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Oath Keepers trial: Fiance of Ohioan Jessica Watkins testifies

Two people dressed in military-style fatigues stand in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
ProPublica
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ProPublica
Jessica Watkins, left, and Donovan Crowl shown in the U.S. Capitol during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021. Photo from ProPublica

Jessica Watkins’ fiance continued his testimony Friday morning in federal court in the most significant Jan. 6 insurrection case to date.

Watkins of Champaign county faces seditious conspiracy charges, as do four other people connected to the Oath Keepers.

Montana Siniff described during his testimony how he met Watkins at a comic book shop in Hilliard, Ohio, and how the two bonded over the game Magic the Gathering. He said that before they started dating, Watkins was concerned that her being transgender would be an issue for him.

“By that time I had absolutely fallen in love with her,” he said. “I told her it didn’t matter.”

The questions from Watkins’ attorney Jonathan Crisp brought up challenges she had faced in life. Siniff talked about Watkins going AWOL from the Army and how being discharged was painful for her.

“She was hazed in one of her deployments to the point that she feared for her life,” he said. “She felt like she had to choose between her life or her honor.”

The two took ownership of a bar in Woodstock in Champaign County in late 2018. He said the business struggled in part because of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine in 2020.

Crisp then began questioning him about protests they attended. Siniff and Watkins formed a group called the Ohio State Regular Militia, which focused on providing security and aid at protests, Siniff said. The defense showed footage of smoke rising from burning property at a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Columbus that they attended.

Watkins and Siniff also went to Black Lives Matter protests in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Million MAGA March in Washington, D.C. in 2020, where they met up with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and other members of the anti-government extremist group.

Siniff stayed back in Ohio when Watkins went to the Washington area ahead of Jan. 6. When he heard that she had entered the Capitol building, “I was very concerned about it. I never doubted her intentions, but I thought it was a stupid idea.”

Days after the attack on the Capitol, the FBI raided the bar in Woodstock with a warrant for Watkins’ arrest. She was in Virginia at the time, and Siniff said she came back to Ohio and he drove her to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and then the Urbana Police Department, where she turned herself in.

On cross examination, prosecutor Alexandra Hughes’ line of questioning suggested that Watkins and Siniff were not simply apolitically providing aid at protests.

At the Louisville Black Lives Matter protest, “the primary goal was to protect things and buildings from people,” she posed, while at the Million Maga March “the primary goal was to protect protestors.”

Siniff disagreed, saying their main goal at the Million MAGA March was to protect the people speaking at the event, not protestors.

Hughes showed a compilation video that included a clip of Watkins and Siniff dressed in military-style gear in Louisville, along with images of Oath Keepers shooting at a shooting range. She also had Siniff identify various weapons that Watkins brought with her to Virginia on her way to Washington before Jan. 6, including a Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, a Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun, a Model 39 semi-automatic pistol, and a Walther P22Q semi-automatic pistol.

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, began testifying in his own defense Friday and will continue on Monday. The U.S. Department of Justice rested its case Thursday, a month into the trial.

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While working at the station Leila Goldstein has covered the economic effects of grocery cooperatives, police reform efforts in Dayton and the local impact of the coronavirus pandemic on hiring trends, telehealth and public parks. She also reported Trafficked, a four part series on misinformation and human trafficking in Ohio.