WASHINGTON — An Oath Keeper who entered the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 as part of a military-style stack admitted Wednesday to interfering with police but denied any knowledge or role in an alleged plot to stop the certification of the 2020 election.
Jessica Watkins, of Ohio, was called to the stand in a surprise turn Wednesday morning in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial. Watkins is one of five co-defendants who began trial Oct. 3 on a slew of charges, including multiple alleged conspiracies stemming from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Two of her co-defendants, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and former U.S. Navy intel officer Thomas Caldwell, also testified in their own defense earlier in the trial.
Watkins was one of three defendants on trial who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, and on Wednesday, her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, pressed her to explain that decision.
“In my mind, I thought it was like this heroic, American moment when we were going into our building to be heard,” Watkins said. “I’d lost all objectivity. I wasn’t security anymore.”
Watkins claimed she believed the certification had already completed because she’d heard other protesters say former Vice President Mike Pence had “betrayed” them. She eventually wound up in a hallway where she yelled at the mob to push past police. Watkins, who had injured herself in an accident weeks prior, said at the time she was angry from the pain and because she believed the election had been stolen and Congress wouldn’t hear their complaints.
“You realize what you’re saying is you interfered with police in the performance of their duties?” Crisp asked, prompting Watkins to admit, in essence, that she had committed civil disorder – one of the felony charges she faces.
“I want to say I’m sorry to Christopher Owens, the police officer we had here,” Watkins said, referring to a witness called during the government’s case. “He was on the other side of that line, trying to protect the Capitol from my dumb a**, essentially.”
Despite admitting to facing off with police inside the building, Watkins repeatedly denied any knowledge of or part in a plot to stop the certification of the 2020 election or to forcibly resist the government. She said messages jurors saw earlier in the trial about building fighting tunnels in a Kentucky mountain were based on her belief the United Nations and/or China would invade the country – one of a number of conspiratorial ideas she testified to holding in late 2020.
“I got a steady diet of Alex Jones and InfoWars,” Watkins said, referring to the far-right figure recently ordered to pay more than $1.4 billion in damages for promoting false conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school massacre.
“Did you want to see a civil war?” Crisp asked.
“Absolutely not,” Watkins said. “It’s the worst possible solution for this country.”
Watkins’ time on the stand was an effort, at least in part, to humanize the defendant in the face of weeks of evidence presented by the prosecution. As part of that effort, Crisp asked Watkins to testify about a particularly painful part of her life: her separation from the U.S. Army.
Watkins, who is a transwoman, enlisted as an Army infantryman in the early 2000s while still identifying as a man. She testified to experiencing gender dysphoria as early as four years old and said after a deployment to Afghanistan she was struggling with the issue.
“I tried very much to bury it,” Watkins said. “I had a very strict Christian upbringing. A lot of physical punishment.”
After returning to the States, Watkins said she began doing research about the issue. It burst into the open when a member of her unit borrowed her laptop and saw the contents of online searches she’d done.
“He came into my room, slammed the door, threw my laptop in front of me and yelled, ‘I know what you are, f*****,’” Watkins said.
Watkins’ fiancé, Montana Siniff, testified last week about how she felt at that point she had to choose between the Army or her life. On the stand Wednesday, Watkins said she panicked and went AWOL for two months in Alaska. She eventually turned herself in and ultimately ended her service early with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Siniff, and Watkins, testified that a longstanding desire to reclaim the sense of purpose she felt in the military led her to become a firefighter and then to form the Ohio State Militia in 2015. It was through the militia, and InfoWars, that Watkins eventually joined the Oath Keepers during civil unrest in Louisville, Kentucky, during the summer of 2020. Her testimony Wednesday described her experiencing a similar emotion as she, in her words, got caught up in the crowd at the Capitol.
“I just felt, like, really American,” Watkins said. “There was no violence at all.”
“Do you realize how ridiculous it is today to say there was no violence going on?” Crisp asked. Watkins said she did.
“Do you realize it was wrong?” he followed up.
“Absolutely,” she said.
Crisp ended his direct examination of Watkins with a final question: What would you have done if you’d known there was a plan to disrupt the certification of the election?
“I would not have gotten involved and, quite frankly, I would have contacted law enforcement,” Watkins said.
Because Watkins’ turn on the witness stand came as a surprise, prosecutors asked to delay their cross-examination of her until Thursday morning. She was expected to be the final witness in her defense case, and the remaining attorneys on the Oath Keepers’ side were expected to rest their cases as well Thursday. Closing arguments from the government were set to begin as early as Thursday afternoon.
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