September 26, 2023


Government prosecutors and defense attorneys on Thursday announced they have finished presenting evidence in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial, wrapping up a seven-week effort to argue whether five alleged members of far-right militia plotted to stop Joe Biden from assuming the presidency.

For five weeks, prosecutors showed the Washington, DC, jury hundreds of text messages, recordings and videos of the five defendants, brought seized assault rifles into the courtroom, and told the jury about the depths of the militia movement in the wake of the 2020 election. Defense attorneys rebutted that argument by saying their clients said outlandish things, but never acted violently and never had a concrete plan to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. All five have pleaded not guilty.

Closing arguments will begin on Friday, and the jury, which is made up of seven men and five women, will likely begin their deliberations next week.

After lawyers finished presenting evidence, District Judge Amit Mehta asked one juror, a White woman who works in education at a nonprofit, to come back to the courtroom. The juror is in the process of moving to Texas and had spent several weeks expressing concern about finding a place to stay to finish the trial.

Mehta dismissed the juror, who was an alternate.

“It’s sort of nice to stop at least one thing happening in my life right now,” the juror said.

Before leaving the room, she asked Mehta whether another juror, who she described as “my buddy,” could take her seat because it was more comfortable than his. The judge laughed and said yes.

As she walked out, the five defendants, their attorneys, and the prosecutors stood up and applauded.

After she was dismissed, the jury returned to the courtroom. Mehta said to them, “I’m sorry to say you are one fewer, but I know one of you is very happy to be in the second row.”

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors worked to undercut a day of searing and emotional testimony from Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins, highlighting how her apologetic demeanor on the stand drastically contrasted her violent rhetoric around the 2020 election and the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

Prosecutor Alexandra Hughes said that Watkins’ testimony Wednesday contradicted an interview she gave the FBI just two months after the riot.

On the stand, for example, Watkins testified that entering the Capitol was a spur of the moment decision, while in the March 2021 FBI interview she allegedly claimed that she “knew exactly what was going to happen” and that the crowd “had the necessary amount of people to force in if needed.”

Thursday, Watkins became increasingly frustrated, accusing Hughes of taking her comments out of context. She shouted, “You tried to pull this stunt on me with the interview with the FBI as well.”

Hughes questioned why Watkins would call the deadly riot a “cool American moment,” as she did in her testimony on Wednesday. Videos from January 6 show Watkins shouting “push” as she joined a crowd confronting police in a hallway outside the Senate chamber. Prosecutors say Watkins was pepper sprayed in the melee.

“It was a cool American moment until this hallway,” Watkins said. “In all the videos, you cut out a lot of them, I was smiling and having fun.”

Watkins continued, “I was angry [in that moment] because we were standing up for the country and all the sudden, we were getting crushed. I accept responsibility for what happened in this hallway. I know that opens me up to criminal liability. Want me to say it a few more times? I accept responsibility for what happened in this hallway. I get it.”

Hughes concluded by noting that Watkins repeatedly claimed she was caught up in the moment on January 6, saying the crowd at the doors of the Capitol was “like black Friday when everyone wants to get a flat screen.”

“Swept up. Black Friday,” Hughes said. “To be clear, is it your testimony that all of this rhetoric, rhetoric that you shared with your co-conspirators, and the actions you took on January 6” are not connected?

“My rhetoric was in the beginning of November,” Watkins shouted back. “You are going to see that it is just general election stuff. Half this country feels this way still. Half this country feels disenfranchised by that election. All the Covid stuff, we didn’t have a free and fair election. And that is not rhetoric.”

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