Oath Keeper sentenced to 8.5 years in prison over US Capitol attack

A member of the far-right Oath Keepers on Friday was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for her role in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump who tried to overturn his presidential election defeat.

Jessica Watkins was convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington of obstruction of an official proceeding for their role in the storming of the Capitol, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send lawmakers running for their lives.

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

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. He will be sentenced later Friday.

Watkins and Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.

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

During tearful remarks in court, Watkins asked Mehta to issue a just sentence.

“My actions and my behavior that fateful day were wrong and, as I now understand, criminal,” she said.

Federal prosecutor Alexandra Hughes on Friday told Mehta that the actions of Watkins and other Oath Keepers on Jan. 6 “were not an aberration” and that a significant sentence should be imposed.

Watkins’ lawyer asked that she be sentenced to five years in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking a 15-year sentence for Harrelson. Harrelson and his lawyers have not suggested a sentence and he maintains his innocence.

Those court appearances are taking place one day after 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 in the Jan. 6 violence.

At his sentencing on Thursday, Rhodes claimed he was a “political prisoner” – a label the judge sharply rejected.

“For decades, Mr. Rhodes, it is clear you have wanted the democracy of this country to devolve into violence,” Mehta said.

Members of the Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including racial justice demonstrations that followed the 2020 murder in Minneapolis of a Black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.

Some of the 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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