US

Member of extremist group jailed for part in Capitol riot

A member of the Oath Keepers extremist group was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for participating in the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Jessica Watkins was convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington DC of obstruction of an official proceeding after storming the Capitol, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and enter the Senate.

Watkins was also convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of officers during the riots.

US District Judge Amit Mehta said it was “particularly hard” to issue a sentence, following testimony during the trial about Watkins’ struggles with being transgender and cooperation with law enforcement during their investigation.

However, he said that “doesn’t wipe out” Watkins actions during the attack.

Capitol riots. Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

“Your role that day was more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others,” Judge Mehta added.

Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keeper convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, was also found guilty of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win as well as tampering with documents and proceedings.

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He will be sentenced later.

Watkins and Harrelson were both acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.

Pro-Trump protesters clash with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Federal prosecutors had asked Judge Mehta in Washington to sentence Watkins to 18 years in prison.

During tearful remarks in court, Watkins asked Judge Mehta to issue a just sentence saying: “My actions and my behaviour that fateful day were wrong and, as I now understand, criminal.”

Federal prosecutor Alexandra Hughes told Judge Mehta that the actions of Watkins and other Oath Keepers on that day “were not an aberration” and that a significant sentence should be imposed.

Watkins’ lawyer asked for a sentence of five years in prison.

Tear gas is released into a crowd of protesters during clashes with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S, January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

Prosecutors are seeking a 15-year sentence for Harrelson.

Harrelson and his lawyers have not suggested a sentence and he maintains his innocence.

Read more:
Man who wears eye patch convicted over Capitol riot
Leader of far-right militia Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy
US Capitol rioter who was pictured with his feet on Nancy Pelosi’s desk is jailed

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The violence of the US Capitol riots could be repeated, the police officer responsible for security during the protests has warned.

Friday’s court proceedings are taking place one day after Judge Mehta sentenced Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison for crimes including seditious conspiracy or using force to try to overthrow the federal government.

That is the steepest penalty yet against those charged over the Capitol riot.

Members of the Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, include current and retired U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders.

FILE - Rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. Some of the best sources for "Day of Rage," a painstaking 40-minute video investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, were the rioters themselves — an irony given the hostility many had toward journalists. That's according to the executive in charge of the New York Times' project. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including demonstrations that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Some Oath Keepers, including Watkins and Harrelson, breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear.

Others at a suburban hotel staged a “quick reaction force” prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington.

Four other Oath Keepers members convicted of seditious conspiracy in a second trial are due to be sentenced next week.

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