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Jessica Watkins testified about how her struggles as a trans woman were part of her path from the Army to the insurrection.
On Wednesday, one of five Oath Keepers on trial for charges that include seditious conspiracy related to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol unexpectedly took the stand in her own defense. Jessica Watkins told jurors about her personal story, and how her struggles as a trans woman led her from the Army to the insurrection.
She expressed contrition for her role in the attack on Congress, including interfering with Capitol police officers who were trying to stop the rioters’ advance. A video shown earlier in the trial saw Watkins yelling “push” as Oath Keepers tried to dislodge officers blocking a hallway.
“I want to say I’m sorry to you,” Watkins told jurors. “But I’d rather say I’m sorry to Christopher Owens,” an officer who testified earlier in the trial. “He was on the other side of that line, protecting other officers from my dumbass, basically.”
Watkins’ decision to testify was a surprise and a gamble. She admitted to committing some of the six crimes with which she is charged—among them interfering with police officers—with the evident hope that her testimony will make sympathetic jurors more likely to acquit her on seditious conspiracy charges. Two other defendants at the trial, Stewart Rhodes and Thomas Caldwell, also took the stand in their own defense.
Prosecutors will have a chance to cross-examine Watkins on Thursday. They are likely to press her about claims she made before January 6 about preparing for a civil war, and her bragging on and after January 6 about her role in the attack.
Watkins told a unique story on the stand too. She claimed that her trans identity—which she said she did not talk about until after her arrest last year—was part of the explanation for her role in the January 6 attack. She said her identity indirectly led to her being kicked out of the Army and losing contact with her family. When she came out to her parents, they cut off contact. (They have since reconciled.) When another soldier borrowed her laptop and discovered she was trans, he said to her: “I know who you are [a] faggot.” After, she said she went AWOL.
Still, Watkins said she does not align with the transgender community because “really ultimately I hate myself; I see myself in them.”