A transgender Army veteran and Oath Keeper has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years for storming the Capitol in the January 6 riot.
Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, broke down in tears as the judge told her she had played an ‘aggressive’ role in the deadly siege. She was found guilty in November of obstruction and conspiracy to impede Congress.
US District Judge Amit Mehta said that while Watkins was not the leader of the Oath Keepers’ mob – she was not ‘just foot soldier,’ and recruited at least three others charged in the riot.
‘Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others,’ Mehta told her on Friday.
Watkins was jailed the day after the Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years for seditious conspiracy – the longest term for a January 6 rioter.
Jessica Watkins (pictured at the Capitol on January 6, 2021), of Woodstock, Ohio, broke down in tears as the judge told her she had played an ‘aggressive’ role in the deadly siege. She was found guilty in November of obstruction and conspiracy to impede Congress
Mehta said it was ‘particularly hard’ to issue a sentence for Watkins after she testified during trial about the struggles she faced with her transgender identity and her cooperation with law enforcement officials.
But he said that ‘doesn’t wipe out’ what she did during the attack.
‘Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others,’ Mehta said.
Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keeper convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, was also found guilty of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win as well as tampering with documents and proceedings. He will be sentenced later Friday.
Watkins and Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.
Federal prosecutors had asked Mehta in Washington to sentence Watkins to 18 years in prison.
District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled on Thursday that Rhodes’ actions on January 6 amounted to domestic terrorism
During tearful remarks in court, Watkins asked Mehta to issue a just sentence.
‘My actions and my behavior that fateful day were wrong and, as I now understand, criminal,’ she said.
She condemned the violence by rioters who assaulted police, but said she knows her presence at the Capitol ‘probably inspired those people to a degree.’ She described herself as ‘just another idiot running around the Capitol.’
‘And today you’re going to hold this idiot responsible,’ she told the judge.
During the nearly two-month trial in Washington’s federal court, lawyers for Watkins and the other Oath Keepers argued there was no plan to attack the Capitol.
On the witness stand, Watkins testified she never intended to interfere with the certification and never heard any commands for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.
Jessica MWatkins (2nd from L) marches down the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol with the Oath Keepers militia group on January 6
Some of the Oath Keepers breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others at a suburban hotel staged a ‘quick reaction force’ prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington
Men belonging to the Oath Keepers wearing military tactical gear attend the Stop the Steal rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC
Evidence shown to jurors showed Watkins after the 2020 election messaging with people who expressed interest in joining her Ohio militia group about ‘military-style basic’ training.
She told one recruit: ‘I need you fighting fit’ by the inauguration, which was January 20, 2021.
On January 6, Watkins and other Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other paramilitary gear were seen shouldering their way through the crowd and up the Capitol stairs in military-style ‘stack’ formation.
She communicated with others during the riot over a channel called ‘Stop the Steal J6’ on the walkie-talkie app Zello, declaring ‘we are in the main dome right now.’
Another Oath Keeper and fellow Army veteran – Kenneth Harrelson – will be sentenced later Friday. One of their other co-defendants, Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars for seditious conspiracy and other charges.
Rhodes, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was the first January 6 defendant convicted of seditious conspiracy to receive his punishment for what prosecutors said was a weekslong plot to forcibly block the transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Four other Oath Keepers convicted of the sedition charge during a second trial in January will be sentenced next week.
Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the January 6 riots
Rhodes, 58, is pictured outside the Capitol on January 6. Prosecutors argued he was the architect of a plot to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results
During his sentencing Thursday, Rhodes defiantly claimed to be a ‘political prisoner,’ criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration and tried to play down his actions. The judge described Rhodes as a continued threat to the United States who clearly ‘wants democracy in this country to devolve into violence.’
Members of the Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, include current and retired U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including racial justice demonstrations that followed the 2020 murder in Minneapolis of a Black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.
Some of the Oath Keepers, including Watkins and Harrelson, breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others at a suburban hotel staged a ‘quick reaction force’ prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington.
