Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers, received an 18-year prison term after federal prosecutors claimed that he conspired to commit treason in an aggressive effort to overturn the outcome of an American election.
Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy last year in connection with the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by a jury. On May 25, he appeared in US District Court in Washington, DC, for his sentencing hearing while dressed in an orange jumpsuit from the jail.
Among hundreds of cases resulting from the incident on January 6, his punishment is the first to incorporate additional terrorism-related sanctions.
Federal prosecutors requested a harsher punishment for actions they equated to acts of terrorism, claiming in court documents that Rhodes “engaged in acts that were intended to influence the government through intimidation or coercion” and that “the need to deter others is especially strong” as a result.
Thus, terrorism,” the prosecution wrote.
At his sentencing hearing, Rhodes spent more than 20 minutes defending himself, referring to himself as a “political prisoner.”
He said that his sole fault was “opposing those who are destroying our country,” drawing comparisons to Donald Trump, whose flimsy claim that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from him stoked the siege in the corridors of Congress.
Rhodes, who was convicted of attempting to thwart the constitutionally required transfer of presidential power, declared: “Under my oath, I cannot ignore the text of the Constitution.”
Seditious conspiracy, according to US District Judge Amit Mehta, is “among the most serious crimes an individual American can commit” and a “offense against the people of the country,” he told the court on May 25.
“What we cannot have, we absolutely cannot have, is a group of citizens who because they didn’t like the outcome … were then prepared to take up arms in order to foment a revolution. That’s what you did,” he told Rhodes. “You are not a political prisoner, Mr Rhodes.”
For decades, Rhodes wanted American democracy to “devolve into violence,” Judge Mehta said.
“You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and its democracy and the very fabric of this country,” he added. “You are smart, you are compelling, and you are charismatic. Frankly, that is what makes you dangerous.”
After being found guilty in November along with several other Oath Keepers members who were facing a variety of federal charges for their roles in the riots, Rhodes, who showed no remorse for his conduct, asked for compassion for his sentence.
The jury debated for three full days before finding Rhodes and Oath Keepers member Kelly Meggs guilty of seditious conspiracy after a trial that lasted almost two months. In the case, three further Oath Keepers associates were accused but not proven guilty.
Jurors were required to assess whether the Oath Keepers intended to violently obstruct the peaceful transfer of power during a joint session of Congress in addition to President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that the election was stolen from him.
Federal prosecutors claim that Rhodes and his companions planned a violent response to the 2020 election over encrypted messaging services, organized a supply and weapon cache at a nearby hotel, and then joined the mob that stormed the Capitol’s doors and windows to storm the halls of Congress and prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Rhodes and Meggs, who were charged along with Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, and Thomas Caldwell, were among the first Americans to be found guilty of treason-related offenses in many years. This case was the largest to result from the extensive criminal investigation into the Capitol attack conducted by the US Department of Justice.
Additionally found guilty of conspiring to obstruct were Meggs and Watkins.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the group had conspired to commit an act of treason against the federal government rather than that they had a plan to break into the Capitol.
“They took matters out of the hands of the people, and put rifles into their own hands,” assistant US attorney Jeffrey Nestler told jurors during his closing remarks in the trial last year. “They claimed to wrap themselves in the constitution. They trampled it instead. They claimed to be saving the Republic, but they fractured it.”
In the wake of the riots, 14 additional suspects connected to the attack—including the Proud Boys gang’s leader and three of his lieutenants—have either been found guilty by a jury or have admitted guilt to charges of seditious conspiracy, marking significant victories for the US Department of Justice in its extensive, ongoing investigations. In relation to the assault, more than a thousand people have been detained.
Prosecutors stated in court documents that Rhodes and Meggs “not only participated in the attack on the Capitol but also helped to organize it” and that their sentences “will be noted by those who would foment such political violence in the future.”
Federal prosecutors laid out, for the first time, in those documents what the Justice Department considers to be a reasonable jail term for a defendant found guilty of sedition in connection with the attack.
“These defendants attempted to silence millions of Americans who had placed their vote for a different candidate, to ignore the variety of legal and judicial mechanisms that lawfully scrutinized the electoral process leading up to and on January 6, and to shatter the democratic system of governance enshrined in our laws and in our Constitution,” prosecutors wrote in the filing. “And when they did not get what they wanted, they acted by together attacking the very people and place at the very time when those laws were in action.”
Prosecutors claim that the defendants “are incomparable to the actions of single actors on January 6” and that they “played significant roles in spreading doubt about the presidential election and turning others against the government.”