2 More Oath Keepers Sentenced to Prison Over Jan. 6 Breach

2 More Oath Keepers Sentenced to Prison Over Jan. 6 Breach
Members of the Oath Keepers group stand on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Caden Pearson

Two Army veterans and members of the Oath Keepers have been handed prison sentences following the group’s founder’s conviction for their involvement in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta presided over the sentencing, with Jessica Watkins, a resident of Woodstock, Ohio, receiving a prison term of eight years and six months. Kenneth Harrelson, from Titusville, Florida, was sentenced to four years.

The convictions of Watkins and Harrelson by a federal jury included charges of obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 elections. Harrelson faced additional charges of tampering with documents and proceedings, while Watkins was also found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of officers during the breach.

However, both defendants were acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge that Oath Keeper’s founder Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of in November 2022.

These sentences are part of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) extensive investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol breach and violence. They come after Rhodes received the longest prison term among the cases related to the events of that day.

While the DOJ argued that Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers’ actions could be categorized as “terrorism,” which would lead to more severe sentences under federal guidelines, Judge Mehta ultimately imposed shorter prison terms. The prosecution had sought 18 years for Watkins and 15 years for Harrelson.

‘Demolished My Life’

According to Mehta, Watkins, a member of the Oath Keepers who identifies as transgender, held a position beyond that of a mere foot soldier, having recruited others for the group.

Watkins tearfully expressed remorse, condemning the violence against police officers and acknowledging that being at the Capitol may have influenced others, saying “I was just another idiot running around the Capitol” on Jan. 6.

Kenneth Harrelson, another Oath Keepers member, informed the judge that he traveled to Washington, D.C., after being offered a security job by a fellow member. Harrelson claimed to have no interest in politics, stating that he had never voted for a president in his life. He broke down in tears, admitting responsibility for the immense pain caused to his family and expressing remorse for his actions.

“I have totally demolished my life,” he said. “I am responsible, and my foolish actions have caused immense pain to my wife and our children.”

Mehta considered Harrelson to be genuinely remorseful and less culpable than other Oath Keepers. The evidence presented did not show any extremist messages or physical attacks on or threats against law enforcement officers. The judge emphasized that Harrelson’s messages did not contain revolutionary content “that anyone would consider extremist.”

Government Allegations

The DOJ said that according to the government’s evidence, prosecutors relied on evidence from encrypted chat statements that revealed the Oath Keepers allegedly conspired for months to disrupt the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.

The defense argued that their clients’ speech was protected by the First Amendment, but the judge determined that it could be considered “speech in a conspiracy.”

Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers organized teams, recruited members, conducted paramilitary training, and brought weapons and gear to the Capitol grounds. Their goal was to allegedly obstruct the certification of the electoral college vote by breaching and taking control of the Capitol building.

On Jan. 6, around 2:30 p.m., Harrelson and Watkins, accompanied by other Oath Keepers and affiliates, marched in a stacked formation up the east steps of the Capitol wearing paramilitary attire and patches displaying the Oath Keepers’ name, according to the DOJ. They joined a larger crowd and entered the Capitol building while Rhodes and another co-defendant remained outside, coordinating activities.

The DOJ said that while some Oath Keepers breached the Capitol, other individuals belonging to quick reaction force (QRF) teams remained stationed outside the city. These QRF teams were prepared to transport firearms and weapons swiftly to Washington to support operations aimed at using force to prevent the lawful transfer of presidential power.

During the trial, Rhodes testified that the Oath Keepers were in Washington to provide event and VIP security at permit-approved gatherings. He claimed that upon learning of the violence at the Capitol, he ordered all Oath Keepers to stay away from the building. Rhodes himself did not enter the Capitol or engage in any acts of violence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.