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Oath Keepers chief gets 18 years for Jan. 6 plot to attack US Capitol

Sabrina Willmer, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

The leader of the right-wing Oath Keepers group was ordered to serve 18 years in prison for his role in the 2021 attack on the US Capitol and conspiring to use force to keep Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election.

Stewart Rhodes, 58, was sentenced Thursday in Washington 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 on Jan. 6, 2021, including other Oath Keepers and leaders of the far-right Proud Boys who have yet to be sentenced.

The prison term imposed by 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, which disrupted the certification of the election of Joe Biden as president. 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,” 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, Mehta 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, Mehta said.

Federal prosecutors, in court filings, 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 radicalize” others.


“Mr. Rhodes led the conspiracy,” government lawyer Kathryn Rakoczy told the judge at the sentencing hearing. “You can tell by how he acted and talked that he believed he was in charge.” While in custody, Rhodes has continued to advocate for political violence, Rakoczy said. She said a tougher sentence was justified because of the “threat of harm and the historical significance of trying to stop a presidential election for the first time.”

Defense lawyers argued for a much lighter sentence, citing Rhodes’ military service and his organization’s involvement in disaster relief efforts. They said Rhodes’ rhetoric didn’t break any laws and was “protected political speech.”

In the first of three Jan. 6 sedition trials, the US Justice Department spent weeks showing jurors hundreds of messages, video footage and call logs to back up their case that Rhodes and four other defendants coordinated to try to stop Biden from becoming president. Some of the defendants traveled together, stored firearms in a hotel outside of Washington and breached the Capitol building in an organized line, the evidence showed.

The government cast Rhodes as the leader of the plot with his talk of civil war after what he viewed to be a fraudulent presidential election and calls for members to use force if Trump didn’t act to stay in power.


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