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.