Jessica Watkins, an alleged leader of the paramilitary group Oath Keepers who was arrested for her role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, said in a court filing over the weekend that she had traveled to Washington to provide security for speakers at former President Donald Trump’s rally that day, that she had met with the Secret Service in advance, and that she had a VIP pass to the event.
The 38-year-old Ohio woman also said she believed she was acting on a call from Trump to support, not overthrow, the government.
“Ms. Watkins did not engage in any violence or force at the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol,” her federal public defender, A.J. Kramer, said in a motion seeking her release to home confinement filed Saturday in federal court for the District of Columbia. “She did not vandalize anything or engage in any destruction of property. She was polite to the police officers she encountered and did not yell at or harass them.”
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Watkins has been in federal custody since her arrest Jan. 17. U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta has scheduled a hearing Tuesday afternoon to consider whether to keep Watkins in custody or allow her release as her case proceeds.
Watkins and Donovan Crowl, 50, both of Champaign County, were among some of the first arrested after the attack, along with Thomas Caldwell, a 65-year-old from Virginia who is suspected of coordinating with them. Investigators say they and others are part of the Oath Keepers militia, members of which donned military attire and forced their way into the Capitol.
Oath Keepers focuses recruitment on former military, law enforcement and first responders and has chapters around the country. Caldwell served in the Navy, Watkins in the Army and Crowl in the Marines. In Ohio, Watkins called herself the “commanding officer” of the Ohio State Regular Militia. In an affidavit the FBI filed in court against Watkins, agents said the militia members are dues-paying members of the Oath Keepers.
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Federal prosecutors have sought to keep Watkins and others in custody, noting their involvement in the Oath Keepers and potential dangers to the community if they were released.
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In a court filing opposing Caldwell’s release, prosecutors wrote that “as evidenced by (Watkins’) conduct leading up to, during, and after the attack on the Capitol, Watkins exhibited a single-minded devotion to obstruct through violence an official proceeding that, on Jan. 6, was designed to confirm the next president of the United States. Crimes of this magnitude, committed with such zeal, belie any conditions of release that would reasonably assure the safety of the community or by which Watkins could be trusted to abide.”
Prosecutors also said in court documents that Watkins remains a leader within a broader militia movement who helped recruit and train people ahead of Jan. 6.
‘Fell prey to the … president, his supporters and right-wing media’
But Watkins’ filing seeking release paints a different picture: that of a former U.S. Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, a small business owner hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and a transgender woman at risk behind bars.
Watkins’ attorney says she “fell prey to the false and inflammatory claims of the former president, his supporters and the right-wing media.”
“Although misguided, she believed she was supporting the Constitution and her government by providing security services at the rally organized by Mr. Trump and the Republican lawmakers who supported his goals,” the filing document adds.
Kramer noted in court documents that Watkins has no history of violence or criminal convictions, that she provided her contact information to officers at the scene on Jan. 6, and that she turned herself in to local police when she learned of her arrest warrant.
Watkins entered the Capitol building 40 minutes after it had been breached, the court documents state: “By the time Ms. Watkins allegedly entered the Capitol grounds and into the building, the doors were opened. No police officer suggested that the building was restricted or that Ms. Watkins was required to leave.”
The FBI, however, has noted that there are indications others took part in a conspiracy, sending messages directing Caldwell toward members of Congress. One told Caldwell to “seal them in. Turn on gas.” FBI documents say he also received the following messages via Facebook while at the Capitol on Jan. 6:
- “Tom all legislators are down in the Tunnels 3 floors down.”
- “Do like we had to do when I was in the core (sic) start tearing out floors, go from top to bottom.”
- “Go through back house chamber doors facing N left down hallway down step.”
A half-dozen other suspected members of the group, including Bennie Parker, 70, and Sandra Parker, 60, of Warren County, Ohio, also were arrested in the past week as co-defendants in the case against Watkins and Crowl. Authorities said the Oath Keepers planned for Jan. 6, forcibly entered the U.S. Capitol with other rioters, and attempted to delete social media posts and other information about their involvement afterward.