Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins wasn’t planning to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 with her mace, taser, and nightstick only.
After more than two months of preparation and training, the Army veteran was prepared to “fight hand to hand” to take over the Capitol. Then, there was the “quick reaction force” she helped set up—an armed group that would be lingering outside D.C., ready to bring guns to Watkins and other Oath Keepers “if it gets bad” or if Trump somehow ordered them to storm the city.
“I’m no doctor. I’m a soldier. A medic with a rifle, maybe, but a solider [sic]. I will hurt/kill those who try to hurt/kill me or others,” Watkins said in one text message, according to a detention memo filed Thursday.
Watkins, 38, is one of three members of the far-right paramilitary group to be charged with conspiring and recruiting others to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress met to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Thomas Edward Caldwell, the 65-year-old apparent leader of the Oath Keepers, and Donovan Crowl, a 50-year-old former U.S. Marine, have also been charged. All three are currently in custody.
“Clad in camouflaged battle fatigues, a tactical vest emblazoned with an Oath Keepers patch, combat boots, military-grade helmet, and radio equipment, Watkins and her fellow Oath Keepers militia members were among those hundreds of insurgents who stormed the Capitol,” the 21-page memo requesting detention pending trial states.
“But unlike the vast majority, Watkins had trained and plotted for a moment like this… For Watkins, this was a moment to relish in the swirling violence in the air,” the memo adds.
The memo details the chilling lengths the trio went to in coordinating election-related attacks, including training recruits to get them in “fighting shape” for another attack at the inauguration and vetting people interested in the Jan. 6 attack to “ensure the right people” were affiliated with the Oath Keepers.
In the lead up to Jan. 6, Watkins’ believed she was “awaiting direction from President Trump” himself, prosecutors allege in a stark memo that seemingly draws a direct link between Trump and the most militant, coordinated aspects of the insurrection. It comes as Trump faces his second impeachment trial for allegedly inciting the riot over months.
Watkins allegedly breached the Capitol with the Ohio State Regular Militia, a far-right group she founded in 2019. The group is a subset of the Oath Keepers, which FBI agents describe as a “large but loosely organized collection of the militia who believe the federal government has been corrupted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
Prosecutors allege she “remains a leader within the broader militia movement,” and her texts reveal “extensive efforts” to recruit members and participate in the Jan. 6 riot.
In another Thursday memo filed against Caldwell, prosecutors allege the Oath Keeper leader communicated with members from at least two other militia groups—the Proud Boys and the Three Percenters—about Jan. 6 and other MAGA rallies.
The memo also states that investigators found a handwritten “Death List” at Caldwell’s home which included at least one name of an elected official and an invoice for a firearm “intentionally built to look like a cellphone.”
Those efforts began as early as Oct. 26, when Watkins began texting at least one recruit about the need for basic training to “get us all field-ready before inauguration [sic].” The required week-long training for new members included at least “2 days of wargames” that would be incorporated into a larger “combat training” for “urban warfare, riot control, and rescue operations,” the memo states.
On Nov. 17, Watkins texted someone about her fears of a Biden presidency and the necessity to fight back. “If Biden get the steal, none of us have a chance in my mind. We already have our neck in the noose. They just haven’t kicked in the chair yet.”
“I don’t underestimate the resolve of the Deep State. Biden may still be our President. If he is, our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights,” she said in a text to someone listed in her phone as a “recruit.”
In another November text, Watkins expressed concern about taking action without Trump’s blessing, saying she thought it was “an elaborate trap” and that unless Trump “himself activates us, it’s not legit.”
“If Trump asks me to come, I will. Otherwise, I can’t trust it,” she wrote.
The memo says Watkins got her “desired signal” from Trump at the end of December when he tweeted that all MAGA supporters should come to the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. She told Crowl about the plan to go to D.C. because “Trump wants all able-bodied Patriots to come.”
For days, prosecutors allege, Watkins and Caldwell coordinated over text messages, including organizing where to meet, hotels to stay at, and how to acquire and use weapons. In those texts, Caldwell also referred to “a quick reaction force [that would be] bringing the tools if something goes to hell.”
“That way the boys don’t have to try to schlep weps on the bus,” Caldwell wrote. Watkins said the QRF would provide ready access to guns during operations “if it gets bad.”
On Jan. 3, Caldwell suggested in a text to an associate with the Three Percenters that they should get a boat capable of crossing the Potomac ready for the Quick Response Team with “heavy weapons.”
“I’m not talking about a bass boat. Anyone who would be interested in supporting the team this way? I will buy the fuel. More or less be hanging around sipping coffee and maybe scooting on the river a bit and pretending to fish, then if it all went to shit, our guy loads our weps AND Blue Ridge Militia weps and ferries them across,” Caldwell texted, according to the memo.
The next day, Watkins mentioned the QRF again, telling two Ohio residents traveling with her to D.C. that, “We are not bringing firearms. QRF will be our Law Enforcement members of Oathkeepers.” Later that day, however, Watkins told the members, “Weapons are ok now as well. Sorry for the confusion.”
Later that day, prosecutors said Caldwell sent a series of maps to an individual who had agreed to serve as the “quick reaction force.”
As thousands of MAGA supporters stormed the Capitol, Watkins and her militia were clearly visible in photos and videos because they marched tightly in an “organized line up the steps on the east side of the Capitol, wearing combat helmets, bullet-proof vests, gloves with knuckle protection, and radios,” prosecutors allege. The group was also wearing clothing with Oath Keeper paraphernalia.
“We’re in the fucking Capitol,” Watkins is heard saying in a ProPublica video from inside the Rotunda. Prosecutors also state Watkins, who showed up with at least 30 others, was ready to execute citizen arrests during the riots.
In addition to surveillance video showing her in the Capitol, the 38-year-old posted a photo of herself on Parler with the caption, “Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building. #stopthesteal #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia.”
Days later, Watkins spoke to the Ohio Capital Journal, calling the insurrection “the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash. That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.”
“We never smashed anything, stole anything, burned anything, and truthfully we were very respectful with Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us,” she told the outlet, according to the memo. “Then we stood our ground and drew the line.”
Four days after the interview, FBI agents executed a search warrant at her home and found battle gear, firearms, and directions on how to make explosives. She was arrested with Crowl on Jan. 17.
Watkins was “not an ancillary player who became swept up in the moment, but a key figure who put into motion the violence that overwhelmed the Capitol,” the memo argues. “Were it not for the successful evacuation of the Vice President and Senators, or had there been ‘permission from Trump’ as possibly signaled by invocation of the Insurrection Act—a chance that she did not want to miss—Watkins appeared ready and willing to engage in even more violence that day.”