Friday May 26, 2023
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the US Capitol riot.
Rhodes was convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy and other crimes, making his sentence the longest given to a Capitol rioter thus far. Prosecutors had initially sought a 25-year prison term for Rhodes. Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Oath Keepers' Florida chapter, received a 12-year prison sentence.
During the riot on January 6, 2021, Rhodes did not enter the Capitol building but coordinated with Meggs and other members who stormed the premises. Both Rhodes and Meggs were also convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents. The trial was one of the most high-profile cases related to the Capitol riot.
Rhodes showed little remorse during the hearing, claiming to be a "political prisoner" and asserting that the Oath Keepers were opposing those "who are destroying our country." However, Judge Amit Mehta dismissed these claims and expressed concern over Rhodes' violent rhetoric, including a threat to hang former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The judge deemed Rhodes to be an ongoing threat to the country and its democracy.
Prosecutors had requested a 25-year sentence for Rhodes and 21 years for Meggs, while defence lawyers argued for significantly lighter sentences of less than three years each. Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The group, consisting of armed anti-government members, gained prominence as staunch supporters of Donald Trump.
The Oath Keepers' actions leading up to the January 6 riot included Rhodes initiating a campaign to reject the election results just days after the November 2020 vote. He messaged supporters, urging them to prepare for a civil war. The group spent thousands of dollars on weapons and equipment, storing them in a hotel room in Virginia near the Capitol. During the riot, Rhodes remained outside the building, coordinating activities while other Oath Keepers, including those led by Meggs, forcibly entered. Prosecutors described Rhodes as a "battlefield general" during the chaotic events.
Rhodes and Meggs were convicted of seditious conspiracy, a rarely used law from the Civil War era carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Defence lawyers intend to appeal the convictions. To date, over 1,000 individuals have been arrested in connection with the Capitol riot, with more than half pleading guilty to various charges. The US Justice Department has reported approximately 80 guilty verdicts following trials.