Thomas Caldwell’s wife awakened him in a panic at 5:30 a.m. on January 19.
“The FBI is at the door and I’m not kidding,” Sharon Caldwell told her husband.
Caldwell, 66, clad only in his underwear, went to see what was happening outside his Virginia farm. “There was a full SWAT team, armored vehicles with a battering ram, and people screaming at me,” Caldwell told me during a lengthy phone interview on September 21. “People who looked like stormtroopers were pointing M4 weapons at me, covering me with red [laser] dots.”
Agents demanded that Caldwell, a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy who suffers from debilitating service-related spinal injuries, come outside and lay down in the grass.
“Someone grabbed my legs and dragged me through the grass. They threw me face down on the hood of the car, kicked my legs apart, put a chain around my waist and put me in handcuffs.” Caldwell said he looked up to see Sharon, his wife of 22 years, dressed in her nightgown holding her hands up with a sock in either hand. She, too, was covered in red dots from the weapons aimed at her. Sharon, 61, begged to put on her socks before they forced her outside in the cold. “I said a prayer, ‘Father, please don’t let them kill my wife,’” Caldwell said through sobs.
Caldwell was forced into the back of a police car for nearly 40 minutes; he asked several times what he was being charged with but FBI agents refused to answer. Eventually, Caldwell was led back toward his house. “I have a [collector] ’63 Thunderbird in my garage as a reminder of my grandfather, a retired Army colonel. An agent kicked one of the doors open and was leaning with his battle gear up against the car, scratching it up.”
Once inside, Caldwell saw that his wife “was still alive.” He was interrogated for at least two hours and realized the raid was tied to his participation in the January 6 protest in Washington, D.C.
Agents read what he called a “version” of his Miranda rights; he consented to the interview without an attorney present. Caldwell told me something I’ve heard repeatedly from January 6 defendants as to why they easily cooperated with the FBI: “I didn’t have anything to hide.”
Roughly 20 agents raided the Caldwell home, taking every electronic device including old computers and hard drives. This included Caldwell’s downloaded copies of cherished pictures. “They took every family photo we have.”
Agents then transported Caldwell to the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange, Virginia, two hours from their home. He thought he would be booked and released.
Instead, it was just the start of what he called “an American horror story.”