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Oath Keepers chief commits “crime of terrorism” in riot on Capitol Hill, prosecutors say

Oath Keepers leader Jessica Watkins committed a “crime of terrorism” when she “happily” participated in a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors said on Tuesday, saying she should be detained while awaiting trial. Watkins became the third rioter on Capitol Hill charged by prosecutors with a crime of terrorism, after two Proud Boys members, Dominic Pezzola and Ethan Nordean.

Unlike involvement in a foreign terrorist organization, domestic terrorism is not in itself a criminal charge, but it is a factor judges can consider when deciding whether to release accused persons on bail and when determining the length of their sentence if convicted.

Watkins was indicted this month on four counts, one of which was of aiding and abetting the destruction of government property – a crime which, if found to be politically motivated, could be considered dubious. terrorism. Prosecutors argued Tuesday that because Watkins’ actions were “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of the government,” it constituted a federal crime of terrorism and meant she had to be detained before her trial.

At a hearing on Tuesday, the judge delayed making a decision on whether Watkins should stay behind bars until trial and questioned whether his crime qualified as a crime of violence. The judge said the case posed a “threshold legal question” that could potentially affect dozens of other similar cases, and ruled that Watkins will remain in custody pending his next hearing.

Oath Keepers chief commits “crime of terrorism” in riot on Capitol Hill, prosecutors say
Jessica Watkins, left, and Donovan Crowl inside the Capitol Rotunda after allegedly storming the building. Both are suspected members of Ohio militias who face conspiracy charges.


Prosecutors said Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran who is now the self-proclaimed commander of the so-called Ohio State Regular Militia, was filmed with other members of Oath Keepers “happily embedded” in a crowd outside the Capitol. Although Watkins argued that she had no intention of destroying property, prosecutors say she participated in a violent mob that broke a door, which she passed through moments later to enter by force in the United States Capitol. She and other oath keepers were seen on video moving through the crowd together in a tactical “stack” formation to reach the building.

During the riot, Watkins used a walkie-talkie-style app called Zello to communicate with other associates, prosecutors said. She said on the app: “We have a good group. We have about 30 to 40 of them. We stick together and stick to the plan.”

This plan became clear, prosecutors said, when an unknown voice said on the Zello app: “You are executing the arrest of a citizen. Stop this assembly, we have probable grounds for acts of treason, electoral fraud. “

A voice supposed to be Watkins replied, “We’re in the mezzanine. We’re in the main dome right now. We’re shaking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re shooting people with paintballs. But here we are. “

An unknown man responded, saying, “Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing… whatever we trained for.”

While prosecutors have so far only relied on terrorism to say that Watkins should be detained, legal experts say the terrorism allegations could lead to heavy prison sentences – a threat that will surely weigh on defendants as they go. and as their business progresses. If a judge finds Watkins guilty of a crime of terrorism, she would automatically face a 10-year jail term for that charge alone.

Lauren Peller contributed reporting.


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