The complex story of Jessica Watkins

On Friday, US district judge Amit Mehta handed down two more sentences to Oath Keepers for their role in the January 6th, 2021 events, following the 18 year sentence given earlier to its leader Stewart Rhodes. One of those sentenced was army veteran Jessica Watkins, a transgender woman, who was given eight years and six months in prison.

The name Jessica Watkins was familiar to me because I had long been aware of Watkins’s role in the events. Micah Loewinger, a reporter for On The Media, and Hampton Stall, the founder of MilitiaWatch, had been tracking the activities of the Oath Keepers and monitoring the walkie-talkie app Zello that was used for militia recruiting and organizing. They listened in as the riot was unfolding. As far back as in January 13, 2021, just a week after the riot, Loewinger and Stall reported how she figured prominently in the conversations of the mob that day, issuing instructions to others on what to do.

The Zello user who described breaking into the Capitol building appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio, who admitted to participating in the insurrection. Watkins told the Ohio Capital Journal she was the leader of a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and a member of the national Oath Keepers militia.

“We have a good group: 30 to 40 of us. We’re sticking together and sticking to the plan,” the female voice is heard saying on Zello as they were walking toward the Capitol. “The police are doing nothing. They’re not even trying to stop us.”

The Ohio Capital Journal also identified Watkins as one of a line of Oath Keepers pushing their way through the crowd on the steps of the Capitol toward the east entrance of the building. She can be seen toward the back of the line in livestream footage taken at the deadly event wearing battle rattle. Moments later a stream of pro-Trump insurrectionists poured inside.

Now of course she faces the consequences of her actions. The judge expressed some mystification as to why she had done such a thing.

Watkins and Harrelson marched toward the Capitol with other Oath Keepers members in “stack” formations as a mob of Trump supporters clashed with outnumbered police officers. Harrelson was the group’s “ground team lead” on Jan. 6. Watkins, who formed a separate Ohio-based militia group, recruited others to join the Oath Keepers in Washington that day.

Mehta said that while Watkins was not a top leader, like Rhodes, she was more than just a “foot soldier,” noting that at least three others charged in the riot wouldn’t have been there if she hadn’t recruited them to join.

“Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others,” he told her.

Watkins tearfully apologized for her actions before the judge handed down her sentence. She condemned the violence by rioters who assaulted police, but conceded that her presence at the Capitol “probably inspired those people to a degree.” She described herself as “just another idiot running around the Capitol” on Jan. 6.

“And today you’re going to hold this idiot responsible,” she told the judge.

The judge said Watkins’ personal story of struggling for years to come to terms with her identity as a transgender woman made it especially difficult for him to understand why she has shown “a lack of empathy for those who suffered” on Jan. 6. Watkins testified at trial about hiding her identity from her parents during a strict Christian upbringing and going AWOL in the Army after a fellow soldier found evidence of her contact with a support group for transgender people.

She now concedes that she acted like an idiot. So once again we have an example of why someone whose personal history (in her case of being transgender and discriminated for so being) would seem to make her sympathetic to anti-LGBTQ serial sex abuser Trump and Republicans, being willing to go to such extreme lengths to advance their agenda, and realizing the folly of her actions only once she was confronted with the consequences.

Incidentally, the reporting of Loewinger and Stall and their recordings of the conversations among the rioters were used by investigators and prosecutors in the trial of Watkins and others and became part of the trial proceedings. Loewinger was subpoenaed to testify at the trial. In last week’s episode of On The Media he described his unease at, as a journalist, becoming part of the story and being forced to give evidence because real journalists want to avoid giving the impression that they are informants for the government since that would immediately stop sources from talking to them. Since he was only being asked to verify the authenticity of the recordings and it was to happen in a public session and not behind closed doors as in a grand jury, he agreed.

Loewinger also went to a remote part of Montana to interview Tasha Adams, the ex-wife of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Proud Boys, who was sentenced last Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role on January 6th. Her divorce from Rhodes had come through just two days earlier, though she and their six children had left him in 2018. She spoke about her observation of the evolution of his political views since they first met in 1991 and how he abused and isolated her and their six children. She feels some guilt for supporting him during his radicalizing period. She also talked about how in 2018 she began plotting her escape from him by secretly communicating with Kelly Jones, ex-wife of far-right radio host Alex Jones.


  1. Silentbob says

    Gosh. If anyone needed proof that being trans is not a choice -- an extreme right winger,
    in a movement that portrays trans people as “groomers”, effectively kicked out of the military for being trans, who is nevertheless still trans.

  2. moonslicer says

    ” . . . realizing the folly of her actions only once she was confronted with the consequences.”

