Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes sentenced to 18 years for role in Jan. 6 insurrection: What we know
Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in federal prison for seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Prosecutors had sought 25 years. Still, it was the longest sentence handed down to date for any of the more than 500 people convicted in the Jan. 6 cases. Earlier this month, Peter Schwartz of Kentucky was sentenced to 14 years for attacking police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol.
Rhodes was convicted in November following a two-month trial that showcased the far-right extremist group’s violent plot to overturn President Biden’s election and keep then-President Donald Trump in power. Rhodes's lawyers said he will appeal.
Here’s everything we know about the landmark case and the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to prosecute those who were involved in the deadly insurrection.
What is seditious conspiracy, again?
The seditious conspiracy law was enacted after the Civil War to deter Southerners from conspiring against the U.S. government. The crime occurs when two or more people conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” those in power. Sedition has rarely been charged in the United States.
According to the Associated Press, the last time U.S. prosecutors brought a seditious conspiracy case prior to the Rhodes case was in 2010, when nine members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan were charged with inciting an uprising against the government. They were acquitted on the sedition conspiracy charges at a 2012 trial.
Rhodes and 10 of his co-conspirators were the first Jan. 6 defendants charged with sedition.
Has anyone else been convicted of it?
Yes. Kelly Meggs, leader of the Oath Keepers Florida chapter and one of Rhodes’s co-defendants, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy and sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison.
Three other defendants — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — were acquitted of the sedition charge, but all five (including Rhodes and Meggs) were convicted of obstructing Congress’s certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
Four other Oath Keepers — Joseph Hackett, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo — were convicted of seditious conspiracy during a second trial in January.
Earlier this month, former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was convicted of the rarely used charge alongside other leaders of his far-right group. They will be sentenced later this year.
What happened at Rhodes’s trial?
During the trial, federal prosecutors sought to prove that the defendants conspired to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s win. The defense argued that they didn’t really have a plan.
"I never had any plan or intention to have my guys try to prevent certification of election results," Rhodes told the jury.
The 57-year-old from Granbury, Texas, who did not enter the Capitol on the day of the attack, said he thought those who did were “stupid” to do so.
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"I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. It was not our mission. If they had asked me, I [would have] said, 'Don't,'" he testified.
In closing arguments, Rhodes's defense lawyer James Lee Bright acknowledged that in the run-up to Jan. 6, Rhodes and his co-defendants did engage in a lot of "horribly heated rhetoric and bombast." But he told jurors that their “venting” was not a crime.
"We've had 50 witnesses in this case. Not one person has testified that there was a plan,” Bright argued. “Not one."
What happened at his sentencing?
During a court hearing on Wednesday, police officers and congressional staffers delivered impact statements recounting the physical and emotional trauma they said they are still suffering from their clashes with the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“We experienced physical trauma, emotional trauma and mental trauma,” Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Owens said. “The traumas we suffered that day were endless.”
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Before handing down his sentence Thursday, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said he found that Rhodes’s actions before and during Jan. 6 amounted to “domestic terrorism” and that he was “targeting an institution of American democracy at its most important moment.”
Rhodes addressed the court Thursday, claiming he is a “political prisoner” and comparing himself to Trump.
Like Trump, Rhodes said, the only crime he has committed is opposing people who were “destroying the country.”
The Justice Department continues to try the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases it brought against those who allegedly took part in the Jan. 6 attack, while special counsel Jack Smith continues his investigation into Trump’s role in inciting the insurrection.