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Oath Keeper from Champaign County tells jury her decision to storm U.S. Capitol was ‘really stupid’

WASHINGTON — A former Ohio bar owner from Champaign County who stormed the U.S. Capitol in a military-style stack formation with fellow members of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group told jurors Wednesday her decision was “really stupid,” saying she got swept up in what seemed to be a “very American moment.”

In a decision that surprised even the judge, Jessica Watkins took the the stand to testify in her defense as the high-stakes seditious conspiracy case against her, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and three others nears a close, the Associated Press reported.

>> RELATED: FBI says 2 Champaign County residents conspired ‘to forcibly storm’ U.S. Capitol

Watkins, an Army veteran who has been locked up since her arrest nearly two years ago, testified that she never intended to interfere with Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory and never heard any commands for her and other Oath Keepers to enter the building on Jan. 6, 2021.

Watkins recalled consuming a “steady diet” of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ “Infowars” show, which pushed the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. She called herself “just another idiot” in the mob on Jan. 6 and likened the scene outside the Capitol — where rioters smashed windows and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with police — to a Black Friday sale.

“Are you proud of what you did?” her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, asked.

“Not anymore,” Watkins replied.

Watkins, of Woodstock, Ohio, is the third defendant in the more than monthlong trial to take the witness stand — a move generally considered by defense lawyers as a last-resort option as it opens defendants up to intense cross-examination by prosecutors and often does more harm than good.

Prosecutors will get a chance to question Watkins on Thursday.

Watkins went to the witness stand in the seventh week of testimony in the case accusing her, Rhodes and three others of a violent plot to stop the transfer of presidential power. Closing arguments could happen as early as this week.

Jurors have heard how Watkins, before the riot, was messaging with people who expressed interest in joining her Ohio militia group about “military-style basic” training planned for early January. She told one recruit: “I need you fighting fit” by the inauguration, which was Jan. 20, 2021.

>> RELATED: Ex-Oath Keeper says ‘many weapons’ stored outside capital

They have seen video of Watkins and other Oath Keepers shouldering through the angry pro-Trump mob and into the building in what prosecutors have described as military-style stack formation. They have also heard a recording of a channel called “Stop the Steal J6″ on the walkie-talkie app Zello that Watkins used to communicate with others during the riot.

“We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here,” Watkins said in the recording.

“Get it, Jess. . . . Everything we (expletive) trained for,” someone responded.

The defense has spent weeks hammering prosecutors’ lack of evidence of an explicit plan for the Oath Keepers to attack the Capitol before Jan. 6.

Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate from Granbury, Texas, told jurors there was never a plan to attack the Capitol. He testified that he was surprised and upset when he learned that some group members had joined a pro-Trump mob in storming the building and that their only mission that day was to provide security for Trump ally Roger Stone and others at events before the rally.

Thomas Caldwell, another defendant whose trial testimony ended earlier on Wednesday, told jurors he wasn’t serious when he floated the idea in messages before the riot of getting a boat that could ferry “heavy weapons” across the Potomac River into Oath Keepers’ “waiting arms.” Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Berryville, Virginia, described it as “creative writing.”

Watkins’ lawyer told jurors during opening statements last month that she is a transgender woman who served as an Army Ranger but was discharged early — a decision that has “haunted her for the duration of her life.”