The Oath Keepers’ sentences this week could serve as a guide for prosecutors in a separate January 6 case against leaders of the Proud Boys extremist group.
Earlier this month, a different jury convicted former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other group leaders of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was another plot to keep Trump in the White House.
Before Thursday, the longest sentence in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases was 14 years and two months for a man with a long criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. Just over 500 of the defendants have been sentenced, with more than half receiving prison time.
HOW YALE LAW GRAD-TURNED-PARATROOPER STEWART RHODES TOOK A HARD-RIGHT TURN AND FOUNDED OATH KEEPERS
Stewart Rhodes grew up in the Southwest and joined the Army after finishing high school.
He became a paratrooper, receiving an honorable discharge due to an injury in a night parachuting accident.
He attended college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, graduating in 1998.
During his time there, Rhodes claims he taught rape prevention at the college women’s center, and it was also during that period that he bounced around a number of other jobs including working as a certified concealed-carry firearms instructor and a valet driver.
In 1993, he lost his eye when he dropped a loaded handgun which shot him in the face. He has worn his hallmark eyepatch ever since.
That year, the Waco siege deeply affected him. Ending in the deaths of more than 70 members of an armed Christian sect, he saw it as illustrative of the danger of government power.
After college, his first politically oriented job was supervising interns in Washington, D.C., for Libertarian Ron Paul, then a Republican congressman from Texas.
Rhodes subsequently attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2004, and clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan. He later volunteered on Paul’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.
Following his experience with the Paul campaign, Rhodes published one of his first political diatribes. Appearing on his blog in January 2008, the post blasted political opponents’ charges that Paul was linked to hate groups and racists. (The congressman’s Ron Paul Report, in fact, did contain many racist statements over the years, but Paul has claimed that he did not write or read them). Using the fevered language that would become his trademark, Rhodes railed against the ‘full-blown smear campaign.’ Calling it a ‘lame attempt at guilt by association’ and ‘stupid,’ he added, ‘This only tells me that Ron Paul is a real threat to the political establishment, and they are pulling out all the stops in an attempt to stop the Ron Paul Revolution.’
Rhodes went on to disclose that his maternal ancestors were Hispanic and ‘American-Indian,’ and made the argument that because he was ‘mixed-race’ and saw no indication of racism, the claims against Paul had no merit.
Rhodes then took a hard-right turn away from electoral politics in 2009, forming the Oath Keepers, a Nevada nonprofit organization.
He began recruiting current and former military officers, veterans and police officers, and started the Oath Keepers blog.
At a rally in Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 2009, Rhodes officially launched the Oath Keepers before a large crowd of first responders.
Rhodes moved from Nevada to Montana, relocating his law practice and joining a growing movement presence in the Big Sky state. He registered the group as a non-profit and created a board of directors, in a bid to give his group legitimacy – carefully avoiding the word ‘militia’, condemning racism, and stating on the blog that members were only to fight as a last resort.
‘Our would-be slave masters are greatly underestimating the resolve and military capability of the people,’ Rhodes wrote on his blog.
By 2011, the Oath Keepers had members in every state, Rhodes said, the group was claiming to have more than 30,000 people on its membership rolls, although that is an unverifiable and highly unlikely number.
Rhodes’ fervent call to resist perceived government overreach has been amplified with frequent media appearances on platforms offered by megaphone-wielding demagogues such as radio conspiracy-monger Alex Jones, and through alliances with right-wing groups, including extreme Tea Party factions.
He embraced Donald Trump, seeing him as a president who, at last, aligned with their ‘patriotic’ interests.
Rhodes was quick to defend Kenosha gunman Kyle Rittenhouse after he shot and killed two BLM protesters in August 2020, calling him ‘a Hero, a Patriot’ on Twitter.
When a Trump supporter was killed later that week in Portland, Oregon, Rhodes declared: ‘Civil war is here, right now.’
He was then banned from the platform for inciting violence.