For the FBI, she is a militant leader who traveled to Washington, DC and stormed the U.S. Capitol, encouraging others to do the same.
The two worlds of Jessica Watkins crashed into the small village of Woodstock, Ohio, when FBI agents met early one morning to arrest her for her alleged role in the January 6 uprising.
“We could hear so many sirens. And then we heard them yelling at her to come downstairs with her hands up, and she did not,” said Emma Dixon, who witnessed the raid before dawn from a home across the street.
When the FBI arrived in Woodstock, Watkins was not there. Her boyfriend, Montana Siniff was. He told CNN that disorienting flash bangs were used. A window was broken. It remained like that days days later.
FBI agents questioned him and eventually left, he said. In a lawsuit filed in court, federal prosecutors said agents restored what “appear to be instructions for making explosives, authored by ̵
“This is completely false. She hates explosives. There is no moral or legal way to really use explosives as an ordinary citizen,” Siniff said.
Watkins, 38, is now being held in Montgomery County Jail, about 50 miles away in Dayton, after she surrendered to authorities last Sunday.
Records show that Watkins served in the Army under a different name from April 2001 to December 2003. She was sent to Afghanistan from September to December 2002.
The three veterans were the first to face conspiracy charges, some of the most serious charges so far for those who violated the Capitol on January 6th.
CNN has found a disproportionate number of people accused of the Capitol attack are former military members.
‘The most beautiful thing’
No one denies that Watkins went to the Capitol to protest the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. She is seen on video boasting about it while inside the Capitol building.
Her boyfriend said she went to “help protect some Trump VIP members within the rally,” but he did not know who.
After breaking the Capitol, Watkins described the scene inside the building as she saw it.
She added: “There were some who hijacked what started as a peaceful movement.”
But the words on her Parler account after the breakup offer a completely different perspective. They are highlighted in the federal complaint against her.
“Yes. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole thing, 9. Pushed us into the Rotunda. It went into the Senate even,” she wrote.
Another Watkins post used as evidence by the FBI said: “We never smashed anything, stole anything, burned anything, and truthfully we were very respectful of Capitol Hill PD until they attacked us. Then we stood on the ground and draw the line. ”
Watkins and many others came to Washington trained in warfare, some wearing their combat gear of ballistic helmets, army fatigue and goggles.
Videos showed a group of more than a dozen people were in formation with their hands on each other’s shoulders and marching up the Capitol stairs.
Federal prosecutors say Watkins and others used the Zello phone app, which acts as a walkie-talkie, to communicate and plan the attack.
Watkins has not yet been assigned a lawyer for her. But her boyfriend spoke on her behalf. The two own the Jolly Roger bar together. They are both members of the group she “commanded,” called the Ohio State Regular Militia. “She’s not a violent person,” Siniff told CNN. “She may be very excited, but she’s a very good person and she just wants to really try to help people.”
But police and many of the lawmakers inside say the rebels who violated the Capitol endangered lives.
Links to far-right Oath Keepers
Siniff said Watkins formed the militia to help victims of tornadoes when local authorities were absent or overwhelmed.
There is a long history of paramilitary groups establishing themselves in rural Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, and the FBI says there is sometimes a darker side.
Watkins is a member of the Oath Keepers, a pro-Trump, right-wing extremist anti-government group that sees itself as part of the militia movement tasked with protecting the country.
There are no private citizen militias found in the United States. A militia must be sanctioned by the state.
The Oath Keepers are clear that they are trying to recruit members from active or retired military, first responders and police, and its name refers to the oath taken to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
In court documents, the FBI says, “Oath Keepers will violate federal law if they believe their case is fair.”
Recruitment of veterans
Watkins’ alleged conspirators are named by the FBI as Donovan Crowl, a former Marine, and Thomas Caldwell, who served in the Navy.
Crowl lives just down the street from Watkins’ Jolly 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 her up on it. But Crowl joined Watkins and Siniff in their armed group.
“When he’s drunk, he’s the guy you want to shut up about. When sober is the best man you could have,” Siniff said of the former Marine. “The militia was a good thing to help him … just like it was a reason to be sober.”
CNN has reached out to Crowl’s attorney, but has received no response.
Crowl’s criminal record shows allegations of domestic violence and alcohol driving, some of which resulted in convictions. This was noted by the federal judge as his lawyer tried to get him released before his trial. His lawyer said he deserved release as he was not a danger to society.
“He is seen in the video saying ‘we surpassed the Capitol,’ his criminal history includes violence and alcohol offenses, he also demonstrated prior non-compliance. The proposal to release him to a residence with nine firearms is a non-starter,” Judge Sharon said Ovington. Crowl was detained in custody awaiting an initial hearing in Ohio.
“It felt like he was making a 180 degree turn, felt like the world owed him a living and had a big chip on his shoulder,” Rowe said. “I do not know if it is because life did not go as he planned.”
Asked why she thinks Crowl might be attracted to this extremist group, she said, “I want to understand myself. I can not understand that.”
Caldwell, the third veteran named as a co-conspirator, lives in a secluded estate along a country road in Berryville, Virginia, 400 miles from the Woodstock homes of Watkins and Crowl.
It is unclear how long Caldwell knew Crowl and Watkins. But the FBI says they met in Washington, DC. Crowl took video of himself and Watkins inside the Capitol and posted it on social media.
Outside the Capitol, Caldwell made his feelings clear on January 6th.
“Every single b **** in there is a traitor, every single one,” he screamed in a video, appearing to refer to lawmakers inside.
Caldwell was a name in his local Virginia political circles. He was delegated to Clarke County, Virginia, Republican convention last year.
A lawyer temporarily assigned to Caldwell said during a detention that his opposition to Biden’s election win was not unusual and that he was not charged with a violent crime.
But the judge disagreed: “The conduct and statements of Mr. Caldwell and the others, it’s really just pure lawlessness,” Judge Joel Hoppe of the federal court in Harrisonburg, Virginia, said Tuesday.
Strong support for Watkins
The village of Woodstock is home to about 300 people. Many of the homes are grouped around the intersection, and the only traffic signal still is flying “Trump 2020” banners.
There are also “Don’t Tread on Me” or Gadsden flags from the American Revolution and a star and stripe being flown overhead – a signal of “serious distress” according to the American code.
Some of the villagers were hostile to our CNN crew and called the local sheriff to complain twice. Others were happier talking and arguing with their neighbors about returning.
And even after all the video and social media posts showing Watkins ‘rant about storming the Capitol, Watkins’ girlfriend is defending her.
“I do not think the allegations of conspiracy are fair at all,” Siniff said.
CNN’s Curt Devine contributed to this story.