Oathkeeper founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday following a seditious conspiracy conviction in connection to the Jan. 6 riot.
This is the first sentence handed down to any defendant convicted of seditious conspiracy related to Jan. 6 and represents the longest sentence given to any Jan. 6 defendant so far.
Government prosecutors had been seeking a sentence of 25 years for Rhodes, who they say 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 Washington, D.C. if they were needed. The weapons were never deployed.
Before handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta addressed Rhodes directly.
“Mr. Rhodes. You have been convicted of seditious conspiracy. You’re a lawyer. You understand what that means,” the federal judge said. “Among the most serious crimes an individual American can commit … an offense against the people of our country.”
“And what was the motive? You didn’t like the new guy,” Mehta said, noting that “just because someone supported the former president doesn’t mean they’re a white nationalist.”
“Your only regret was you thought you should have brought the weapons, and if you had, you would have hung Nancy Pelosi from a lamppost,” Mehta said.
The judge said it’s clear Rhodes “wants democracy in this country to devolve into violence.”
“The moment you are released, whenever that may be, you will be ready to take up arms against your government,” Mehta said.
“What we absolutely cannot have is a group of citizens … prepared to take up arms in order to foment a revolution, and that’s what you did,” the judge continued.
“You asked them to prepare for war,” Mehta said, referring to Rhodes’ commands to fellow Oath Keepers.
In remarks shortly before the judge handed down the sentence, Rhodes slammed the prosecution as politically motivated, noted that he never went inside the Capitol and insisted he never told anyone else to do so. “I’m a political prisoner and like President Trump my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country,” Rhodes said.
In a first for a Jan. 6 case, Mehta agreed with prosecutors to apply enhanced penalties for “terrorism,” under the argument that the Oath Keepers sought to influence the government through “intimidation or coercion.” Judges in previous sentencings had shot down the Justice Department’s request for the so-called “terrorism enhancement” – which can lead to a longer prison term – but Mehta said it fits in Rhodes’ case.
“You’re not a political prisoner, you’re here for that conduct,” Mehta said. “That was a jury of your peers, make no mistake about it.”
“I dare say we all now hold our collective breaths, every time an election is approaching,” the judge said.
Mehta applauded law enforcement who responded to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“The heroism of those who were protecting democracy as we know it. They laid their bodies on the line.… There is nobody more emblematic of keeping oaths than those police officers,” the judge said. “You sir present an ongoing threat to the safety of this country.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy had pointed to interviews and speeches Rhodes has given from jail repeatedly allegedly that the 2020 election “was stolen” and saying it would be again in 2024. In remarks just days ago, Rhodes called for “regime change,” the prosecutor said.
A lawyer for Rhodes, who plans to appeal his conviction, said prosecutors are unfairly trying to make Rhodes “the face” of January 6. Attorney Phillip Linder told the judge 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.
“If you want to put a face on J6 (Jan. 6), you put it on Trump, right-wing media, politicians, all the people who spun that narrative,” Linder said.
Another Oath Keeper convicted alongside Rhodes in November – Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs – was expected to receive his sentence later Thursday.
Two other Oath Keepers, acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of other offenses, will be sentenced Friday. And four other members found guilty of seditious conspiracy at a second trial in January are scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Rhodes’ sentence may forecast what prosecutors will seek for former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside other leaders of his far-right group this month for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to block the transfer of presidential power. The Proud Boys will be sentenced in August and September.
This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.