Oath keepers Jessica Watkins sentenced to 8.5 years in January 6 conspiracy – Reuters

Related posts

A self-proclaimed militia leader and bar owner from Ohio and a former welder from Florida were sentenced to 8½ and four years in prison on Friday for joining Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in disrupting confirmation by Congress of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election in January. 6, 2021, Attack on the Capitol.

Army veterans Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted on other counts in November during a trial with Rhodes and his chief in the field, Kelly Meggs. Rhodes and Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and sentenced on Thursday. Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison, the longest of any defendant on Jan. 6. Meggs was sentenced to 12 years.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta told Watkins after a two-hour sentencing hearing, “No one would suggest that you are Stewart Rhodes; I don’t think you’re Kelly Meggs. But your role in these events is more than that of a mere infantryman.

He added: “As someone who plays a larger role in a conspiracy, you bear greater responsibility not just for your conduct, but for the conduct of those you lead into it.”

Watkins, 40, from Woodstock, Ohio, recruited three others and was recorded on January 6 on a walkie-talkie-style app saying she was walking with a group of about 30–40 people at the Capitol and “stick together and stick to the plan”, before finally encountering a group led by Meggs. The group marched in single file down the steps of the East Capitol and joined a crowd that forced their way through the gates of Columbus.

Harrelson, 42, a former Army sergeant from Titusville, Fla., received firearms training with Meggs in Florida and, according to prosecutors, served as ‘Meggs’ right-hand man’ to set up meetings video and pass on instructions to other Florida Oathkeepers. on stockpiling weapons for a “Rapid Reaction Force” should violence break out. Harrelson recorded himself shouting “Betrayal!” to the occupants of the Capitol as he entered with Meggs.

Outside of Rhodes and Meggs, Watkins received the longest sentence to date for a Jan. 6 defendant who was not found guilty of assaulting a police officer. But Harrelson received a fraction of his co-defendants’ time and nearly the average 45-month sentence for 22 other Jan. 6 defendants who were convicted of obstructing Congress but not convicted of conspiracy with an organized group or have committed violence.

Mehta found that Watkins and Harrelson’s actions qualified for an enhanced terrorism sentence for offenses calculated to compel the government, but the judge reduced the penalties prosecutors sought by years. Mehta noted that Watkins, like Harrelson, was acquitted of conspiring to use force to oppose government authority, and that she surrendered and cooperated without pleading guilty.

The judge added that of 2,000 to 3,000 communications exchanged by co-conspirators, he found only “a few dozen” by Harrelson. It suggested lesser intent and explained why the jury also acquitted him of conspiring to obstruct Congress, when he was found guilty of actually obstructing, conspiring to interfere with police and destroying evidence. , said the judge.

“What sets you apart from everyone else so far is that there is not a single word about a Signal communication that anyone would consider extremist, radicalized, encouraging someone to engage in the violence, or words like ‘civil war’, ‘revolution’ or thinking about death,” Mehta said. “You are not someone who bears the same responsibility or guilt as others.”

Defense attorney Brad Geyer called Harrelson “a horse of a different color” and urged the judge to send his client to his family.

Watkins was accused of merging her local Ohio armed group with the Oath Keepers in 2020. She became a recruiter and organizer before the attack on the Capitol, bringing guns and other weapons and storing them at outside Washington.

Watkins texted others, telling them to prepare for violence to keep Trump in power, starting Nov. 9, 2020, six days after the election, and she talked about getting recruits “fighting through innaugeration” and to unite oath keepers and other extremist groups. “Be prepared to fight hand to hand,” she wrote. “Now or never.”

Like Rhodes, she expressed hope that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and mobilize private militias so he could stay in power. Watkins walked into the Capitol with other oath keepers in military-style gear before joining rioters in a Senate hallway, shouting “Push” and “Get in there” as they clashed with police guarding the Senate chamber .

Watkins was acquitted of destroying federal property, but convicted of conspiring to obstruct and actually obstructing official congressional proceedings, rioting, and conspiring to impede officers.

Both counts of obstruction carry the same maximum prison sentence of 20 years as seditious conspiracy.

Addressing the court in an orange jail suit, Watkins apologized for inconveniencing police and Congress and inspiring anyone to enter the Capitol, and said she was ashamed of contributing to division country policy. She maintained, as she testified at trial, that she was arming herself because she believed that misinformation widely spread by “Infowars” host Alex Jones and other far-right leaders that A Biden presidency would allow the United Nations and China to invade the United States.

“Violence is never the answer,” Watkins said. “My actions there were inadmissible. …Today you’re going to hold that idiot responsible.

But Watkins maintained that she believed the 2020 election result “needed a thorough audit to ensure reliability”, and prosecutors said she continued to blame police for the riot as recently as when of a jail appeal in January.

“Boo! Poor little cops got a little PTSD. Wah,” assistant US attorney Alexandra Hughes said Watkins was recorded saying, as well as “the police are responsible for inciting Jan. 6.”

“She remains adamant,” Hughes said, arguing that “meaningful punishment” was needed as a “deterrent to those who would use force to derail a political process they disagree with.”

Defense attorney Jonathan Crisp said Watkins “never talked about overthrowing the government. She talked about fighting to support him,” and was recruited by the Oath Keepers as a doctor.

Crisp said Watkins would have pleaded guilty to all counts except seditious conspiracy, but prosecutors wouldn’t let her and she wouldn’t contest her convictions. He noted that Watkins – a trans woman – was “rejected by her family”, the military and her colleagues with whom she served in Iraq.

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it into a 3D digital model of the building. (Video: The Washington Post)

He explained his comments about the police as coming from someone who has been ‘demonized’ and is part of a group that wrongly made ‘a poster child’ for January 6, even though they are featured after the Capitol breach and have committed little violence. At the same time, Crisp said, Watkins, as a former soldier, viewed police as unprepared to handle the crowd, taunting them with tear gas and complaining about the physical hazards of their jobs afterwards. .

“There’s a cognitive dissonance between yes, it was really awful” and “It’s part of the job…and I think she struggles with it,” Crisp said. “It does not exonerate criminal acts. … It doesn’t rule out the trauma.

Mehta credited Watkins for his service, but said his fears about the consequences for the country if Biden won were “delusional.”

He said Watkins’ personal suffering as a trans woman could make her a role model in a time when people facing questions about their sexual identity “are so routinely vilified and used for political purposes.”

But, the judge concluded, “That doesn’t hide what you did.”

Prosecutor Jeff Nestler argued that Harrelson knew the Oath Keepers were bringing in guns for “offensive” purposes, not defensive ones, and that he ranked second only to Meggs in a leadership role. Harrelson searched an officer at the Capitol to see if he had a bulletproof vest and yelled “treason,” knowing the penalty for traitors is death, the prosecutor said.

“What they are saying is that the people in this building deserve to be killed for fulfilling their constitutional duties. That’s what people, including Harrelson, thought,” Nestler said.

But Harrelson said he only voted once in his life, in 2018, and went to the Capitol on January 6 only because Meggs had called him three days earlier for “a job of security”.

“I have no fault with the government then or now,” Harrelson said, apologizing to the police he met as well as his wife and children for “tearing down ” their life.

“I got in the wrong car at the wrong time and went to the wrong place with the wrong people,” he said. “I should have paid more attention to what was being said on my phone. … I should have been careful and stopped it. … I should have done more, and I apologize.

Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

Related Posts

Next Post