WASHINGTON — In a public hearing Tuesday, a congressional select committee presented evidence showing how domestic extremist groups — inspired by President Donald Trump’s unproven claims of a “stolen election” — planned and executed their attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“This could have been the spark that started a new civil war,” former Oath Keeper Jason Van Tatenhove testified on Tuesday. “It would have been good for no one.”
Tatenhove was among hundreds of protesters who entered the Capitol. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
In six previous hearings, the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol presented live and recorded testimony from dozens of witnesses about Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results.
Four Ohio Oath Keepers members and associates — Jessica Watkins, Donovan Crowl, Bennie Parker and Sandra Parker — have been charged in the federal investigation. All four are charged with conspiracy to obstruct official business and conspiracy to prevent a police officer from performing official duties.
Photos included in federal charging documents show Watkins, Crowl and Sandra Parker inside the Capitol. They face additional charges for entering the building.
Watkins, Crowl and the Parkers have pleaded not guilty.
Federal prosecutors say Watkins was the commanding officer of the Ohio State Regular Militia, a local militia subset of the Oath Keepers. She was a regional leader in the national Oath Keepers plan to attack the Capitol and stop the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, according to prosecutors.
The select committee presented a message from the Florida leader of Oath Keepers who told members that the militia was working with Proud Boys and Three Percenters on their plan.
Watkins is among 11 Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge so far. Crowl and the Parkers are not charged with seditious conspiracy.
A charge of seditious conspiracy alleges that two or more people “conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.”
If convicted of seditious conspiracy, Watkins faces up to 20 years in prison on that charge alone.
Five members of Proud Boys have also been charged with seditious conspiracy.
“It’s akin to treason, but it’s not treason because you’re not doing it for a foreign nation,” Former United States Attorney David DeVillers told the WCPO 9 I-Team during an interview after the hearing on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of protesters were on the Capitol grounds that day. Hundreds of demonstrators breached the Capitol. Most of them were charged with misdemeanors.
“In the end, I think the hearings and the public hearings that are taking place are far more important than, quite frankly, than the prison sentences of the individuals who went in there (the Capitol),” DeVillers said. “How do we learn from this? How do we protect from it? And be transparent about what took place Jan. 6th.”
Jessica Watkins’ alleged role in the ‘conspiracy’
In court records, federal prosecutors accuse Watkins of “a single-minded devotion to obstruct through violence an official proceeding that, on January 6, was designed to confirm the next President of the United States.”
With Oath Keepers from other states, Watkins — acting as a “regional leader” — planned for the attack, recruited participants, and communicated on encrypted channels before and during the attack on the Capitol, according to prosecutors.
“For Watkins, this was a moment to relish in the swirling violence in the air,” according to a July 8, 2022 court filing by prosecutors. “After marching to the Capitol in a para-military “stack” tactical formation, penetrating the building through a door breached by insurgents, and pushing past a law enforcement officer engulfed by the swelling crowd, Watkins gleefully exclaimed over the channel, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.”
The case against Watkins, a military veteran, is based partly on her own words in social media posts, private messages to co-defendants and calls to other participants of the alleged conspiracy, according to evidence revealed in court filings by federal prosecutors.
In the July 8, 2022 court filing, prosecutors wrote, “Jessica Watkins discussed and prepared for violent conflict with government actors after January 6 and before January 20, demonstrating the co-conspirators’ plan to oppose the lawful transfer of power before Inauguration Day.”
Prosecutors also mentioned “bomb-making instructions” found during a search of Watkins’ property in Woodstock, OH as “evidence of Watkin’s preparation to use force against the government.”
According to prosecutors, on Jan. 11, 2021, Watkins sent a Facebook message to co-defendant Donovan Crowl sharing a plan if Biden was inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 2021.
“We’ve been organizing a bugout plan if the usurper is installed,” Watkins allegedly told Crowl. “Something like 20+ Oathkeepers going to Kentucky mountains on hundreds of acres apparently…. Tons of tree cover too they said. Good defense against pesky drone surveillance…. Gives us the high ground, and makes tunneling out fighting positions great (above water line). Be like the NVA6 and network tunnels.”
‘NVA’ referred to the North Vietnamese Army, which “killed thousands of Americans in guerilla warfare from the 1950s through the 1970s,” according to a court filing by prosecutors.
According to prosecutors, Watkins considered “a Biden presidency an existential threat.”
“If he is, our way of life as we know it is over,” Watkins told a recruit on November 20, 2020, according to prosecutors. “Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”
Apparently, Watkins changed some of her views while in jail awaiting trial.
Watkins announced in a court hearing in February 2021 that she had renounced the Oath Keepers and the attack on the Capitol.