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Oath Keeper Snaps at Prosecutor in Testy Cross-Examination, Concedes Testimony Invites ‘Criminal Liability’

Jess Watkins collage

The mugshot of Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins is seen on the left, and on the right, she’s seen in military gear at the Capitol in a Sky News screengrab.

Growing visibly angry and indignant during her cross-examination, Oath Keepers member Jessica Watkins told a prosecutor that she regrets joining a mob that pushed against law enforcement in a hallway of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. She added on Thursday that she realized that those admissions and apologies would open her up to “criminal liability.”

“I accepted culpability for everything that happened in this hallway because I feel terrible about it in hindsight,” Watkins testified, noting that she previously apologized to police officer Christopher Owens.

On Wednesday, Watkins answered in the affirmative when asked by her attorney whether she “interfered with police in the performance of their duties,” a concession that would appear to meet the elements of the felony offense of civil disorder. That was the only crime that Watkins’ defense attorney Jonathan Crisp previously told the jury his client may have committed that day.

“If you want me to say it a few more times, I will,” Watkins told the prosecutor, emphasizing her regret. “I know that it opens me up to criminal liability.”

Watkins could not appear to hide her frustration at questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Hughes, who coolly needled the defendant on her denials of the more serious counts, like the top charge of seditious conspiracy.

Throughout her questioning, Hughes showed Watkins audio and video recordings of her and her fellow Oath Keepers from Jan. 6. Those included chatter acknowledging that Congress members had to flee the chamber where President Joe Biden’s election was being certified.

“The Patriots are coming in. They cut it again. Those motherfuckers. Patriots got in and were screaming and they recessed,” a figure known as “1% Watchdog” said over the walkie-talkie app Zello at 2:28 p.m. that day.

Watkins confirmed that “they” meant Congress, though she had testified a day earlier that she thought the certification had been completed because rioters barked: “Pence betrayed us.”

She also stands accused of obstructing an official proceeding, and the prosecutor noted that Watkins’ insistence that she thought those proceedings were over is a new claim. Watkins never brought up this defense in her FBI interview, the prosecutor said.

“You told them that you believed Pence betrayed you, but you did not tell them despite the fact that you’re charged with obstructing an official proceeding, you believed there was no official proceeding to obstruct,” Hughes noted.

“Okay,” Watkins replied, testily.

During her direct examination, Watkins depicted herself as contrite and reformed. She described to the jury her experience growing up as a transgender woman and joining the Army, when she still identified as male. She said she went “AWOL” when a fellow soldier found out her secret, and her parents shunned her for more than a decade after she came out of the closet.

Appearing to distance herself from the ideology that drove her to the Capitol, Watkins called herself “gullible” for believing in a conspiracy theory that Biden would invite the United Nations to forcibly vaccinate U.S. citizens. She blamed that conviction on watching broadcasts of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones some five or six hours a day.

Watkins doubled down on her denialism regarding the 2020 presidential election, however, falsely claiming that it was stolen from Donald Trump.

“Half this country feels this way, still,” Watkins told the prosecutor. “We did not have a free and fair election, and people are disturbed about it.”

Despite this continuing conviction, Watkins claimed that she never intended to enter the Capitol and got “swept up” in the moment. She compared the feeling to a Black Friday stampede. The prosecutor pounced at the seeming disconnect between her longstanding convictions that the election was stolen and her disavowal to the jury that she had any intention to stop its certification.

“Like an impulse purchase at Best Buy,” Hughes scoffed, adding that she had no further questions.

Watkins shook her head and appeared to bristle at that curtain-dropper.

This is a developing story.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."