Jessica Watkins, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers, took the stand this week to defend herself against the accusation that she committed seditious conspiracy ― and it did not go smoothly.
Five defendants linked to the anti-government group have so far spent more than six weeks on trial for their alleged parts in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Prosecutors say that the Oath Keepers stashed high-powered rifles, handguns and ammunition near the Capitol for easy access in case they sensed an opportunity that day to use the weapons to keep then-President Donald Trump in power. The Oath Keepers claim they were there that day providing “security.”
On Thursday, Watkins’ unexpected decision to testify reportedly led to an outburst in court as she defended the idea that the 2020 election had not been above board.
“Half this country feels this way still. Half this country still feels disenfranchised by this election!” Watkins said angrily, according to Mother Jones and reporters at the courthouse. “We didn’t have a free and fair election!”
The day before, Watkins’ attorney, Jonathan Crisp, had helped her tell the jury about her background as a transgender military veteran who had been bullied over her gender identity and disowned by her family for a time. Watkins worked at a bar in Ohio she owned with her partner.
She testified that during the pandemic, she became increasingly paranoid about the government’s public health restrictions and was watching “five or six hours” of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show “InfoWars” every day, CNN reported. She thought “the United Nations [was] going to come in and go door to door” to force vaccinations, per CNN.
“InfoWars” is reportedly what led Watkins to the Oath Keepers. The group’s founder, Elmer Stewart Rhodes ― a fellow defendant of Watkins’ ― spoke to Jones on the show several times.
Watkins said Wednesday that she knew it was “really stupid” to go inside the Capitol, The Associated Press reported. She testified that she got “swept up” in the chaos that day, comparing it to a Black Friday sale. Watkins said she ended up being “just another idiot” running around the building.
“Are you proud of what you did?” Crisp asked her Wednesday.
“Not anymore,” Watkins replied, per the AP.
Reporters described Watkins as apologetic and, at times, emotional on the stand initially. But that fell away once she was subjected to cross-examination by government attorneys who scrutinized her previous statements.
Watkins reportedly became agitated when Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Hughes questioned her claim to have been unaware of any violence the day of Jan. 6. Other defendants have made similar statements, saying improbably that they did not know the mob became violent until hearing about it later in the news.
Hughes then prodded Watkins on her Black Friday comparison, eliciting her outburst about the election.
Defendants Rhodes and Thomas Caldwell similarly struggled on cross-examination earlier in the trial. The other two defendants, Kelly Meggs and Kenneth Harrelson did not take the stand.
Caldwell claimed on Tuesday that a message he wrote about ferrying “heavy weapons” across the Potomac River was just “creative writing” ― a snippet from his screenplay, according to the AP and reporters at the courthouse.
Closing arguments in the trial are expected to kick off Friday.