Oath Keepers founder sentenced to 18 years for sedition during January 6 attack

Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a week-long plot that culminated in his followers’ attack on the US Capitol in an attempt to keep President Joe Biden out of the White House after winning the 2020 election.

Rhodes, 58, is the first person convicted of sedition in the January 6, 2021 attack to receive a sentence, and his sentence is the longest in hundreds of Capitol riot cases to date.

It’s another milestone in a sprawling January 6 Justice Department investigation that convicted insurgent conspirators against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups that authorities say arrived in Washington ready to fight to keep President Donald Trump in power at any cost.

In the first case in the Jan. 6 case, the judge agreed with the Justice Department that Rhodes’ actions should be punished as “terrorism,” which increases the recommended sentence under federal rules. The decision could portend long sentences for other far-right extremists, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who were also convicted on a rarely used charge.

Before announcing Rhodes’ verdict, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta called the recalcitrant Rhodes a constant threat to the United States and democracy. The judge expressed concern that what happened on 1 January. 6 could be repeated by stating that Americans “will now hold their breath every time an election approaches.”

“You’re smart, you’re charismatic and persuasive, and frankly, that’s what makes you dangerous,” the judge told Rhodes. “The moment you are released, whenever you are, you will be ready to take up arms against your government.”

Rhodes did not use his chance to address the judge to express remorse or ask for leniency, but instead claimed to be a “political prisoner”, criticized prosecutors and the Biden administration, and attempted to downplay his actions on January 6.

“I am a political prisoner and, like President Trump, my only crime is to speak out against those who are destroying our country,” said Rhodes, who appeared in Washington federal court in orange prison attire.

Mehta responded that Rhodes was being prosecuted not for his political opinions, but for what the judge called “a crime against the people of the country.”

“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” the judge said.

Another oathkeeper convicted of sedition along with Rhodes, Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, was expected to receive his sentencing later Thursday. Sentences to other oath holders are expected to be handed down on Friday and next week.

After nearly two months of trial, a jury in Washington, D.C. found Rhodes guilty of plotting to forcibly disrupt the transfer of presidential power. Prosecutors alleged that Rhodes and his followers recruited members, stockpiled weapons, and set up teams of “quick reaction forces” in a Virginia hotel that could smuggle weapons to the nation’s capital if they were needed to support their plot. The weapon was never deployed.

It was one of the most serious Capitol riot cases brought by the government, which sought to prove that the attack by right-wing extremists such as the Oathkeepers was not an impulsive protest, but the culmination of several weeks of protests. conspiracy to overthrow Biden’s victory.

Rhodes’s arrest in January 2022 during the Capitol riots was the culmination of a years-long extremism track that included armed clashes with federal authorities at Bundy’s ranch in Nevada. After founding the Oathkeepers in 2009, a Yale Law School alumnus turned it into one of the largest far-right anti-government militia groups in the US, though it appears to have weakened since the arrests of the Oathkeepers.

The judge agreed with prosecutors’ demand for a so-called “increase in terrorism” that could result in a longer prison sentence, on the grounds that the Oathkeepers sought to influence the government through “intimidation or coercion.” 6 cases had previously denied such requests.

Prosecutors wanted 25 years for Rhodes, arguing that the long term was necessary to deter future political violence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Rakoczi pointed to Rhodes’ interviews and speeches from jail, which repeated the lie that the 2020 election was stolen and said it would be again in 2024. Just days ago, Rhodes called for “regime change,” the prosecutor said. .

People “across the political spectrum” want to believe that Yang. 6 was an “outlier,” Rakoczy said. “Do not defend Rhodes.”

Rhodes of Granbury, Texas plans to appeal the verdict.

Defense attorney Philip Linder told the judge that prosecutors were unfairly trying to make Rhodes “face” on January 6, adding that Rhodes could have invited many more Oathkeepers to the Capitol “if he really wanted to” thwart Congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.

“If you want to show the face of J6 (January 6), you put him in front of Trump, the right-wing media, politicians, all the people who spread this narrative,” Linder said.

Rhoads’ verdict could signal the punishment prosecutors will seek for Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders convicted of sedition. They will be sentenced in August and September.

Oathkeepers said there was never a plan to attack the Capitol or prevent Congress from confirming Biden’s victory. The defense tried to seize on the fact that none of the Oath Keepers’ communications had laid out an explicit plan to storm the Capitol. But prosecutors said the Oathkeepers saw an opportunity to achieve their goal of stopping the transfer of power and acted as the mob began storming the building.

Messages, recordings and other evidence presented at the trial show that Rhoads and his followers have grown increasingly angry since the 2020 election at the prospect of a Biden presidency, which they see as a threat to the country and their way of life. In an encrypted chat two days after the election, Rhodes told his followers to prepare their “mind, body, spirit” for a “civil war.”

A few days later, on a conference call, Rhodes urged his followers to let Trump know they were “ready to die” for the country. One oathkeeper who listened was so alarmed that he began recording the call and contacted the FBI, telling the jury that it “sounded like we were going to war against the government of the United States.”

Until Thursday, the longest sentence in more than 1,000 cases of rioting at the Capitol was 14 years for a man with a long criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol. Just over 500 defendants were convicted, with more than half given jail terms and the rest receiving sentences such as probation or house arrest.

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