WASHINGTON (AP) — An Army veteran who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a military formation with fellow members of the Oath Keepers was sentenced Friday to more than eight years in prison, a day after the founder of the far-right extremist group served an 18-year prison sentence in the US. assessment of January 6, 2021.
Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio, was acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge found guilty in November by Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, but jurors convicted her of obstruction and conspiracy to secure Congressional certification of the presidential victory to hinder Joe Biden.
She is the third member of the anti-government group to receive her sentence this week in one of the most serious cases to riot the Justice Department. Rhodes’s 18-year term is the longest sentence to date in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said that while Watkins was not a top leader like Rhodes, she was more than “just a foot soldier”. them to participate. He sentenced her to 8 1/2 years behind bars.
“Your role that day was more aggressive, more attacking, more purposeful than maybe others,” he told her.
Watkins tearfully apologized for her actions before the judge delivered her verdict. She condemned the violence of rioters attacking police, but said she knows her presence at the Capitol “probably inspired those people to some degree.” She described herself on January 6 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 federal court, attorneys for Watkins and the other Oath Keepers argued that there was no plan to attack the Capitol. On the witness stand, Watkins testified that she never intended to interfere with the certification and never heard orders for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.
Evidence shown to jurors after the 2020 election showed Watkins postings with people expressing interest in joining her Ohio militia group on “military-style basic training.” She told a recruit, “I need you to be fit” at the inauguration, which was on January 20, 2021.
On January 6, Watkins and other Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other paramilitary equipment were seen fighting their way through the crowd and up the steps of the Capitol in military-style “stack” formation. She communicated with others during the riot through a channel called “Stop the Steal J6” on the Zello walkie-talkie app, stating “we are now in the main dome”.
Another Oath Keeper and fellow Army veteran – Kenneth Harrelson – will be sentenced later on Friday. Another of their co-defendants, Florida Chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars on seditious conspiracy and other charges.
Rhodes, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was the first January 6 defendant to be convicted of seditious conspiracy and receive his sentence for what prosecutors say was a weeks-long plot to force the transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to Biden with to block violence. Four other Oath Keepers convicted of sedition at a second trial in January will be sentenced next week.
During his sentencing on Thursday, Rhodes defiantly claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration, and attempted to downplay his January 6 actions. The judge described Rhodes as a constant threat to the United States, which clearly “wants democracy in this country to degenerate into violence.”
The Oath Keepers’ verdicts this week could provide guidance for prosecutors in a separate Jan. 6 case against leaders of the extremist group Proud Boys. Earlier this month, another jury convicted former Proud Boys national president 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 riot cases at the Capitol was 14 years and two months for a man with a long criminal record who assaulted police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. Just over 500 of the defendants have been convicted, with more than half serving prison terms.
Richer reported from Boston.