Guardian of the Oath Sentenced for Breaking into the Capitol on January 6 – NBC Los Angeles

Two Army veterans who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a military-style formation with other members of the Oath Keepers were sentenced to prison terms on Friday, a day after the founder of the far-right extremist group received a record age 18 behind bars in the January 6, 2021, attack.

US District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, to eight years and six months behind bars and sentenced Kenneth Harrelson, of Titusville, Florida, to four years in prison.

A federal jury acquitted Watkins and Harrelson of the seditious conspiracy charge that Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted of in November. But jurors convicted Watkins and Harrelson on other Jan. 6 charges, including obstruction of Congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

Rhodes’ 18-year term is the longest prison sentence handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases. The charges against the leaders of the Oath Keepers and another extremist group, the Proud Boys, are among the most serious brought in the Justice Department’s massive investigation into the riots.

Mehta agreed with the Justice Department that the actions of Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers could be punished as “terrorism,” increasing the recommended sentence under federal guidelines.

But the judge ultimately gave Watkins and Harrelson far less time than prosecutors sought. The Justice Department had requested 18 years for Watkins and 15 for Harrelson.

Watkins and Harrelson marched on Capitol Hill with other members of the Oath Keepers in “stack” formations as a crowd of Trump supporters clashed with outnumbered police officers. Harrelson was the “ground team leader” of the group on January 6. Watkins, who formed a separate militia group based in Ohio, 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 other defendants in the riot would not have been there if she hadn’t. I would have recruited them to join. .

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

Watkins tearfully apologized for his actions before the judge handed down his sentence. He condemned the violence of rioters who attacked police, but admitted that his presence on Capitol Hill “probably inspired those people to some degree.” She described herself as “just another idiot running around the Capitol” on January 6.

“And today you are going to hold this idiot accountable,” he told the judge.

The judge said Watkins’ personal history 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 showed a “lack of empathy for those who suffered” on January 6. Watkins testified at trial about hiding her identity from her parents during a strict Christian upbringing and going AWOL from the military after a fellow soldier found evidence of her contact with a transgender support group.

Harrelson told the judge he went to Washington after being offered a “security job” by another Oath Keeper, but said he has never voted for a president in his life and doesn’t care about politics. Some of the Oath Keepers provided security for the Trump ally. Roger Stone and other right-wing figures at the events leading up to the riots.

“I have totally demolished my life,” she said as she broke down in tears. “I am responsible and my foolish actions have caused immense pain to my wife and our children.”

Mehta said he disagrees with the government’s description of Harrelson as a “mid-level organizer” of the Oath Keepers. Unlike many other members of the group charged with the attack, Harrelson did not send any messages “that anyone would consider extremist,” the judge said.

But the judge said an image of Harrelson frisking a police officer as he left the Capitol caught his attention.

“You weren’t there that day just because they dragged you away,” the judge told him.

During a nearly two-month trial in federal court in Washington, attorneys for Watkins and the other Oath Keepers argued there was no plan to attack the Capitol. On the witness stand, Watkins told the jury that she never intended to interfere with the certification and she never heard any orders for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building.

Evidence shown to jurors showed Watkins after 2020 election messages with people expressing interest in joining his Ohio militia group over “basic military-style” training. He told a recruit, “I need you fighting fit” for the inauguration, which was on January 20, 2021.

On January 6, Watkins and other Oath Keepers wearing helmets and other paramilitary gear were seen making their way through the crowd and up the Capitol steps in a military-style stack formation. He communicated with others during the riots through a channel called “Stop the Steal J6” on the Zello walkie-talkie app, stating, “We’re in the main dome right now.”

Harrelson yelled “Treason!” — An epithet addressed to members of Congress — when he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, a prosecutor said.

One of his other co-defendants, Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years behind bars for seditious conspiracy and other charges.

Rhodes, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was the first defendant convicted Jan. 6 of seditious conspiracy to face his punishment for what prosecutors said was a week-long plot to forcibly block the transfer of power from the Former President Donald Trump to Biden. Four more Oath Keepers convicted on the sedition charge during a second trial in January will be sentenced next week.

During his sentencing Thursday, Rhodes defiantly claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration, and tried to downplay his actions on Jan. 6. The judge described Rhodes as a continuing threat to the United States that clearly “wants democracy in this country to degenerate into violence.”

The Oath Keepers’ sentences this week could serve as guidance for prosecutors in a separate case on Jan. 6 against Proud Boys leaders. Earlier this month, a different jury convicted former Proud Boys national president Enrique Tarrio and three other leaders of the group of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was another plot to keep Trump in the White House.

Before Thursday, the longest sentence in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases was 14 years and two months for a man with a lengthy criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. . Just over 500 of the defendants have been sentenced, with more than half receiving prison time.


Richer reported from Boston.