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Insurrectionist or insecure 'protest junkie?' Ohioan Jessica Watkins on trial in Jan. 6 sedition case

jessica watkins.jpg
Jessica Watkins

Jessica Watkins, of Champaign County, is on trial in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

A Washington D.C. jury in federal court heard opening statements on Monday in the most high-profile trial related to the Jan. 6 insurrection to date, which includes an Ohioan among the defendants.

Jessica Watkins of Champaign County is one of the defendants and faces seditious conspiracy and other charges.

Also on trial is the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, along with three other co-defendants with connections to the anti-government extremist group. Watkins was a member and leader of a chapter in Ohio.

In the government’s opening statement, prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said the goal of the defendants was “to stop, by whatever means necessary, the lawful transfer of presidential power, including by taking up arms against the United States government.”

The government alleges the defendants collected weapons and coordinated travel plans in advance of Jan. 6, transported and staged weapons in a nearby Virginia hotel, and then breached the Capitol.

The narrative the prosecution presented included a complicated array of characters, covering co-conspirators beyond the defendants, along with a timeline of events depicted in videos, audio recordings and messages. Nestler used a chart laying out the parties involved and a blueprint of the Capitol to make sense of the maze of evidence for the jury.

Watkins was a central part of the government’s case. The prosecution argued that, in preparation for Jan. 6, she invited recruits to a military-style basic training.

“I need you in fighting fit,” by inauguration, read one message allegedly from Watkins displayed to the courtroom.

Nestler showed a video of her allegedly leading a group into the Capitol building, using a military “stack or column formation.” But, he said, simply entering the building was not enough for the defendants, including Watkins.

“Watkins and her group needed to do more. They needed to actually get to the senators,” he said. “Watkins stormed down the hallway. She had the power of the mob behind her.”

In contrast, Watkins’ defense lawyer Jonathan Crisp introduced her as “somewhat of an enigma” — an army veteran haunted by being discharged early, a “protest junkie” who served as a medic at rally after rally, a barkeeper in smalltown Ohio, a transgender woman who never felt like she fit in.

Crisp stressed that messages and recordings of Watkins may look “ominous as hell,” but when understood in context, her actions are not those of someone trying to overthrow the government.

“Context is everything,” he said. “You can take a lot of different things and cut and paste, like those old magazine letters, and make anything out of it that you want.”

Rhodes’ attorney Phillip Linder revealed in his opening statement Monday that his client plans to testify. The trial is expected to continue for at least four more weeks.

While working at the station Leila Goldstein has covered the economic effects of grocery cooperatives, police reform efforts in Dayton and the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic on hiring trends, telehealth and public parks. She also reported Trafficked, a four part series on misinformation and human trafficking in Ohio.