The Department of Justice announced Thursday that a federal grand jury has brought seditious conspiracy charges against the founder of the Oath Keepers and 10 others, including Ohio militia member Jessica Watkins, in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and breach (full indictment here).
Watkins, a bar owner who founded a small Ohio militia and was also a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers, has already been charged with a variety of offenses related to her role in the insurrection that saw Trump supporters attempt to forcibly halt the certification of electoral votes. While many who participated in the riot that day have drawn misdemeanor charges, Watkins was looking at decades in prison — and possibly more now, with the addition of the seditious conspiracy charge.
According to her previous indictment and the one unsealed this week, Watkins and others began planning as early as November for violence in D.C. in January by recruiting participants and moving weapons.
“I need you fighting fit by innaugeration (sic),” Watkins texted one entrant, according to court documents. In an interview with the Ohio Capital Journal in January 2021, she described it as a “duty as Americans to fight, kill or die for our rights" but downplayed her role.
In the interview, "Watkins dismissed characterizations of the riots as insurrectionist or violent as media spin. She said she and several other militia members who she entered the complex with saw the invaders marveling at the art and architecture of the Capitol like tourists."
That is not how federal prosecutors see her behavior.
According to Thursday's DOJ release:
The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.
The defendants conspired through a variety of manners and means, including: organizing into teams that were prepared and willing to use force and to transport firearms and ammunition into Washington, D.C.; recruiting members and affiliates to participate in the conspiracy; organizing trainings to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics; bringing and contributing paramilitary gear, weapons and supplies – including knives, batons, camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection and radio equipment – to the Capitol grounds; breaching and attempting to take control of the Capitol grounds and building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote; using force against law enforcement officers while inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; continuing to plot, after Jan. 6, 2021, to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power, and using websites, social media, text messaging and encrypted messaging applications to communicate with co-conspirators and others.
Watkins' original indictment cited the OCJ interview, evidence from videos and photographs, as well as posts made by Watkins on Parler in which she wrote, "Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building. #stopthesteal2 #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia,” and, "Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9. Pushed our way into the Rotunda. Made it into the Senate even. The news is lying (even Fox) about the Historical Events we created today.”
The seditious conspiracy charge, the most serious thus far levied against Jan. 6 participants and which carries a max of 20 years in prison, hasn't been used by the DOJ since a 1987 case involving white supremacists in Arkansas.
This story was originally published by CityBeat sister newspaper Cleveland Scene.