Stewart Rhodes, the former army paratrooper turned Yale-educated lawyer who founded the far-right Oath Keepers militia, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other crimes related to the US Capitol attack
Rhodes (58) was convicted in November by a federal court jury in Washington in connection with the January 6th, 2021, Capitol attack by supporters of former US president Donald Trump in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Democratic rival Joe Biden’s November 2020 election victory.
Rhodes was sentenced by US District Judge Amit Mehta, who ruled the actions of the group leader amounted to terrorism. Rhodes is one of 10 defendants convicted of seditious conspiracy for their actions, including other Oath Keepers and leaders of the far-right Proud Boys who have yet to be sentenced.
The prison term imposed by Judge Mehta was the longest handed down so far in the government’s prosecution of more than 1,000 people over the storming of the Capitol. The riot involved assaults on 140 police officers and caused more than $2 million in property damage.
“Seditious conspiracy is among the most serious crimes an individual American can commit,” and the motive was that “you didn’t like the new guy,” Judge Mehta told Rhodes, adding that the defendant represented an ongoing threat to the country and to democracy.
Rhodes “clearly had no regrets” about what happened that day, the judge said. “He didn’t have any regret of his own people going in” to the Capitol to stop the vote, the judge said. The Oath Keepers leader was responsible for the actions of his co-conspirators because of his position in the group, as well as his words and actions, Judge Mehta said.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a 25-year sentence, arguing the evidence at trial showed Rhodes “used his powers of persuasion and his platform as leader of the Oath Keepers to radicalise” others.
Rhodes, who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009. The militia group’s members include current and retired US military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders.
They have appeared, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including racial justice demonstrations that followed the 2020 murder in Minneapolis of a black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.
Some of the Oath Keepers breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others staged at a suburban hotel a “quick reaction force” prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington.
Rhodes was on Capitol grounds that day but did not enter the building.
Two others associated with the Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson, are due to be sentenced on Friday. They were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted on other felony charges. Four Oath Keepers members convicted of seditious conspiracy in a second trial are due to be sentenced next week.
Ahead of the sentencing hearings, five law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol and congressional employees who fled to safety during the violence addressed the court on Wednesday.
"We were spit on. We were punched," said Metropolitan Police Department officer Christopher Owens, who choked back tears as he recalled how rioters attacked police officers and called them "traitors."
Officer Harry Dunn of the US Capitol Police told the court he now lives in fear for his family’s safety, calling the attack a nightmare “that plays on a constant loop and never stops.” - Reuters/New York Times
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