WASHINGTON (TBEN) — A former Ohio bar owner who stormed the Capitol military-style with fellow members of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group told jurors Wednesday it was a “really stupid” decision, saying she was swept up in what was a ” very American moment’.
In a decision that surprised even the judge, Jessica Watkins took the stand to testify in her defense as the seditious conspiracy trial against her, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and three others comes to a close.
Watkins, an Army veteran imprisoned since her arrest nearly two years ago, testified that she never intended to interfere with Congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory and never heard any order for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building on January 6, 2021.
Watkins recalled consuming a “solid diet” from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ “Infowars” show, which pushed the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Calling herself “just another idiot” in the crowd on Jan. 6, she likened the scene outside the Capitol — where rioters smashed windows and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police — to a Black Friday sale.
“Are you proud of what you have done?” asked her attorney, Jonathan Crisp.
“Not anymore,” Watkins replied.
Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, is the third defendant in the more than month-long trial to take the witness stand — a move generally viewed by defense attorneys as a last resort because it exposes defendants to intense cross-examination by prosecutors and often does more harm than good. Prosecutors will have a chance to question Watkins on Thursday.
Watkins took the stand in the seventh week of testimony in the case accusing Rhodes, Watkins and three others of a violent plot to stop the transfer of presidential power. Closing arguments could take place as early as this week.
Jurors have heard how Watkins sent messages before the riot with people expressing interest in joining her Ohio militia group on “basic military-style training” scheduled for early January. She told a recruit, “I need you to be fit” at the inauguration, which was on January 20, 2021.
They have seen video of Watkins and other Oath Keepers rushing through the angry pro-Trump crowd and entering the building in what prosecutors have described as a military-style stacking formation. They also heard a recording of a channel called “Stop the Steal J6” on the Zello walkie-talkie app that Watkins used to communicate with others during the riot.
“We are on the mezzanine floor. We are now in the great dome. We rock it. They throw grenades, they shoot people with paintballs. But we’re in here,” Watkins said in the recording.
“Understand, Jess. … Everything we (expletive) trained for,” someone commented.
The defense has harped for weeks on the prosecutors’ lack of evidence of an explicit plan for the Oath Keepers to attack the Capitol before Jan. 6.
Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and graduate of Yale Law School in Granbury, Texas, told jurors there was never a plan to attack the Capitol. He testified that he was surprised and upset to learn that some group members had joined a pro-Trump mob in storming the building and that their only mission that day was to provide security for Trump ally Roger Stone and others at pre-meeting events.
Thomas Caldwell, another defendant whose trial testimony ended earlier Wednesday, told jurors he wasn’t serious when he floated the idea in messages before the riot to get a boat to carry “heavy guns” across the Potomac- river to Oath Keepers’. waiting arms.” Caldwell, a retired US Navy intelligence officer from Berryville, Virginia, described it as “creative writing.”
Watkins’ attorney told jurors during opening statements last month that she is a transgender woman who served as an Army Ranger but was discharged early — a decision that “haunted her all her life.”
“She never felt like she belonged,” Crisp said. “A lot of the things she did that day were trying to fit in.”
Watkins told jurors she struggled with her gender identity since she was a young child, but kept it hidden from her parents for years given her strict Christian upbringing. She described how after a deployment to Afghanistan she was confronted by a fellow soldier who borrowed her laptop and saw evidence of her contact with a transgender support group.
“I just panicked. Shocked,’ she said. “I panicked and went AWOL. I ran.’
Watkins said she was AWOL for about two months and spent time in Alaska before receiving an “other than honorable” discharge. She came out to her parents, who told her to “never come home”. Watkins said she reconciled with her parents about 15 years later, and they welcomed her home.
Her fiancé, Montana Siniff, testified earlier this month that Watkins’ 2003 firing came after she was discouraged over a broadcast. “She was so stunned by one of her broadcasts that she absolutely feared for her life,” he told the jurors.
Watkins’ attorney did not indicate on Wednesday that she intended to testify. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta appeared frustrated that the court had not received a warning, telling Watkins’ attorney, “It would have been nice to know this,” before telling jurors earlier in the day that they might hear the case Friday. to get.
Also on trial with Watkins, Rhodes and Caldwell are Kelly Meggs, Florida chapter leader of the Oath Keepers, and Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida group member. In addition to seditious conspiracy, they face several other crimes.
The Bharat Express News reporter Alanna Durkin Richer contributed from Boston.
For full coverage of the Capitol uprising, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege