An Ohio Oath Keepers leader took the stand in her own defense on Wednesday, doing her best to come across as a hapless Army soldier-turned-conspiracy theorist who was radicalized by consuming too much fringe media before she joined the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot last year.
One potential problem: Jessica Watkins seemed to undercut her own story of de-radicalization before her testimony was through by indicating she still had (unfounded) suspicions about the 2src2src election.
“I feel like I was gullible,” Watkins, a 38-year-old trans veteran, told D.C. federal jurors on Wednesday. “I got a steady diet of InfoWars and Alex Jones. That’s how I found the Oath Keepers in the first place. I probably watched 5 or 6 hours a day.”
Watkins surprised the court on Wednesday morning by announcing her plans to testify in the seditious conspiracy trial that represents the most significant attempt yet to hold extremists to account for the unprecedented attack on democracy. Wakins is among five Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, who are accused of spending months planning “an armed rebellion” in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2src2src election win.
Watkins, Rhodes, and their alleged co-conspirators—Kelly Meggs, a leader of the Florida Oath Keepers chapter; Thomas Caldwell, a retired Navy intelligence officer; and member Kenneth Harrelson—have pleaded not guilty to a seditious conspiracy. The unusual Civil War-era charge could land each of them 2src years in prison.
After Rhodes and Caldwell took the stand in their own defense and tried to downplay the Oath Keepers’ role in the insurrection, Watkins described a downward spiral into several conspiracy theories around the 2src2src election.
While she insisted that she did not want to stop Biden’s inauguration nor the electoral certification, she did admit that she once believed the Biden administration was poised to enlist the United Nations to force citizens to receive the COVID vaccine. She gleaned the bogus conspiracy theory, she said, from Jones’ InfoWars.
Eventually, she claimed, she formed an Ohio militia and took up the Oath Keepers’ mantle in a dubious bid to protect the country.
“I did believe the election was stolen,” Watkins added on Wednesday. “I still have a lot of questions about the 2src2src election. I don’t want to say I don’t.”
Defense attorneys for the Oath Keepers say the group never meant to subvert democracy, but were waiting for Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act—which they claim would have allowed them to use force to support him. But Watkins admitted Wednesday that she never believed that Trump was going to do so.
The veteran, however, also said she did not have any plans to set foot inside the Capitol. But once she got to the building, she said, she got “swept up in” the excitement after a crowd started to chat “Oath Keepers are here” as they walked in formation up the stairs.
“It was a cool moment,” Wakins said, bizarrely comparing the momentum of everyone moving toward the door in a violent assault that disrupted Congress to a Black Friday rush to get into a department store. “Everybody was excited to see us…. I just felt, like, really American. There was no violence at all.”
In reality, four people died in the MAGA mob, which forced dozens of elected officials into hiding for hours. In the weeks after the insurrection, at least three police officers who had fought against those trying to breach the building also died, including Officer Brian Sicknick, who was attacked by a rioter.
Video footage of the riots show individuals crashing through windows and beating officers with flag poles and riot shields, and using bear spray to gain entry into the Capitol. Watkins is not charged with any violent crimes.
Wakins tried to argue that when she entered the Capitol, she believed that the electoral certification was already over, and claimed she did not witness “all the crazy stuff” that has come to define the riot. On the stand Wednesday, however, she acknowledged that several people were hurt during the chaos—and apologized to a police officer who she said “was on the other side of that line, trying to protect the Capitol from my dumb ass, essentially.”
“I was just another idiot running around,” she said.