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3News Investigates: Ohio militia leader condemns Capitol attack

In wake of Capitol riots, 3News Investigates talks with an Elyria militia leader who says "not all militias are the same."

CLEVELAND — The attack last month on our nation’s Capitol is still revealing itself.

But it’s become clear, according to law enforcement, that one Ohio militia group played a key role in training for and carrying out the insurgence.

The Jan. 6 attack has put a new focus on militias and federal authorities have issued a bulletin warning of more acts of terrorism.

Ohio's history with militias:

Ohio has a long history of militia dating back decades. According to some estimates, the state is home to as many as 32 militias and thousands of militia members.

While some were surprised by Ohio’s role in the Capitol insurgence, others say it’s symbolic of the state’s deep-rooted militia support.

“Ohio has a long history with the militia movement,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League's Center for Extremism. He has studied and researched extremists groups and their anti-government efforts for over 25 years.

“Americans need to be concerned about extremism in general because of extremists movements, like militia, do have that history of criminal activity and violence,” Pitcavage said.

Pitcavage said Ohioans were pioneers when it came to the early formation of these groups. Today, he estimates that there are thousands of militia supporters in Ohio, though they're not all organized.

He's seen peaks during the Obama years and believes more could come with the Biden presidency.

“Why people radicalize to get involved with one extremist movement or another, that's really complicated question and a lot of it depends upon their own individual circumstances their life experiences. There are a lot of roads to extremism,” he said.

Elyria militia leader condemns Capitol attack:

Like many Americans, Elyria-area resident Ryian Moore watched with dismay as insurgents stormed the Capitol.

“That was a sad day for all Americans, left, right, Republican, Democratic,” Moore said.

But as a militia leader, he’s critical of efforts to paint all militias as extremist groups.

“I don't think [the Capitol rioters] are true militia,” he said. “I don't recognize anyone wishing to destroy the nation or destroy property. That's not the goal or aim of militia.”

Credit: WKYC
Ryian Moore

Moore leads the Ohio Regulators, a militia of 15 members, all from northeast Ohio.

He says members believe in defending the Second Amendment and a hands-off, small government approach.

He says not all militia are extremists seeking to overturn the government with violence.

“A lot of people have misconceptions and they think that militias groups are just about being an anti government establishment. That's not what it's about,” he said. “We back our government, but we want small government. We don’t believe that government should have so much power over the people.”

Moore said that his militia group also takes part in community outreach.

“We did work down in Dayton when the tornadoes came through. We went with our teams and we helped individuals out there whether it was cleaning their property, putting porches back together, bringing clothes, water or cleaning supplies, we did a lot of that work down there,” he said.

Credit: WKYC

Moore said the two militia members who stormed the Capitol are not traditional militia. 

“Those guys are domestic terrorists and should be stopped,” said Moore.

2 members of an Ohio militant group face charges:

Federal investigators say part of the insurgence was orchestrated by Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl. Investigators say it was Watkins who while bartending in Woodstock, Ohio - located in Champagne County southwest of Columbus - recruited local militia members.

We have a good group,” federal authorities say Watkins transmitted that day. “We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan."

Watkins, an Army veteran, is said to have affiliated a new militia with the Oath Keepers, an extremist, militaristic group believed to have thousands of members nationally, authorities say.

Watkins and Crowl, a former Marine, are facing federal charges.

Credit: WKYC
Donovan Crowl and Jessica Watkins

Federal investigators have released details of the planning by Watkins and Crowl.

In November, Watkins sent a text message to several people interested in joining her local militia group, encouraging them to participate in “a week-long Basic Training class,” in early January, according to court records.

The classes were to be held an hour north of Columbus, Watkins said, presumably in Woodstock, or a nearby town.

“I need you fighting fit by inauguration,” the 38-year-old told another interested member. “It's a military style basic, here in Ohio, with a Marine Drill Sergeant running it.”

In the indictment that includes charges of conspiracy and obstructing Congress that carry up to 20 years in prison with conviction, federal authorities cite social media comments and photos allegedly from Watkins that crowed about the “Historical Events we created today.”

Another voice is heard exhorting her: “Get it, Jess ... everything we (expletive) trained for.”

Observers like Pitcavage see our country’s divisive political climate at a boiling point. And with the potential for future violence, he said, vigilance –as in see something, say something, is as vital as ever.

“There's a lot of uncertainty right now about exactly what's going to happen but certainly there remains a potential for more extremist violence going forward because there are a lot of people still pretty angry out there right now.”

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