Oath Keepers Founder Sentenced For Seditious Conspiracy Over Jan. 6 Capitol Riot
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years behind bars Thursday, six months after being convicted of seditious conspiracy in federal court for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, several outlets reported.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta delivered a searing and lengthy reproach to Rhodes shortly before handing down his sentence, telling him, “You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy,” according to NBC News.
Earlier, Rhodes recited a 20-minute-long diatribe to the courtroom in which he called himself a “political prisoner” and said his only crime was trying to stop politicians from “destroying” America.
Mehta responded to his claims directly: “You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes.”
“The moment you are released, whenever that may be, you will be ready to take up arms against your government,” the judge said, per The Associated Press.
Prosecutors had sought a 25-year term for Rhodes.
Another leader in the far-right anti-government group, Kelly Meggs, is expected to be sentenced later Thursday on similar charges.
The Oath Keepers’ trial last fall was a watershed moment in the federal government’s massive effort to prosecute the mob that had stormed the Capitol and terrorized the police and lawmakers inside in the name of former President Donald Trump.
Due to the large number of defendants ― nine ― they were split into two groups for trial; jurors convicted six of them on seditious conspiracy charges. Rhodes and Meggs are the first to face sentencing.
As the ringleader of the Oath Keepers, Rhodes was accused of preparing for a potentially large-scale gunfight at the Capitol on Jan. 6, having stockpiled a cache of high-powered weapons at a hotel just outside Washington.
The nation’s capital has strict gun control laws, but prosecutors said the Oath Keepers wanted to have firearms nearby just in case Trump signaled that he wanted them to use force to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Rhodes believed that Trump could achieve his goal by invoking the Insurrection Act, which gives a president the authority to send in the military to “suppress insurrection.”
While Rhodes did not enter the Capitol himself, prosecuting attorneys said at trial that he had primed his followers to engage in conflict at the Capitol, observing the chaos from a hill like a “battlefield general.”
Scores of text messages displayed in court, along with audio recordings, helped to paint a picture of the planning that had gone into the Oath Keepers’ decision to show up on Jan. 6, the day Congress was officially certifying the results of the 2020 election.
Rhodes defended himself in part by arguing he and his Oath Keepers were actually just trying to help law enforcement, despite not being asked to do so. Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers as a group have a history of providing unasked-for “security.”