WASHINGTON (AP) — An Army veteran who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a military-style formation with other 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 received an 18-year prison sentence in the January 6, 2021 attack.
Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, was acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted of in November, but jurors found her guilty of obstruction and conspiracy to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.
She is the third member of the anti-government group to receive her punishment this week in one of the most serious cases the Justice Department has brought into the riot. Rhodes’ 18-year sentence 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 executive, like Rhodes, she was more than “just a foot soldier”, noting that at least three other people charged with the riot did not wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t recruited. let them join. He sentenced her to 8 and a half years behind bars.
“Your role that day was more aggressive, more aggressive, more determined than maybe others,” he told her.
Watkins tearfully apologized for her actions before the judge handed down her sentence. She condemned the violence of rioters who assaulted police, but said she knew her presence in the Capitol “probably inspired these people to some degree.” She described herself as “just another idiot running around the Capitol” on January 6.
“And today you’re going to hold that idiot accountable,” she told the judge.
The judge, for her part, said her personal history of struggling for years to come to terms with her identity as a transgender woman made it particularly difficult for her to understand why she showed “lack of empathy for those who suffered” on the 1st January. 6. Watkins testified at trial that she hid her identity from her parents during a strict Christian upbringing and was absent in the military after a fellow soldier found evidence of her contact with a support group for transgender people.
During the nearly two-month trial in federal court in Washington, attorneys for Watkins and the other Oath Keepers argued there was no plan to attack the Capitol. On the witness stand, Watkins told jurors that she never intended to interfere with the certification and that she never heard an order for her and other oath keepers. enter the building.
Evidence presented to jurors showed that Watkins after the 2020 election messaged people who expressed interest in joining his Ohio militia group about “military-style base” training. She told a rookie, “I need you to be fit” at the grand opening, which took place on January 20, 2021.
On January 6, Watkins and other oath keepers wearing helmets and other paramilitary gear were seen pushing their way through the crowd and up the stairs of the Capitol in a military-style “stack” formation. She communicated with others during the riot on a channel called “Stop the Steal J6” on the Zello walkie-talkie app, stating “we’re in the main dome right now”.
Another oath-keeper and Army veteran – Kenneth Harrelson – will be sentenced later Friday. One of their other co-defendants, Florida Chapter Chief Kelly Meggs, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars on seditious conspiracy and other charges.
Rhodes, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was the first defendant on Jan. 6 convicted of a seditious conspiracy to receive his punishment for what prosecutors said was a week-long plot to forcibly block the transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to Biden. Four other oath keepers convicted of the sedition charge in 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 tried to downplay his actions on Jan. 6. The judge described Rhodes as a continuing threat to the “clearly wanting” United States. democracy in this country is degenerating into violence”.
The Oath Keepers’ sentences this week could serve as a guide for prosecutors in a separate January 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 seditious conspiracy group leaders for what prosecutors said was a plot to keep Trump in the White House. .
Prior to Thursday, the longest sentence in more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases was 14 years and two months for a man with an extensive criminal record who attacked officers with pepper spray and a chair as he took storming the Capitol. Just over 500 of the defendants were convicted, more than half of them serving prison terms.
Richer reported from Boston.