Oath Keepers Founder Stewart Rhodes Sentenced to 18 Years in Jan. 6 Attack on U.S. Capitol

Stewart Rhodes, Amit Mehta

FILE – This artist sketch depicts the trial of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, left, as he testifies before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on charges of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Nov. 7, 2022. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)


The founder of Oath Keepers was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a weekslong 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 the 2020 election.

Stewart Rhodes is the first person charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack to be sentenced for seditious conspiracy, and his sentence is the longest that has been handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

It’s another landmark in the Justice Department’s sweeping Jan. 6 investigation, which has led to convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups that authorities say came to Washington prepared to fight to keep President Donald Trump in power at all costs.

Prosecutors had urged the judge in Washington’s federal court to put Rhodes behind bars for 25 years, saying he remains a threat to American democracy.

In remarks before the judge handed down his sentence, Rhodes called himself a “political prisoner” and said his only crime is opposing those who are “destroying” the country.

Prosecutors had sought 25 years behind bars for Rhodes. They say Rhodes remains a threat to American democracy.

At Thursday’s hearing, in a first for a Jan. 6 case, U.S. District Judge Amit 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.

“Mr. Rhodes directed his co-conspirators to come to the Capitol and they abided,” the judge said.

Defense lawyer Phillip Linder denied that Rhodes gave any orders for Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6. 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.

Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, was found guilty in November of seditious conspiracy alongside Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, and four other Oath Keepers were convicted of the rarely used charge during a second trial in January. Three of Rhodes’ co-defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other crimes.

Rhodes’ sentencing comes just weeks after former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside other leaders 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.

Two other Oath Keepers will be sentenced Friday. Four other defendants convicted of seditious conspiracy will be sentenced next week.

The judge canceled the sentencing hearing scheduled this week for another defendant — Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia — as the judge weighs whether to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict against Caldwell for obstruction and a documents tampering charge.

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