Washington — The Oath Keepers’ seditious conspiracy trial took an unexpected turn Wednesday when defendant Jessica Watkins — a military veteran from Ohio — decided to testify in her own defense, a move that put her face-to-face with a Washington, D.C., jury. Kept in front to decide his guilt.
Watkins is accused of mobilizing a group of people sworn in on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC in support of then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Prosecutors say he eventually made his way from Trump’s speech in the White House Ellipse — dressed in armor and tactical gear — to the Capitol building, allegedly by making a military-style ploy to breach the building, where he allegedly But law enforcement intervened and encouraged other members of the crowd to push past police.
He and his four co-defendants have been charged with seditious conspiracy — the most serious count so far in the Justice Department investigation — accused of planning to use force to prevent a peaceful presidential transfer from Trump to Joe Biden has gone. They all pleaded not guilty.
The defendant testified that he had not planned to enter the Capitol that day, but “lost objectivity” and was “swept” in the crowd, disproving the government’s claim that the group had used a rocket to approach the building. formed military formations.
Prosecutors have already presented the jury with several messages and recordings of Watkins discussing plans to move to the nation’s capital on January 6 and declaring the group “storming the Capitol” during an attack on digital communications apps such as Radio Is.
But Watkins testified that his plan was not to storm the Capitol, but to provide medical care and security during the planned protest, a common defense at trial. The day turned, she said, when she became “another idiot” inside the capitol building, a part of the crowd. Her mention of the storming of the Capitol, she argued, was a result of mob involvement. Watkins claimed that he thought the Electoral College’s authentication of votes was over. This was not, she testified, a call to action.
“At no point did anyone say, ‘Now is the time to enter the Capitol? Now is the time to stop the certification,'” his attorney Jonathan Crisp asked in court Wednesday.
“No, sir,” said Watkins, “I thought the certification expired.”
But once inside, Watkins said she was thinking about the stolen election and the pain of broken ribs, and so she was urging others inside the building to move police, she said.
She told the jury that it was “stupid”, and she admitted to interfering with law enforcement and apologized, explaining that the officers were only “trying to protect the capital from my stupid face.”
“I thought it was an American moment,” Watkins said of his mindset in the days following the attack, saying “I took one for the team.” But she reflected that she has since regretted her actions and is no longer proud of her role in the events of 6 January.
Crisp previously described his client’s actions as “misguided and wrong” on 6 January in attempting to fit in.
Watkins — who is transgender — said Wednesday she went AWOL from military service after her true identity was discovered and denounced by her roommate in the military. She fled to Alaska because her family did not accept her, a rejection she said still fills her with “levels of shame”.
The jury heard testimony that Watkins eventually returned home to Ohio and bought a bar after his family “warmly” came to terms with his identity.
She said that she began to worry about her business after the 2017 presidential election and moving into 2020, adding that she thought, “If Trump is re-elected, there will be a lot more” of anti-Trump groups. From which he blamed for the damage.
Watkins explained he and his fiancée, Montana Siniff — who also testified in Watkins’ defense — started a militia in the spring of 2020 to protect her and other businesses, even Breonna Taylor’s. May also travel to Louisville, Ky., in the wake of the assassination (Watkins). Condemned Taylor’s death on the stand).
“I got a steady diet of InfoWars and Alex Jones,” Watkins said of the period in her life that led her to join the far-right Oath Keepers group. She learned the group was going to defend Trump aide Roger Stone on January 6 – whom she said she was “stoked” – and at one point there was talk of defending a member of Congress.
Oath Keepers group chat messages released before the trial revealed that they had in fact discussed protecting Stone and other Trump aides, including Michael Flynn.
Prosecutors say that part of the alleged plot included the formation of a quick reaction force (QRF), which included a stockpile of weapons at the nearby Virginia Hotel, ready to respond to Washington DC if called upon.
Despite substantial evidence on 6 January demonstrating his knowledge of some QRFs – including a message sent on 4 January about the weapons being dropped – Watkins said on Wednesday that nothing was “convincing”.
However, Watkins acknowledged that the group was preparing for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act after the election results were rejected in Congress, calling out militias to defend against members of the “left”, whom they expected that they would “lose their minds” and start riots.
Neither Watkins nor his codefendants — including leader Stewart Rhodes — are charged with bringing weapons into Washington, D.C., and Trump has never invoked the decades-old law.
Prosecutors have not yet questioned Watkins under cross-examination, which is expected to take place on Thursday. They are likely to confront the defendant with their comments and communications, which are similar to their questioning of the defendant Thomas Caldwell in the days leading up to and after January 6.,
Caldwell, Rhodes, and now Watkins have all decided to take the stand in their own defense during the high-profile trial. Two other defendants, Kenneth Harrelson and Kelly Meigs, have so far chosen not to testify.
Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the trial, said on Wednesday that the jury is likely to begin deliberations on the case on Monday afternoon.