An attorney for an Ohio militia member charged with conspiracy walked back a controversial claim that implied Jessica Watkins met with the U.S. Secret Service about working security for the Jan. 6 rally for Donald Trump before she participated in the Capitol riot.
The lawyer’s original motion, filed over the weekend, raised questions about whether the Secret Service had coordinated rally security with paramilitary groups that later stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Federal authorities allege Watkins coordinated with a group of at least eight other people who wore tactical gear and helmets and marched in military fashion into the Capitol. Hundreds of rioters stormed the building, sending lawmakers fleeing and leaving five people dead.
The Secret Service wasted no time rejecting the original claim that it had worked with Watkins or any private citizens on security for the rally. The agency said it relied only on the assistance of government partners.
“Any assertion that the Secret Service employed private citizens to perform those functions is false,” the agency said Monday.
Watkins’ federal public defender filed a “clarification” later on Monday saying the motion never meant to imply Watkins met with the Secret Service.
“A better verb would have been ‘encountered,’ “ the motion stated. Agents at the check-in point for the rally’s VIP area told Watkins what she could and couldn’t do inside and told her to leave all her tactical gear outside. The clarified motion stated: “Ms. Watkins does not suggest that she has any direct knowledge that her role as security was sanctioned by anyone other than people involved in organizing the rally.”
Watkins is jailed in Washington D.C., charged with conspiring with eight others accused of taking part in the Capitol riot. The FBI says they’re members or affiliates of the Oath Keepers, an extremist group that recruits former military, law enforcement and first responders.
The original motion – applying for a bond hearing – said Watkins went to Washington D.C. to protect the government, not to overthrow it. A hearing is set for Tuesday to determine whether she remains in custody.
In her bid for pre-trial freedom, Watkins stated she was at the rally to provide security for speakers and had a VIP pass to Trump’s speech.
An organizer of the Jan. 6 rally for Trump before the riot disputed Watkins’ claim in the amended motion that people involved in organizing the rally were working with her group.
“There was no coordination with the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys as to them handling any kind of services,” said Dustin Stockton, part of the team that helped organize the rally on the Ellipse. Stockton also helped organize marches for Trump in November and December and said they didn’t use the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys for those events either.
Although the Oath Keepers – and other groups – do sometimes provide security for people and events, there’s no official indication their services were used at the Capitol or for the rally at the Ellipse near the White House that day.
None of the nine people indicted in Watkins’ group appear on a District of Columbia list of licensed security guards. Beyond that, the Oath Keepers organization isn’t listed as a security provider for the National Park Service permit for the rally.
Security experts, including officials with companies who worked the event or were contacted to work the event, cast doubt on the possibility that any event organizer would use volunteer security guards.
Stockton said they used volunteers for other tasks but not security and were required to submit birth dates and Social Security numbers for the volunteers to the Secret Service for vetting.
Any private security guards for events with the Secret Service also must go through a similarly strong vetting process, said owners of two other security services, including a company that worked the rally and another named on the permit that didn’t wind up doing security that day.
Lyndon Brentnall, owner of the Florida-based RMS security company contracted for the event at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, said he used only licensed professionals paid to work the event and all had to be cleared by the Secret Service first since Trump was speaking that day.
His security guards, who wore black polos and bright green gaiter masks, mostly escorted people to where they were supposed to sit, Brentnall said. The other security, including behind the barrier and the stage, “was clearly run by the Secret Service,” he said.
Licensing requirements to work in D.C. are strict, and companies that don’t follow them face fines and even jail time, said David Deanovich, owner of Deanovich and Associates, a Maryland-based professional security company.
Although Deanovich’s company was on the list for providing security at the Trump rally at the Ellipse, Deanovich said his company ultimately didn’t take the job and he was chagrined to learn recently that his name had been listed on the permit.
Deanovich said he had never worked with the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys or volunteers.
“You would be an idiot” if you hired non-licensed people in D.C., he said. “You would lose everything. I would lose every license and I would ruin myself.”
However, Trump associates, such as Roger Stone, have used the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys for security. And Oath Keepers members discussed providing security at the Jan. 6 events amongst themselves.
Accused rioter Graydon Young, who applied to be a member of the Florida Oath Keepers in December, forwarded an email from the organization to his sister, Laura Young Steele, saying they were going to D.C. to conduct “security operations,” according to a criminal complaint. His sister, a former law enforcement agent, also has been arrested and charged related to the riot.
The Youngs were among those mentioned in an indictment handed down last week that charges Watkins and eight others with conspiracy.
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes recruited members and volunteers saying they would be working security. Rhodes has been named directly and indirectly in criminal complaints related to the riot, but has not been charged with anything.
The team would be either “directly responsible for event security or assisting event security on both days,” stated Rhodes in one post on the group’s website. “We will also be out on the streets to help keep Trump supporters safe in general as they walk back to and from their hotels, vehicles, or Metro stops (that’s when Antifa likes to attack the weak, old, disabled, or families – like the hyenas they are).”
The Oath Keepers called for volunteers for pro-Trump rallies before the election and for Stop the Steal events after his November loss to President Joe Biden, including events in Atlanta; Las Vegas; Sunrise, Florida; and Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Multiple media outlets reported in January that Stone, a political ally of Trump and leader of the Stop the Steal campaign, used the Oath Keepers for security at least twice.
Stone posted on his website Feb. 10 that the Oath Keepers voluntarily provided “free security” for him in D.C. on Jan 6th, as they had done at three rallies in Miami and Tampa.
“I was told that all of the men who voluntarily guarded me were off duty police officers,” Stone wrote. “I found them to be courteous, effective and saw no evidence of misconduct or any other extremist attitude.”
The New York Times reported that six people who guarded Stone that day later entered the Capitol. The Times reported all were identified as being part of the Oath Keepers and photographed with Stone in the day and hours before the riot.
The Oath Keepers have a history of turning up to contentious events, often with the stated purpose to provide security. In 2014, the group was part of an armed standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy refused for decades to pay fees for his cattle to graze on federal lands, and the government acted on a court order to begin seizing them.
The bureau backed down in the standoff, returning the seized cattle.
Later that year, members of the Oath Keepers guarded rooftops of businesses in Ferguson, Missouri, during unrest related to the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
The St. Louis County police confronted the armed volunteers, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, saying they couldn’t remain on the rooftops because they didn’t adhere to the county ordinance requiring background and qualifications for security officers and guards.
When the volunteer guards learned of the policy, a local leader of the Oath Keepers in Missouri told the Post Dispatch, they laughed and returned to their posts the next night.
Contributing: Erin Mansfield