    As far as I’m concerned, even if this is true, it doesn’t let her off the hook. No one can be this brainless.

    This makes me angry. And yes, of course, I’ve always recognized that transpeople are just people like any other group. We have total eejits and some really rotten souls among our ranks, just like any other group. But transgender people are taking a pounding these days, and if you cannot act responsibly as a means to helping outsiders see us positively, if you cannot see the way young trans people in particular these days are under the cosh, then you’re simply rotten beyond redemption.

    And yes, there are transpeople who will claim this isn’t fair, there’s a different standard applied to us, we should be able to live our lives like everybody else does without having to serve as “ambassadors” for our community. Yes, you’re right, this isn’t fair. So what? Transpeople are still taking a pounding and so many young transpeople are still under the cosh, and are you going to live selfishly, for your own purposes alone, when so many of your brothers and sisters need your support?

    Then do it. And go to prison if that’s what it comes to. But don’t look for any sympathy from the rest of us. You’re a disgrace to your community, just as you’re a disgrace to your country.

    Rant over.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    Mano, in the first sentence, I am pretty sure Stewart Rhodes was given an 18 YEAR sentence not 18 months.

    [You are right. I have corrected it. Thanks! -Mano]

  4. Allison says

    Transpeople are still taking a pounding and so many young transpeople are still under the cosh, and are you going to live selfishly, for your own purposes alone, when so many of your brothers and sisters need your support?

    Caitlyn Jenner comes to mind.

  5. says

    Over the past eight years, I’ve seen a number of white Transgender people who are as deplorable and racist and exclusionary as any cisgender people. I’ve seen some that only care about the death of Black Trans people or Trans People of Colour is when counting statistics (“look how many Trans people were killed this year!”) and not giving a hoot when people needed help and support.

    As we’ve seen with the growing number of Latinos involved in white supremacy, or gay white males voting for Trump (over 50% in both 2016 and 2020), there are always some who will act against their own interests. I suspect it’s because they see themselves as “having become part of the power structure” and will benefit from participating in these acts.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    To my mind, Watkins’s sad and twisted story holds less interest than that of her fellow fascists who accepted her leadership, against all the tenets of their patchwork ideology and Murdoch demagogues.

    Did they have a misguided streak of decency allowing them to make an exception, or such a vacuum of people who could give orders that they lined up behind the only one who could, or is there something in the water (besides flammable chemicals) in Ohio?

  7. sonofrojblake says

    Gosh. If anyone needed proof that being trans is not a choice — an extreme right winger, in a movement that portrays trans people as “groomers”, effectively kicked out of the military for being trans, who is nevertheless still trans

    I think it’s more baffling if they’re still right wing… but I’ll bet they are.

    On people following her orders: if the people like the orders, they’ll follow them almost regardless of who’s giving them. Likely in the back of their minds is the idea that when the revolution gets properly underway, people like Watkins will be purged too, sooner or later. Fascists rarely fully embody the ideal they’re selling.

  8. Holms says

    Reminds me of the typical attitude of conservative people towards many other minorities: not you, you’re one of the good ones.

  9. lanir says

    Conservative extremists know they’re not popular. They’ve always been willing to accept people who work against their own interests by calling them “one of the good ones.” Obviously not all of them all of the time but like any group they do have people who will express at least a little practicality now and then. Think about it. Groups that don’t do that accomplish nothing and are likely to implode.

    I think it’s probably a bad idea to start holding members of any marginalized group that’s being attacked to a higher standard. That’s actually an offensive tactic used against groups like this. It’s been used against black Americans and it’s being used against trans people by TERFs and possibly others. The idea is that most people are fine to join our public culture if they can clear some very low bars (think about what a white male has to do to be accepted by society -- not a lot). But people in the attacked group, well they have to be like unto angels or they’re not good enough. They have very high hurdles to jump. Be careful that you’re not setting up those hurdles for yourself and others in your group. It’d be like saying trans people shouldn’t be grade school or preschool teachers because a bunch of idiots call trans people groomers for no reason. And that would just be pointless.

    The only approach that seems to work against these attacks is to normalize being a member of a marginalized group. I don’t know where the cut-off is but there’s a mass of people that need to be comfortable with the differences between trans people and everyone else. These types of attacks only work on people who think the marginalized group is exotic and strange so just being human is probably more useful than being perfect.

  10. Holms says

    Hm, I don’t think my comment was very clear. The “not you, you’re one of the good ones” is the sentiment conservatives express towards members of the conservative movement who are also from a demographic they usually look down on, i.e. black or trans or gay (etc.) conservatives.

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