Sunday, April 18, 2021

U.S. Capitol riot suspect disavows far-right group, but loses bid for release

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By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – A leader of the far-right Oath Keepers group accused of helping lead the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters lost her bid to be released from jail, despite disavowing the group during a Friday court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington denied Jessica Watkins’s request to be released while the criminal case against her unfolds.

Mehta said Watkins was a danger to her Ohio community, despite her saying during brief remarks to the court that she was now “appalled” by the Oath Keepers and renouncing her membership.

“It was an historic event; an incursion on the Capitol; a real threat on the fabric of our democracy,” the judge said of the Jan. 6 attack. “She was not just willing participant in that; she was an organizer and a leader in those efforts.”

Watkins had asked Mehta to release her to home confinement in Ohio while she awaits trial, citing in part the risk of maltreatment she faces in jail as a transgender woman.

Watkins, an Afghanistan war veteran who has pleaded not guilty, is among nine associates of the anti-government organization charged with conspiring to storm the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Federal prosecutors have accused Watkins, 38, of illegally entering the Capitol building. Her attorney has said she did not engage in any violence.

Prosecutors have said the Oath Keepers began planning a military-style assault as early as November. More than 300 people have been charged so far in connection with the attack, which left five people dead, including a police officer.

A federal prosecutor said during the court hearing that the Oath Keepers made “substantial efforts” to set up a heavily armed strike force outside Washington that day.

“There were substantial efforts to make that a reality — to have guns and weapons available, at the ready, for people like Jessica Watkins,” prosecutor Ahmed Baset said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis)


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