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Oath Keeper and Ohio native Jessica Watkins apologizes during seditious conspiracy trial

Two people dressed in military-style fatigues stand in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
ProPublica
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ProPublica
Jessica Watkins, left, and Montana Siniff shown in the U.S. Capitol during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo from ProPublica

The Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial has been going on for nearly two months in Washington D.C. One of the five defendants is Jessica Watkins of Champaign County. The defense rested its case on behalf of Watkins on Thursday. WYSO’s All Things Considered Host Jerry Kenney spoke with reporter Leila Goldstein who has been watching the case from the courthouse. 

[The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Jerry Kenney: What has Watkins been charged with in this case?

Leila Goldstein: She, along with the four others defendants, are charged with seditious conspiracy, which is essentially plotting to overthrow the government, along with other crimes. She was in communication with Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, before January 6 and went inside the Capitol building.

The general defense has been that Watkins liked going to protests and then offering aid for people injured and businesses that were damaged during protests. In his opening statement, her attorney Jonathan Crisp described her as a “protest junkie.” He acknowledged that some of her messages were “ominous as hell,” but said that when taken in context it would show there was no plan to overthrow the government.

Kenney: What happened Wednesday?

Goldstein: Well, when her attorney called her as a witness, it was an unexpected moment for the judge and prosecutors. The jury had already been told about a specific schedule, but her deciding to testify meant the trial would go on longer. This is a case where two other defendants had already taken the stand, Stewart Rhodes and Thomas Caldwell. But what was different about her testimony was that she was much more apologetic and expressed a lot more regret for what she did on January 6.

Kenney: What else did she talk about when she took the stand?

Goldstein: She spoke about her experiences as a trans woman, how her family was not accepting of her. She talked about being confronted by another service member while she was in the Army back in 2001. He had seen her search history on her computer, which included looking up transgender support groups, and she was afraid of what he would do, so she went AWOL.

When it came to talking about what happened on Jan. 6, she said she was no longer proud of what she did that day, that she was swept up in the moment and had lost all objectivity. But she said what she did was not part of a plan to interfere with certification of the election.

Kenney: The Department of Justice cross examined Jessica Watkins on Thursday. What did the prosecution focus on there?

Goldstein: The prosecution asked questions about why she brought weapons to Virginia on her way to Washington D.C., had her identify the different weapons she brought, and brought up some of the more alarming messages she had written. The prosecutor also played video of her in the Capitol building, which has been played multiple times during the trial.

Watkins was visibly frustrated during the cross examination. She at one point said the prosecutor was pulling a stunt with one line of questioning. She repeatedly said that she had already testified to taking all culpability for what happened in a hallway in the Capitol building, and at times she sounded exasperated.

In her final answer to the prosecutor’s questions she said, “half of this country still feels disenfranchised by the election.” It was a heated moment, which probably did not project a calm and contrite attitude that may have garnered sympathy from the jury.

Kenney: What can we expect next in the trial?

Goldstein: Thursday was the final day of evidence. The Department of Justice is scheduled to make its closing argument Friday, and then the closing arguments from the defense will likely continue into Monday. Then the jury will begin deliberations after that.

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.