WASHINGTON — The founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a week-long plot that culminated in his supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to keep the President Joe Biden outside the White House after winning the 2020 election.
Rhodes, 58, is the first person convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack to receive his punishment, and his sentence is the longest handed down so far in hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
It’s another milestone for the Justice Department’s sweeping Jan. 6 investigation, which led to seditious conspiracy convictions against top leaders of two far-right groups who authorities say arrived in Washington prepared to fight to keep President Donald Trump. Trump in power at all costs.
“The Department of Justice will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable the criminals responsible for the January 6 attack on our democracy,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
For the first time in a Jan. 6 case, the judge agreed with the Justice Department that Rhodes’ actions should be punishable as “terrorism,” which increases the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. That decision could herald lengthy sentences ahead for other far-right extremists, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who has also been convicted on the rarely used charge.
Before announcing Rhodes’ sentencing, US District Judge Amit Mehta defiantly described Rhodes as a constant threat to the United States and democracy. The judge expressed his fear that he would repeat what happened on January 6, saying that Americans “will now hold our collective breath every time an election approaches.”
“You’re smart, charismatic and convincing, and frankly, that’s what makes you dangerous,” the judge told Rhodes. “The moment you are released, whenever that is, you will be ready to take up arms against your government.”
Rhodes did not use his opportunity to address the judge to express remorse or plead for mercy, instead claiming to be a “political prisoner,” criticizing prosecutors and the Biden administration, and trying to downplay his actions on Jan. 6.
“I am a political prisoner and, like President Trump, my only crime is to oppose those who are destroying our country,” said Rhodes, who appeared in Washington federal court wearing orange prison clothing.
Mehta responded that Rhodes was not prosecuted for his political beliefs but for actions that the judge described as an “offense against the people of the country.”
“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” the judge said.
Another Oath Keeper convicted of seditious conspiracy along with Rhodes, Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was sentenced later Thursday to 12 years behind bars.
Meggs said he was sorry he was involved in the riot that left a “black eye in the country,” but maintained he never planned to go to the Capitol.
The judge found that Meggs does not present an ongoing threat to the country as Rhodes does, but told him that “violence cannot be resorted to just because you disagree with who was elected.”
Other Oathkeepers are expected to be sentenced on Friday and next week.
A Washington, DC jury found Rhodes guilty of leading a plot to forcibly disrupt the transfer of presidential power. Prosecutors alleged that Rhodes and his followers recruited members, hoarded weapons and set up “quick reaction force” teams at a Virginia hotel that could transport weapons to the nation’s capital if needed to support their plot. The weapons were never deployed.
It was one of the largest Capitol riot cases brought by the administration, which has tried to show that the attack by right-wing extremists like the Oath Keepers was not an impromptu protest but the culmination of weeks of protests. plotting to nullify Biden’s victory.
Rhodes’ arrest in January 2022 was the culmination of a decades-long path of extremism that included gun battles with federal authorities at Nevada’s Bundy Ranch. After founding Oath Keepers in 2009, the Yale Law School grad built it into one of the largest far-right anti-government militia groups in the US, though it appears to have weakened in the wake of Oath’s arrests. Keepers.
The judge granted prosecutors’ request for a so-called “terrorism enhancement”, which can lead to a longer prison sentence, on the grounds that the Oath Keepers tried to influence the government through “intimidation or coercion”. . Judges in less serious cases on January 6 had previously rejected such requests.
Prosecutors had asked for 25 years for Rhodes, arguing that a long sentence was necessary to deter future political violence.
Assistant US Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy pointed to interviews and speeches Rhodes has given from jail repeating the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and saying it would be stolen again in 2024. In remarks just days ago, Rhodes called for a “change of regime,” the prosecutor said. .
Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, plans to appeal his conviction.
Defense attorney Phillip Linder told the judge that prosecutors were unfairly trying to make Rhodes “the face” of January 6, adding that Rhodes could have had many more Oath Keepers come to the Capitol “if he really wanted to.” discontinue congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.
“If you want to put a face on J6 (January 6), put it on Trump, on the right-wing media, on the politicians, on all the people who spun that narrative,” Linder said.
Rhodes’ sentencing may signal the punishment prosecutors will seek for Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy. They will be sentenced in August and September.