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Auburn man faces federal charges for role in Capitol insurrection

Watson admits in court documents to carrying a can of mace and a pocket knife during the riots.

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by U.S. Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington. Watson has been identified as the man with the long hair and beard in the hooded sweatshirt. (AP PHOTO/MANUEL BALCE CENETA)

Federal officials have lodged a formal criminal complaint against an East Alabama man identified by the Alabama Political Reporter as a member of the pro-Trump mob that sacked the U.S Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6. 

William Watson, 23, of Auburn — who jumped bail for previous drug charges to attend the riots — is now potentially facing federal charges of civil disorder, entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon and violent entry or disorderly conduct, according to the criminal complaint filed in D.C district court. 

“Watson, while carrying a canister of mace, knowingly and willfully joined a crowd of individuals who forcibly entered the U.S. Capitol and impeded, disrupted, and disturbed the orderly conduct of business by the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate,” said special agent Matthew Minshew, a FBI agent who interviewed Watson directly after his Jan. 11 arrest in Auburn, in court documents.

In the interview, Watson admits to carrying a can of mace and a pocket knife during the riots, using the knife to clear parts of the presidential inauguration scaffolding at the Capitol building to help the crowds moving up toward the building’s entrance. He denies involvement in “any violence, trespassing, vandalism, or other ‘criminal activity,’” according to the Jan. 17 affidavit filed by federal officials. 

“I guess the overriding thing for why we were there that day is because they were certifying the fraudulent election that day,” Watson said. “And so we [went], to protest that.”

Watson explained that he and an unnamed friend drove up the night of Jan. 5 from Auburn to “support the patriots, support Trump, support freedom,” arriving at the Capitol the next day. In the initial interview, he said he only brought a water bottle, later adding he brought a taser that he left in the car.

Watson also mentioned he was following the schedule promoted by InfoWars host Alex Jones, which said to meet at the Capitol by 1 p.m. 

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As protestors began gathering, Watson made his way to the front of the large crowd, pushing against Capitol Police. The crowd began chanting: “Oaths were to protect us, not them,” according to Watson. “I mean, it is to protect all of us, but not if they’re committing treason,” Watson said. 

Two video screenshots provided by agent Minshew in the affidavit show Watson holding what appears to be a canister of mace and directing it towards Capitol Police. Watson admitted in a later interview (he didn’t mention that he had the canister or knife in the Jan. 11 interview) that he was given the canister of mace and was asking others in the crowd how it worked in case he needed to use it against “someone who attacked me,” he later told Minshew he had no plan to use it. 

At some point, officers began deploying tear gas and spraying mace, and someone in the crowd yelled “charge,” prompting Watson and the incensed mob forward under the Inauguration bleachers.

“It’s like 100 people there getting stopped — and I assumed at the top was cause of riot shields holding people back, but we just started all pushing and pushing and pushing and eventually got through that one area,” Watson said. “Then they kind of made another little line and then we pushed on that line and then they gave up and after that one, they gave up, completely, and moved the rest of the barricades climbing up the steps toward the building and then ushered us, like made hand motions for us to go in.” 

Once at the building’s entrance, Watson began beating on windows, “trying to get people to hear me,” he explained. After someone in the mob broke a nearby window, he and others were able to enter into the Capitol building. Sometime after he entered, he joined the group in the now infamous photo taken outside the Senate Chamber. 

“The police are freaking out because it looks like an armed crowd running in there and, at that point, was when I went straight up to the first cop and literally got on my knees and was like, ‘listen, I want to be peaceful here, we have to be peaceful here,’” Watson said. “I want to help you get these people peaceful so that we can have a conversation.” 

After a stand-off between rioters and police, Watson claimed — corroborated by an interview with Capitol police recorded in the affidavit — to have helped calmed the group down, then he and others were escorted from the building. 

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When asked if he was directed by others to cause violence, Watson said: “No, it was kind of just what the mob was doing — I was there, helping push on their backs.” 

He later admitted, in hindsight, he would have stayed back “from the area where people were charging at,” according to the affidavit.

Watson remains in Lee County Detention Center without bond awaiting pending federal charges.  

John H. Glenn
Written By

John is a student contributor studying communications and French at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. You can contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter.

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