Transgender Insurrectionist Found Guilty, Faces 50+ Years in Prison

Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins
Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins

Jessica Watkins, a transgender woman, was one of five Oath Keeper members convicted for their participation in the January 6 Insurrection that attempted to derail certifying the 2020 presidential election, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Watkins and the other Oath Keepers were found guilty following an eight-week-long trial and three days of jury deliberations.

The Oath Keepers are a far-right group with many members associated with militias and with former military or law enforcement backgrounds, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Elmer Steward Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, and Kelly Meggs, leader of the group’s Florida chapter, were both found guilty of sedition.

Watkins, 40, was found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties. Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell were convicted on related felony charges.

“As this case shows, breaking the law in an attempt to undermine the functioning of American democracy will not be tolerated” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.  “The FBI will always uphold the rights of all citizens who peacefully engage in First Amendment protected activities, but we and our partners will continue to hold accountable those who engaged in illegal acts regarding the January 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol.”

The group, including Watkins, had been planning to block the lawful transfer of presidential power, according to the DOJ. The department said the group coordinated via encrpypted and private communications apps to travel to Washington, D.C. around the time of January 6 — when Congress would certify the electoral college vote and certify President Joe Biden’s win against former President Donald Trump.

“At approximately 2:30 p.m., according to the government’s evidence, Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins, along with other Oath Keepers and affiliates – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia – marched in a ‘stack’ formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol,” the DOJ said in its announcement.

The January 6 insurrection saw scores of people descend onto the U.S. Capitol building. Several Capitol police officers were injured as the insurrectionists broke into the building looking to delay or prevent the certification. Those participating in the riot ransacked lawmakers’ offices and the building itself.

“This case reaffirms the strength of our democracy and the institutions that protect and preserve it, including our criminal justice system,” U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia said. “Over a period of many weeks, a fair and impartial jury heard evidence in a search for the truth of the conduct of these defendants before, during, and after the events of Jan. 6, 2021.”

In testimony last month, Watkins said she had been dragged into the conspiratorial underbelly of the internet and that she believed she was acting like an American patriot on January 6, 2021.

"It's the question I've been asking myself ever since," Watkins said, explaining her motivation for going to the Capitol. "It was really stupid, I just got swept up there."

During her time on the stand, Watkins also explained her difficulty in accepting her trans identity. “I tried very much to bury it,” she said, noting that she grew up in a very “strict Christian” household.

She told the jury that she doesn't feel as though she "belonged" in the trans community, and sometimes has found herself using "disgusting" homophobic slurs as a way of "lashing out at others like I've been lashed out [at]."

"For me it's not a flag you need to wave, 'look how cool it is,'" Watkins testified. "To me it's painful."

On the stand, Watkins admitted to going inside the Capitol and obstructing officers.

"In my mind, I thought it was this heroic American moment where I thought people were going into our house, we were going to be heard," Watkins said. "It was this moment where I lost all basic objectivity. I wasn't doing security anymore, I wasn't medic Jess anymore. I was just another idiot."

Watkins expressed her regret during her testimony.

"I want to say I'm sorry to you," Watkins said to the jury, "but I'd rather say I'm sorry to Christopher Owens, the [Metropolitan Police Department] officer who was here. He was the one on the other side of it, protecting the Capitol from my dumb a**."

Each defendant was convicted of at least one felony with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Watkins faces a maximum of 51 years.