WASHINGTON — Three days after allegedly joining a mob that descended on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Jessica Watkins wrote in a text that she’d been following the FBI’s investigation as it unfolded, and wasn’t concerned about being arrested.
“[S]eems they’re only interested in people who destroyed things,” Watkins texted Bennie Parker on Jan. 9, according to messages quoted by prosecutors in recently unsealed court documents. “I wouldn’t worry about them coming after us.”
Just over a week later, Watkins was arrested in Ohio. An Army veteran and member of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia organization that focuses recruitment on the military and law enforcement, Watkins was accused of joining a conspiracy of Oath Keepers members who planned in advance for violence on Jan. 6 and descended on the Capitol in an “organized and practiced fashion.”
The Jan. 9 text was included in new charging papers unsealed on Thursday against a retired Ohio couple who prosecutors say were part of that Oath Keepers conspiracy. Prosecutors wrote that Parker, 70, texted at length with Watkins leading up to Jan. 6 and was listed in Watkins’ phone as “Recruit Ben – OSRM,” an acronym that the government says stood for Ohio State Regular Militia.
Prosecutors have described the Oath Keepers as a “large but loosely-organized collection of militia that believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” On Dec. 27, according to charging papers, Parker texted Watkins, “I may have to see what it takes to join your militia, our is about gone” and told Watkins that he and his wife Sandra Parker, 60, were “liked minded.”
On Jan. 3, prosecutors said Watkins texted Bennie Parker that the group they’d be traveling with to Washington would not be bringing firearms, and that a separate group known as “QRF,” or “quick reaction force,” would be the “law enforcement members of Oathkeepers.” Later that day, however, Watkins sent another message telling him to pack khaki or tan pants and clarified, “Weapons are ok now as well. Sorry for the confusion.”
Parker replied: “We don’t have any khakis We have jeans and our b d u’s So I can bring my gun?” (Prosecutors wrote in a footnote that “B.D.U.” appeared to refer to camouflaged combat clothing, or “Battle Dress Uniform.) Prosecutors didn’t say if Watkins responded to his question about bringing a gun, but he’s not charged with a weapons offense.
The Parkers’ charging papers include images from a surveillance camera at a Virginia hotel that prosecutors say show the couple with Watkins and another person charged in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, Donovan Crowl, early in the morning on Jan. 6, as well as photos of them outside the Capitol.
Prosecutors also included photos from surveillance footage inside the Capitol that they say showed Sandra Parker as part of a line, or “stack,” of people wearing military fatigues and helmets who moved together into the Capitol. They identified Sandra Parker in the stack behind Watkins and Crowl. The third person charged with Watkins and Crowl, Thomas Caldwell, allegedly participated in planning their trip to DC, communicated with other people about strategizing to bring weapons, and sent messages about participating in the assault. Caldwell has denied being a member of the Oath Keepers or participating in an illegal conspiracy.
Bennie Parker stayed outside on the Capitol grounds, according to prosecutors, and texted Watkins at 5:43 p.m. asking if she and his wife were okay.
The Parkers’ charging papers conclude with the texts between Bennie Parker and Watkins in the days following the insurrection. After Watkins texted him on Jan. 9 that she wasn’t worried about the FBI coming for them, Parker responded with similar optimism.
“I’m sure they’re not on us see some pics but no militia,” he wrote.
Charges against the Parkers were filed under seal in the federal district court in Washington on Feb. 12. They were arrested on Feb. 18 and allowed to go home while their case is pending after making their first court appearance in federal court in Cincinnati later in the day.
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