Far-right Oath Keepers face sentencing over US Capitol attack

By Jacqueline Thomsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two more members of the far-right Oath Keepers are set to be sentenced on Friday for their roles in the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump trying to overturn his presidential election defeat.

The pair, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson, were convicted in November by a federal jury in Washington of obstruction of an official proceeding for their role in the storming of the Capitol, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send lawmakers running for their lives.

Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington to sentence Watkins to 18 years in prison and Harrelson to 15 years.

They are set to appear in court the day after Mehta sentenced Oath Keepers’ founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison for crimes including seditious conspiracy, or using force to try to overthrow the federal government. That is the steepest penalty yet against those charged in the Jan. 6 violence.

Watkins was also convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of officers during the riots. Harrelson was found guilty of conspiring to prevent members of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win as well as tampering with documents and proceedings.

Watkins and Harrelson were acquitted of seditious conspiracy charges.

Watkins asked that her sentence not be greater than necessary to comply with federal sentencing law. Harrelson did not suggest a sentence and maintained his innocence.

Rhodes is one of 10 people convicted of seditious conspiracy for the Capitol attack, which took place as Congress met to certify Biden’s 2020 election victory.

At his sentencing on Thursday, Rhodes claimed he was a “political prisoner” — a label the judge sharply rejected.

“For decades, Mr. Rhodes, it is clear you have wanted the democracy of this country to devolve into violence,” Mehta said.

Members of the Oath Keepers, founded by Rhodes in 2009, include current and retired U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders. They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including racial justice demonstrations that followed the 2020 murder in Minneapolis of a Black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.

Some of the Oath Keepers, including Watkins and Harrelson, breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others at a suburban hotel staged a “quick reaction force” prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington.

Four other Oath Keepers members convicted of seditious conspiracy in a second trial are due to be sentenced next week.

(Reporting by Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Porter)

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