For the FBI, she is a militant leader who travels to Washington, D.C., and storms the U.S. Capitol, encouraging others to do the same.
Jessica Watkins’ two worlds crashed into each other in the small village of Woodstock, Ohio, when FBI agents showed up early one morning to arrest her for her alleged role in the Jan. 6 uprising.
“We could hear so many sirens. And then we heard them screaming to come down with their hands up, and she didn’t,” said Emma Dixon, who witnessed the attack before dawn from the house across the street.
When the FBI arrived in Woodstock, Watkins was not there. Her boyfriend, Montana Cinef, was. He told CNN that disorienting flashes were being used. A window was broken. So it remained days later.
FBI agents questioned him and eventually left, he said. In a lawsuit, federal prosecutors said the agents found “instructions appear to be making explosives authored by ̵
“This is completely untrue. She hates explosives. There is no moral or legal way to really use explosives as an ordinary citizen,” Sinif said.
Watkins, 38, was detained at Montgomery County Jail, about 50 miles away in Dayton, after surrendering to authorities last Sunday.
Records show that Watkins served in the Army under a different name from April 2001 to December 2003. It was stationed in Afghanistan from September to December 2002.
The three veterans were the first to face conspiracy charges, some of the most serious charges ever for those who violated the Capitol on Jan. 6.
CNN found that a disproportionate number of people accused of the Capitol attack were former military personnel.
“The most beautiful thing”
No one disputes that Watkins went to the Capitol to protest against President Joe Biden’s certification of victory. He can be seen in a video boasting about this while in the Capitol building.
Her friend said she went to “help protect some Trump VIP members during the rally,” but he did not know who.
After breaking the Capitol, Watkins described the scene in the building as he saw it.
She added: “Some people have kidnapped what started as a peace movement.”
But the words in her Parler account after the violation offer a very different perspective. They are highlighted in the federal complaint against her.
“Yeah. We attacked the Capitol today. Overwhelmed, all 9. We headed to the Rotunda. We even got to the Senate,” she wrote.
Another Watkins post, used as evidence by the FBI, states: “We never smashed anything, we never stole, we burned, and frankly we were very respectful with Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us. Then we got to our feet and set the line. . ”
Watkins and many others came to Washington trained in military operations, some wearing ballistic helmets, army equipment, and goggles.
The videos showed a group of more than a dozen people, in formation, with their hands on their shoulders, marching up the Capitol stairs.
Federal prosecutors allege that Watkins and others used the Zello phone application, which works as a walkie-talkie, to communicate and plan the attack.
Watkins has not yet appointed a lawyer. But her boyfriend is really speaking on her behalf. The two own the Jolly Roger bar together. Both are members of a group she “commanded” called the Ohio Regular Volunteers. “She’s not a violent person,” Sinif told CNN. “She can be very energetic, but she’s a very good person at heart and just really wants to try to help people.”
But law enforcement and many lawmakers inside say insurgents who violated the Capitol have put their lives in danger.
Links to the far-right guardians of the oath
Cinef said Watkins formed a militia to help tornado victims when local authorities were absent or congested.
There is a long history of paramilitary groups forming in rural Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, and the FBI says there is sometimes a darker side.
Watkins is a member of the Guardians of the Oath, pro-Trump, a far-right, anti-government group that is considered part of the militia movement tasked with defending the country.
There are no private police in the United States. The militia must be sanctioned by the state.
Proponents of the oath are adamant that they are trying to recruit members from active or retired military, first responders and police, and its name refers to the oath given to “protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
In court documents, the FBI says: “Guardians of the oath will violate federal law if they believe their cause is fair.”
Recruitment of veterans
Watkins’ alleged accomplices have been identified by the FBI as Donovan Crowley, a former Marine, and Thomas Caldwell, who served in the Navy.
Crowle lives just down the street from Watkins’ Giotti Roger bar and was a regular there.
Neighbors told CNN that Watkins would try to recruit people when they entered the bar. Most did not take it. But Crowl did join Watkins and Cinef in their armed group.
“When he’s drunk, he’s the person you want to shut up. When he’s sober, the best person you could have,” Sinif said of the former Marine. “It was a good thing for the police to help him … as if it was a reason to be sober.”
CNN contacted Crowle’s lawyer, but received no response.
Crowl’s criminal record shows charges of domestic violence and drunk driving, some of which led to a conviction. This was noted by the federal judge when his lawyer tried to release him before the trial. His lawyer said he deserved to be released because he did not pose a danger to society.
“He saw in a video saying, ‘We’ve overcome the Capitol,’ his criminal history includes violence and alcohol-related crimes, he also demonstrated this non-compliance before. The offer to let him into a residence with nine firearms is not for a beginner.” said Sharon Owington. Crowl has been remanded in custody pending a preliminary hearing in Ohio.
“He felt like he had made a 180-degree turn, he felt like the world owed him a living, and he had a big chip on his shoulder,” Rowe said. “I don’t know if that’s because life didn’t go the way he planned.”
Asked why she thought Crowl might be attracted to this extremist group, she replied: “I would like to understand myself. I don’t understand.”
Caldwell, the third veteran identified as an accomplice, lives on a secluded property on a country road in Berryville, Virginia, 400 miles from the Woodstock homes of Watkins and Crowley.
It is not clear how long Caldwell has known Crowley and Watkins. But the FBI says they met in Washington. Crowl shot a video of himself and Watkins in the Capitol and posted it on social media.
Outside the Capitol, Caldwell clarified his feelings on January 6.
“Every b **** there has a traitor, every one,” he shouted in a video, seeming to refer to lawmakers inside.
Caldwell was a name in local Virginia political circles. Last year, he was a delegate to Clark County, Virginia, Republic of the Republic.
A lawyer temporarily assigned to Caldwell said during a custody hearing that his opposition to Biden’s election victory was not uncommon and that he had not been charged with a violent crime.
But the judge disagreed: “The behavior and statements of Mr. Caldwell and the others are indeed pure lawlessness,” Magistrate Joel Hope of the Federal Court in Harrisonberg, Virginia, said Tuesday.
Strong support for Watkins
About 300 people live in the village of Woodstock. Many homes are clustered around the intersection, and the only traffic light still flies with Trump 2020 banners.
There is also the “Don’t Step on Me” or Gadsden flag of the American Revolution and stars and stripes waving upside down – a signal of a “terrible disaster”, according to the American code.
Some villagers were hostile to CNN’s crew, urging the local sheriff to complain twice. Others were happier to talk and argued with their neighbors to back down.
And even after all the videos and social media posts that show that Watkins is nagging about storming the Capitol, Watkins’ friend is defending it.
“I do not believe that the accusations of conspiracy are fair at all,” Sinif said.
CNN’s Curt Devine contributed to this story.