WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A leader of the far-right “Oath Keepers” group charged in the deadly U.S. Capitol riots said she was in Washington on Jan. 6 to provide security for legislators and meet with Secret Service agents, according to a court filing.
Jessica Watkins, 38, is one of nine associates of the anti-government group charged with conspiring to storm the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Prosecutors said Watkins entered the Capitol building illegally. According to a defense petition filed on Saturday: “Ms. Watkins did not engage in any violence or force at the Capitol grounds or in the Capitol.”
Watkins, an Afghanistan war veteran, has pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy charges. According to the indictment, Watkins arrived at the Capitol with communication devices, reinforced vests, camouflage helmets and goggles. She forcibly entered the Capitol “with a line of individuals wearing Oath Keeper clothing, patches, and insignia,” prosecutors said.
But her attorney said: “Ms. Watkins was present not as an insurrectionist, but to provide security to the speakers at the rally, to provide escort for the legislators and others to march to the Capitol as directed by the then president, and to safely escort protesters away from the Capitol to their vehicles and cars at the conclusion of the protest. She was given a VIP pass to the rally. She met with Secret Service agents.”
A Secret Service representative said it worked with government partners for security on Jan. 6, but added “any assertion that the Secret Service employed private citizens to perform those functions is false.”
Prosecutors allege members of the Oath Keepers conspired as early as November to storm the Capitol and had extensively planned for a military-style attack. More than 200 people have been charged so far for their roles in the assault by followers of then-President Donald Trump that left five dead, including a police officer.
Watkins, who has been detained since mid-January, is asking for the court to release her to home confinement pending trial, noting she is at risk for “harsh treatment” as a transgender woman.
Reporting by Linda So; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney