Two Oath Keepers Receive Prison Sentences for Involvement in U.S. Capitol Attack

WASHINGTON—Kenneth Harrelson and Jessica Watkins, members of the far-right Oath Keepers, were sentenced to prison on Friday for their participation in the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. In a federal trial, Harrelson and Watkins were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding, stemming from their roles in the storming of the Capitol, where rioters clashed with police, shattered windows, and forced lawmakers to flee.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta imposed a four-year prison sentence on Harrelson and an eight-and-a-half-year sentence on Watkins. Harrelson was found guilty of additional charges, including conspiring to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory and tampering with documents and proceedings. Watkins faced convictions for conspiracy and obstruction of officers during the riots. However, both individuals were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.

Judge Mehta expressed his belief that Harrelson showed genuine remorse and attributed lesser responsibility to him compared to other members of the Oath Keepers. The evidence against Harrelson did not include messages referencing “revolution” or other extremist terms, unlike those found in other Oath Keepers’ communications. The judge also noted that Harrelson did not physically assault or threaten any police officers during the Capitol attack. Nevertheless, prosecutors argued that Harrelson sought to intimidate members of Congress and individuals within the building.

During the sentencing hearing, Harrelson tearfully acknowledged his responsibility for his actions, expressing remorse and stating that he had never been involved in politics before January 6. He asserted that had he known about others’ violence against police officers, he would have tried to intervene and prevent it.

Prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for Harrelson, while Watkins’ attorney requested a five-year term. Judge Mehta acknowledged the complexity of determining Watkins’ sentence, considering her testimony about her struggles with her transgender identity and her cooperation with law enforcement during the investigation. However, he maintained that her actions on the day of the attack could not be excused. Watkins, too, expressed remorse and acknowledged the criminal nature of her behavior.

The sentencing of Harrelson and Watkins follows the previous day’s sentencing of Oath Keepers’ founder, Stewart Rhodes, to 18 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes’ penalty represents the most severe sentence to date for those involved in the January 6 violence.

The Oath Keepers, established in 2009, comprise current and former military personnel, law enforcement officers, and first responders. Recognized for their presence at protests and political events, often heavily armed, the group has participated in demonstrations ranging from racial justice protests to political rallies. Some members, including Watkins and Harrelson, breached the Capitol wearing paramilitary gear, while others stationed at a suburban hotel formed a “quick reaction force” equipped with firearms that could be rapidly mobilized to Washington.

Next week, four additional Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy in a separate trial are scheduled for sentencing.

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