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Judge rules alleged leader of Oath Keepers must stay in jail before trial

A federal judge decided Friday that the alleged ringleader of the most serious paramilitary conspiracy stemming from the US Capitol attack must stay in jail before trial.

The decision came during a court hearing where the defendant, Jessica Watkins, disavowed the right-wing Oath Keepers organization and said she was “humbled” and “humiliated” by the charges against her. These were Watkins’ first public comments since her arrest last month.

Federal Judge Amit Mehta of the DC District Court said Watkins “presents a danger” and eagerly participated in “a historic event that was a real threat to the fabric of our democracy.”

“She was not just a follower. She was higher up in the chain,” Mehta said at a virtual court hearing. “She was a recruiter and did recruit others to participate in the events of January 6. … She is not just a foot soldier. She is someone planning, organizing larger groups of people.”

Addressing Watkins directly, Mehta said, “There is a continued risk that once you are released that you will reaffiliate yourself with these groups,” referring to anti-government extremists.

Watkins has pleaded not guilty to four federal crimes: Conspiracy, destruction of government property, obstruction of an official proceeding and entering a restricted building — the Capitol.

The debate over her continued incarceration was the latest test for the Justice Department’s effort to lock up the alleged Capitol rioters that they believe are too dangerous to release, based on their rhetoric or extremist affiliations, even if they haven’t been accused of attacking police.

Watkins said Friday she is “cancelling” her membership in the Oath Keepers.

“Given the result of everything on January 6 and everything that has come out…. my fellow Oath Keepers have turned my stomach against it. Which is why I’m canceling my Oath Keeper membership,” Watkins said during the court hearing. “I have no desire to continue with people who say things like that.”

“I am sorry for any inconvenience I have caused the court. … I am not a criminally minded person. I am humbled and I am humiliated that I am even here today,” Watkins said.

In addition to her ties to the Oath Keepers, Watkins runs her own militia in Ohio, which she says she is shutting down and will instead focus on running her bar.

“We’re done with that lifestyle,” Watkins said. “I have a struggling small business. I did it out of love for my country, but I think it’s time to let that all go and focus on my business.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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