Dear Commons Community,
Oath Keepers extremist group founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced yesterday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a 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. As reported by the Associated Press.
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 right-wing 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.
Prosecutors had urged 25 years for Rhodes. They said he was the architect of a plot to forcibly disrupt the transfer of presidential power that included “quick reaction force” teams at a Virginia hotel to ferry weapons into the nation’s capital if they were needed. The weapons were never deployed.
The judge agreed to the department’s request for the “terrorism enhancement” under the argument that the Oath Keepers sought to influence the government through “intimidation or coercion.” Judges had previously rejected such requests in Jan. 6 cases, but Rhodes’ was unlike any others so far that have reached sentencing.
Prosecutors argued that a lengthy sentence was necessary to deter future political violence.
Another Oath Keeper convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside Rhodes — Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs — was also sentenced yesterday to 12 years behind bars.
Meggs said he was sorry he was involved in the riot that left a “black eye on the country,” but maintained that he never planned to go into the Capitol.
The judge found Meggs doesn’t present an ongoing threat to the country the way Rhodes does, but told him “violence cannot be resorted to just because you disagree with who got elected.”
Rhodes should have received 25 years but we will take the 18!