(Trends Wide)– Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday for leading a far-reaching plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power after losing the 2020 election.
The sentence is the first handed down in more than a decade on the seditious conspiracy charge.
“What we absolutely can’t have is a group of citizens who, because they didn’t like the result of an election, or because they didn’t believe the law was followed as it should, encouraged revolution,” said District Judge Amit Mehta before sentencing. “That is what you have done.”
“I dare say, Mr. Rhodes, and I have never said this to anyone I have sentenced, that you pose a continuing threat and danger to our democracy and the fabric of this country,” Mehta said.
The judge added: “I dare say we are all holding our collective breath now as the election approaches. Will we have another January 6th again? That remains to be seen.”
Mehta said the 58-year-old Rhodes has not expressed any remorse and remains a threat.
“A seditious conspiracy, when you take those two concepts and put them together, is one of the most serious crimes an American can commit,” the judge said. “It is an offense against the government to use force. It is an offense against the people of our country.”
Mehta ruled Thursday that Rhodes’ actions amounted to domestic terrorism.
“He was the one giving the orders,” Mehta said. “He was the one who organized the teams that day. He was the reason they were actually in Washington. Oath Keepers wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for Stewart Rhodes, I don’t think anyone can argue otherwise. He was the one who gave the order to go, and they went”.
Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy by a Washington jury in November in a landmark criminal trial that was a test of the Justice Department’s ability to hold the January 6 rioters accountable and validated prosecutors’ arguments that the breach of the Capitol was a grave threat to American democracy.
The seditious conspiracy charge has rarely been brought in the century and a half that the statute and its precursors have been part of the law.
Prosecutors had asked Mehta to sentence Rhodes to 25 years behind bars and to apply increased sentences for terrorism.
“This is terrorism,” prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy said Thursday.
“It is not blowing up a building directly or telling someone to blow up a building, but in light of the threat of harm and the historic nature of trying to stop the certification of an election for the first time in United States history” Rhodes and other Oath Keepers leaders should be punished more harshly, he said.
Rhodes, who was charged with leading dozens of people in a coordinated plot that culminated in the January 6 siege, was also found guilty of obstructing official procedure and tampering with documents.
Of the people Rhodes led, 22 have already been convicted of various federal crimes by jury or a guilty plea. Eight, including Rhodes’ co-defendant Kelly Meggs, who will also be sentenced later Thursday, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy.
Rhodes repeats false accusations about the 2020 election
Rhodes, before being sentenced, said he was a “political prisoner” and vowed to continue “exposing the criminality of the regime” while in prison.
“I would like to start by saying that I am a political prisoner, and like President Trump, my only crime is to oppose those who are destroying our country,” Rhodes told Mehta in court.
For 20 minutes, Rhodes repeated accusations that the 2020 presidential election was unconstitutional, shouting that he “couldn’t put that down under my oath” during his military service and “couldn’t ignore the Constitution.”
The leader repeatedly defended his actions and those of his supporters on January 6, saying that “no Oath Keepers were involved in any of the fighting” and that the violence at the Capitol was “all done by other people.”
“I think this country is incredibly divided, and this prosecution, not just me but all the J6ers, is making it worse,” Rhodes said. “J6er” refers to the Capitol Hill rioters from January 6, 2021.
He continued: “I think every J6er is a political prisoner and all of them are being overcharged. It’s going to make people feel like this government is even more illegitimate than before.”
Rhodes lawyers respond
Attorneys Phillip Linder, Ed Tarpley and James Lee Bright, representing Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, spoke to cameras outside federal court following Thursday’s sentencing.
Linder said he couldn’t answer whether his client received a fair sentence, but that it was lower than he expected.
“I can’t answer that,” Linder said. “We have differences of opinion on some of the evidence, of course I wanted less, the prosecutors wanted more, but based on Judge Mehta’s belief of what the facts show, and his revival of that yesterday and today, it was lower than what I thought Mehta would give him.”
Bright also said that, given the judge’s remarks, he expected his client to receive a longer sentence.
“We’re clearly Stewart’s supporters,” Bright said. “As I listened to Judge Mehta speak and then go that extra step and say that at no point in his sentencing career had he had the opportunity to look at a defendant and say ‘I consider you a future danger to the future of the country.’ And when I heard that, just like Phillip just stated, I anticipated a much longer sentence than 18 years, not that I agree with the sentence.”
Tarpley stressed that Rhodes has been repeatedly punished for his words surrounding the Capitol riot, but not for his actions.
“It wasn’t his actions, it was his words,” said Tarpley, who said they plan to appeal today’s sentence.
“We think we’re in for a good appeal, we look forward to the appeal, the appeal process, and we strongly support Stewart Rhodes. We don’t think he’s a threat to society. We don’t think so at all.”
US Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who testified earlier this week about his experience on January 6, told Trends Wide after the verdict that former President Donald Trump should be “next.”
“It’s a step toward full accountability,” Dunn said. “His lawyers for him argued that Donald Trump is the root of the problem, and I totally agree. Let him be next.”
“I have a hard time finding joy or celebration in an 18-year sentence,” Dunn said. “I believe that justice should not be celebrated… it should be expected.”