.S. Capitol rioters' planning, FBI agent says

FILE PHOTO: Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers uses a radio as he departs a Trump rally in Minneapolis
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By Chris Gallagher

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -"Zombie Killer" tomahawk axes were among the weapons that Donald Trump supporters recommended bringing to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, an FBI agent testified on Thursday at the trial of five members of the far-right Oath Keepers.

FBI agent Michael Palian read from what he described as a planning document prepared by Thomas Caldwell, one of the five on trial for charges including seditious conspiracy for their alleged role in planning the attack, which was intended to overturn then-President Trump's election defeat.

"Each team member shall be equipped with a striking weapon," Caldwell wrote in the document sent on Dec. 2, 2020, Palian said in his third day of testimony. "When the battle is joined, apply the striking weapon wherever it will do the most good."

Knives, multitools and "Zombie Killer" tomahawks were recommended as weapons.

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four associates - Caldwell, Kenneth Harrelson, Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins - are accused of plotting to prevent Congress from certifying the election victory of Democrat Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed bid to keep Trump, a Republican, in power.

Some of the defendants are among the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol building after the then-president falsely claimed the election had been stolen from him through widespread fraud, prosecutors say.

The five defendants are charged with several felonies, including seditious conspiracy, a Civil War-era statute that is rarely prosecuted and carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Defense attorneys have said the evidence will show that the defendants did nothing illegal and that the Oath Keepers are simply a peacekeeping group that has done security work at events around the country in recent years.

Caldwell, in the operations plan, instructed Oath Keeper members not to use their actual names, how to create cover stories for their "mission" and to use "burner phones" because their personal cellphones were traceable, Thursday's testimony showed.

"The OTC (Overall Tactical Commander) should consider having limited firearms available which can be rapidly introduced into the mission area," Caldwell also wrote. He added that they should make weapons "non-attributable" by wearing gloves and wiping them down before use to remove any fingerprints.


Prosecutors have said the defendants trained and planned for Jan. 6 by stockpiling weapons at a northern Virginia hotel outside the capital for a "quick reaction force," or QRF, that would be ready if called upon to transport arms into Washington.

A second witness, John Zimmerman, a former Oath Keeper from North Carolina, testified on Thursday that he had been part of a QRF for a rally in support of Trump in Washington on Nov. 14, 2020. Zimmerman was not in Washington on Jan. 6.

Zimmerman said he had previously interacted with Rhodes at a pre-election rally for Trump in North Carolina, at which Rhodes spoke on the phone with someone he said was a Secret Service agent.

Zimmerman said Oath Keeper members discussed the need for weapons on Nov. 14 because they were concerned about potential violence by counterdemonstrators.

"The need for the weapons would be if President Trump enacted the Insurrection Act," Zimmerman cited Rhodes as telling them. The Insurrection Act is a law that empowers the president to deploy the military to suppress civil disorder.

Zimmerman volunteered his van, in which members stored roughly six handguns and 12 to 15 rifles, he said. He and others in the van waited in Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's largest military cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington during the rally but were never called upon.

Zimmerman also said he had joined the Oath Keepers believing it was an emergency response team, but he was unhappy with tactics Rhodes was suggesting, including acting like a parent pushing a baby stroller -- but with weapons in the carriage.

"I told him that's entrapment," Zimmerman said. "If we're going to trick people into attacking us so we can give them a beatdown? That's not what we do."

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; editing by Scott Malone, Richard Pullin and Jonathan Oatis)