'Another idiot running around': Oath Keeper describes Jan. 6 regret in surprise testimony

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WASHINGTON - Jessica Watkins, one of five members of the extremist group Oath Keepers on trial in relation to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, unexpectedly took the stand Wednesday to express remorse for her participation in the events of that day and to distance herself from the government's most weighty charge: seditious conspiracy.

“At the time, I felt like it was this heroic American moment where 'We the People' were going into our House and were going to be heard," Watkins told the jury. "I basically lost all objectivity…I was just another idiot running around the Capitol.”

Watkins attributed her views at the time to a "steady diet" of the right-wing show InfoWars and its host, Alex Jones, describing herself as "gullible" to the conspiracy theories spread by Jones and other right-wing media.

She testified she still has "a lot of questions" about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and during her cross-examination, she forcefully doubled down on her belief that the election was not "free and fair." Claims of widespread fraud have been widely debunked.

Watkins faces six criminal charges ranging from destruction of government property to seditious conspiracy. On the stand, she admitted to interfering with official police duties, which is one of the charges she faces.

"I wanna say I’m sorry to you, but I’d rather say I’m sorry to Christopher Owens, the police officer we had here," Watkins said when asked by her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, whether she'd like to address the jury. "He was on the other side of that line, protecting other officers from my dumb a--, basically.”

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Ohioan Jessica Marie Watkins just before entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, per federal prosecutors.
Ohioan Jessica Marie Watkins just before entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, per federal prosecutors.

But on the government's allegations that Watkins and the other Oath Keepers plotted to stop the certification of the 2020 election results, she denied any participation or knowledge of such plans.

Watkins testified that by the time she participated in storming the Capitol, she believed that the certification had already been completed due to chants that former Vice President Mike Pence had "betrayed" the crowd. She said she had not planned to stop the certification from the start, as the government alleges.

Asked directly, she said she had no knowledge of any plan to overthrow the government, and that if she had, she would have contacted law enforcement.

She called her decision to enter the Capitol "stupid" and described being swept up in the moment, squeezing through the building's doors like it was "Black Friday."

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This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and four others charged with seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. Shown above are, witness John Zimmerman, who was part of the Oath Keepers North Carolina Chapter, seated in the witness stand, defendant Thomas Caldwell, of Berryville, Va., seated front row left, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, seated second left with an eye patch, defendant Jessica Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, seated third from right, Kelly Meggs, of Dunnellon, Fla., seated second from right, and defendant Kenneth Harrelson, of Titusville, Fla., seated at right. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy is shown in blue standing at right before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta.

An Army veteran from Woodstock, Ohio, Watkins led her own militia group called the Ohio State Regular Militia, a "dues-paying subset" of the Oath Keepers, according to federal investigators. She also ran a bar called the Jolly Roger, which has since closed.

Watkins' testimony began on a somber note as she described her other-than-honorable discharge from the military after going "AWOL" following threats made against her by a member of her unit who found out she was questioning her gender identity. Watkins is a transgender woman.

She described a "very strict Christian upbringing" by parents who "would have never accepted her" had she come out to them as transgender.

"I internalized a lot of that," she said, speaking quietly into the microphone.

Watkins testified that she still struggles with her identity today, which explains some of the transphobic and homophobic remarks she has made in videos and online against other members of the LGBTQ community, she said.

In their five-week case, the government described Watkins as a pivotal organizer of the Capitol attack, bringing weapons for the other members who were waiting in Virginia and entering the Capitol as part of the first group in tactical formation.

She is the third Oath Keeper on trial to testify in her own defense, after Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and defendant Thomas Caldwell.

Though the government and defenses planned to deliver the case to the jury by the end of this week, Watkins' surprise testimony will likely delay the trial's end. The prosecution will begin its cross-examination of Watkins on Thursday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jessica Watkins, Oath Keepers defendant, shows regret for Capitol riot