A Champaign County bartender who runs a self-identified militia, joined by three others in her unit, drove to Washington D.C. last week to join what descended into a seditious mob invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
Jessica Watkins, 38, a bartender, said she doesn’t consider herself as having committed a crime — she said she didn’t destroy any property or tussle with any police officers.
While she and one other man in her unit roamed hallways around the U.S. Senate (she said the two others are elderly and stayed outside), they made active efforts to stop any property destruction.
“It still staggers my imagination that it went down the way it did,” she said. “I don’t want to call it a false flag, but it was some people hijacking what started off as a peaceful movement.”
On Jan. 6, untold hundreds or thousands rushed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to disrupt congressional affirmation of the presidential election, which President Donald Trump has baselessly and repeatedly deemed fraudulent.
Five people died including an officer killed by rioters and a woman shot by police.
The insurrectionists chanted for the death of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Authorities located Molotov cocktails, zip ties and makeshift gallows on the premises, raising darker questions as to who in attendance harbored what intentions. Dozens of U.S. Capitol Police and Washington D.C. Metro Police officers were injured.
Watkins formed the “Ohio State Regular Militia” in late 2019. It has patrolled 12 protests in total to “protect people” and treat injuries to Black Lives Matter activists or MAGA types alike, she said. Watkins served in the U.S. Army, including one tour in Afghanistan.
When Louisville responded in outcry after a grand jury failed to indict any officers in the death of Breonna Taylor, OSRM was there, as they were for protests in Cleveland, Columbus and Pickerington as well as a “MAGA Caravan” in Champaign County.
After networks first projected Joe Biden won the election, the militia appeared at the state Capitol to “protect people” — all three declined to give their names at the time.
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.
She described the scene inside the building as “patriotic” and rife with “USA! USA!” chants until it devolved into carnage and chaos.
“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash,” she said. “That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.”
She had a mixed take on events. She said it was a peaceful protest that turned violent. Antifa perhaps infiltrated the crowd to agitate the mob, she claimed without evidence, but there were also some “intoxicated patriots.” There is no credible evidence that antifa, a decentralized bloc of left wing activists, staged the attack.
She demanded charges be filed against the officer who shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, as well as anyone who participated in the killing of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. Three other invaders died, though details are unclear.
Seventy people have been charged in the riots and cases have been opened on 170, according to acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Michael Sherwin, though both figures are likely to grow into the hundreds.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Sherwin said charges range from simple trespassing to murder to the theft of U.S. national intelligence. Felony cases tied to “sedition and conspiracy” will be prosecuted, he warned, along with smaller scale offenses.
“Regardless of if it was a trespass in the Capitol or someone planted a pipe bomb, you will be charged and you will be found,” he said.
Watkins said she’d be willing to turn herself in if need be, because she didn’t do anything wrong and insisted she helped protect the property and law enforcement.
The police, she said, sent mixed signals. Inside the Capitol, she said she personally witnessed them offering directions to the invaders and giving no warning signs of improper conduct.
“I didn’t commit a crime. I didn’t destroy anything. I didn’t wreck anything. If they want to charge me, that’s fine, but you’re welcome,” she said.
A spokeswoman from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio declined comment.
Watkins’ remarks in a nearly 70-minute interview were softer than comments she wrote on her Parler account leading up to the raid. The posts stated she was “forcing entry” into the Capitol and “made it into the Senate.”
“We never smashed anything, stole anything, burned anything, and truthfully we were very respectful with Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us,” she wrote in a post Sunday. “Then we stood our ground and drew the line.”
Watkins and the militia departed from central Ohio on Jan. 4. She said she’s a member of the Oathkeepers, which is a dues-paying subset of the militia movement, which centers on opposition to the federal government and a belief in specific conspiracy theories, according to Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Extremism.
Footage shows Watkins and several members of the Oathkeepers forming a line with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them, slicing through the crowd to get up the Capitol stairs.
When asked, she didn’t refute that Trump’s speech before the march incited the crowd to riot.
“Incited is a strong word,” she said. “I think his language was strong. I think it got some people fired up. I could see how a lot of people felt that way.”
Watkins requested that the Ohio Capital Journal refrain from identifying her for fear of what she called “payback” from the public. This was declined, though the outlet agreed to not identify her town of residence or place of work.
“I consider myself as having assisted law enforcement in preventing crimes,” she said.
Correction: Authorities located Molotov cocktails near the Capitol, not pipe bombs.