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Oath Keepers defendant Jessica Watkins sentenced to 8 and a half years in prison for role in Jan. 6 attack

Oath Keepers member sentenced to 8 years in prison
Oath Keepers member Jessica Watkins sentenced to more than 8 years in prison for Jan. 6 attack 00:25

Oath Keepers defendant Jessica Watkins — a military veteran from Ohio who founded a militia in the area —  was sentenced Friday to 8 and a half years in prison for her role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack

Last year, a jury convicted Watkins of numerous felony counts including obstructing Congress and interfering with police, but acquitted her of the most severe seditious conspiracy count after she admitted to much of her actions during the riot and disputed any seditious conduct from the stand. 

Delivering a prewritten, emotionally raw expression of remorse in court today, Watkins told Judge Amit Mehta —  who on Thursday sentenced Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy —  that she was sorry for her actions on Jan. 6. 

"My actions and my behaviors that fateful day were wrong and as I now understand, criminal," Watkins said through tears, later saying she was "ashamed" of her conduct.

When she testified at trial, Watkins called herself  "another idiot" inside the Capitol building, a part of the mob, and alluded to that testimony on Friday. 

Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins Government exhibit

"There is no justification for impeding those officers in the hallways," Watkins said. "My actions there are reprehensible…today you are going to hold this idiot responsible.  My actions added to the cumulative problem that was Jan .6. I asked that I not be judged for the beliefs that I wrongly held…or for the crimes the prosecution wished I had committed."  

She specifically apologized to the officers she impeded, saying "your honor, I am truly sorry for what I did that day. I'm sorry for making you do it today and to the people who were hurt." 

Watkins was accused of mobilizing a group of Oath Keepers to travel to Washington, D.C in support of then-President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, prosecutors also said Watkins amassed weapons outside of Washington to bring to the Capitol. 

Prosecutors said she made her way from Trump's rally at the Ellipse dressed in armor and tactical gear to the Capitol building. She then led the formation of a military-style stack to breach the building, the government said, where she admitted she interfered with law enforcement and encouraged other members of the mob to advance past officers.

At trial, the government presented the jury with multiple messages and recordings of Watkins discussing plans to head to the nation's capital on Jan. 6 and declaring the group "stormed the Capitol" during the attack over a radio-like digital communication app.  

Watkins — who is transgender — said last year she went AWOL from military service after her identity was revealed. She said she was  condemned by her roommate in the military and fled to Alaska because her family did not accept her.

During Friday's sentencing, her attorney, Jonath Crisp, said that trauma and rejection contributed to her beliefs and vulnerability to take part in an infamous riot. Crisp said his client worked to avail herself of much of the beliefs that pushed her to act on Jan. 6, including her anger towards the trans community. 

"While Ms. Watkins has our sympathies, she is not absolved of her actions. She cannot be," prosecutors answered when asked by Judge Mehta what he was to make of her "fairly compelling story." 

During the attack, according to prosecutors, "She added to the effort with her body, by recruiting others, and with her words" and made "strategic" decisions once inside the Capitol. 

The government said after the riot, Watkins blamed law enforcement for the breach and never accepted responsibility for her actions. "Her indignation is a warning," they said.

"Your role in those events is more than that of just a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that," Mehta said, describing numerous defendants who he said would not have been at the Capitol that day but for her recruitment efforts.

"You led others to fulfill your purposes...and there was not in the immediate aftermath any sense of shame or contrition. Just the opposite. Your comments were celebratory and lacked a real sense of the gravity of that day and your role in it," the judge said, "the sentence needs to reflect the seriousness of that role." 

Delivering the 102-month sentence, Mehta said he believed Watkins first founded her militia group in Ohio to serve that community, but "somewhere along the line, that got waylaid, averted," likely by online voices like Alex Jones, he added. 

"You have overcome a lot and you are to be held out as somebody who can actually serve as a role model for others in that journey. And I say that in a time when people who are trans, who are confronting their gender identity are so readily vilified and used for political purposes," Mehta said to Watkins during sentencing. Such a journey, Mehta added, made it hard for him to reconcile her lack of concern for the victims of the Capitol breach. 

Mehta ruled a sentencing enhancement under anti-terrorism laws applied to Watkins' case, agreeing with prosecutors, but he ultimately sentenced her to term of imprisonment below guideline calculations.

On Thursday, the same judge sentenced Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison and Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs to 12 years in detention after they were both convicted of seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge so far brought in the Jan. 6 prosecutions. Next week, four more members of the far-right group will be sentenced on seditious conspiracy convictions. 

On Friday, Mehta sentenced Watkins' co-defendant, Kenneth Harrelson, to 4 years in prison, a notable departure from the other defendants and prosecutors' requested sentence.

"I never voted for a president in my life…I don't care about politics. I didn't care then. I don't really care now," Harrelson said on Friday. "I got into the wrong car at the wrong time and got into the wrong car with the wrong people."

"I don't think you are what the government has suggested…I don't think you are a mid-level organizer here," the judge said Friday said, rejecting DOJ's arguments. "There is not a single word on a single communication that anyone would consider extremist, radicalized. You are generally remorseful for your actions…I think you are good man."

Prosecutors alleged Harrelson worked with Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs to amass weapons and supplied ahead of the breach and violent entered the Capitol. He was convicted on numerous felony counts including obstructing Congress, but was acquitted of seditious conspiracy.  

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