Oath Keepers founder gets 18 years for seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 attacks
Oath Keepers extremist group founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a weekslong plot that culminated in his followers attacking the U.S. Capitol in a bid to keep President Joe Biden out of the White House after winning the 2020 election.
Rhodes, 58, is the first person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack to be sentenced for seditious conspiracy, and his sentence is the longest handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
It’s another milestone for the Justice Department’s sprawling Jan. 6 investigation, which has led to seditious conspiracy convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups authorities say came to Washington prepared to fight to keep President Donald Trump in power at all costs.
In a first for an insurrection case, the judge agreed to apply enhancement penalties for “terrorism.” That decision could foreshadow lengthy sentences down the road for other far-right extremists, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who have also been convicted of the rarely used charge.
Before announcing Rhodes’ sentence, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta described a defiant Rhodes as a continued threat the United States who clearly “wants democracy in this country to devolve into violence.” Mehta expressed fear that what happened on Jan. 6 could be repeated, saying Americans will “now hold our collective breaths every time an election is approaching.”
“The moment you are released, whenever that may be, you will be ready to take up arms against your government,” Mehta told Rhodes.
Rhodes did not use the chance to express remorse or appeal for leniency, but instead claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticized prosecutors and the
Biden administration and tried to play down his actions on Jan. 6.
“I’m a political prisoner and like President Trump my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country,” Rhodes told Mehta.
It was one of the most consequential cases brought by the government, which has sought to prove that the riot by rightwing extremists such as the Oath Keepers was not a spur-of-the-moment protest but the culmination of weeks of plotting to overturn Biden’s victory.
Defense lawyer Phillip Linder told the judge that prosecutors were unfairly trying to make Rhodes “the face” of Jan. 6, adding that Rhodes could have had many more Oath Keepers come to the Capitol “if he really wanted to” disrupt Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote.
Another Oath Keeper convicted alongside
Rhodes in November — Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs — was expected to receive his sentence later Thursday. More Oath Keepers are expected to be sentenced on Friday and next week.