Oath Keepers Leader Stewart Rhodes Sentenced to 18 Years for Involvement in Capitol Riot
Stewart Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keepers far-right militia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on May 26, 2023. He was found guilty for his participation in the well-known Capitol riot of January 6, 2021. This landmark case marks the longest sentence handed down to a Capitol rioter thus far, surpassing the previous record. Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, was convicted on charges of seditious conspiracy and other related crimes, while his accomplice, Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter, received a 12-year sentence.
During the trial, it was revealed that although Rhodes himself did not physically enter the Capitol building, he actively coordinated with Meggs and other members who stormed the premises. This coordination involved acts of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents or proceedings. The trial gained significant attention due to its high-profile nature and the gravity of the charges.
In court, Rhodes displayed minimal remorse for his actions and even went so
far as to declare himself a "political prisoner." He asserted that the Oath Keepers were opposing those who were supposedly "destroying our country." However, Judge Amit Mehta dismissed Rhodes' claims and expressed deep concern about his violent rhetoric, including a threat to harm former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Judge Mehta went on to state that Rhodes posed an ongoing threat to the country, the republic, and the very fabric of democracy.
The sentencing of Stewart Rhodes represents a crucial step in holding those responsible for the Capitol riot accountable for their actions. It serves as a reminder that the events of January 6, 2021, were not to be taken lightly and that the consequences for attempting to undermine the democratic process are severe. Furthermore, Judge Mehta's comments about the potential for future unrest emphasize the importance of safeguarding against similar incidents in the future.
Leading up to the riot, Rhodes initiated a campaign to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election, messaging
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his supporters with statements like, "We aren't getting through this without a civil war… Prepare your mind, body, spirit." Subsequently, he and other Oath Keepers invested substantial sums of money in weapons and equipment, which they stashed in a nearby Virginia hotel. While Rhodes himself stayed outside the Capitol, he continued to communicate with the Oath Keepers inside, acting as a "battlefield general" during the chaotic events of the riot.
Defense lawyers argued that the weapons stash was never utilized and that the Oath Keepers were on a defensive mission. They intend to appeal the convictions, aiming for lighter sentences of less than three years each. However, the court ruled in favor of the prosecutors, who sought a more severe sentence for Rhodes using a "terrorism enhancement." The prosecution argued that the Oath Keepers had employed "intimidation or coercion" against the US government, justifying the enhanced punishment.
The Oath Keepers' involvement in the Capitol riot sheds light on the significance of extremist groups and
their potential to incite violence and undermine the democratic process. While most of the rioters were not affiliated with organized groups, the actions of Rhodes and the Oath Keepers serve as a sobering reminder of the dangers posed by such extremist ideologies.
Since the events of January 6, 2021, over 1,000 individuals have been arrested in connection with the riot, with more than half pleading guilty to various charges. These charges include assault, theft, weapons offenses, trespassing, and obstructing an official proceeding. Additionally, around 80 individuals have been found guilty following trials, according to the US Justice Department.
The sentencing of Stewart Rhodes and other individuals involved in the Capitol riot underscores the commitment of law enforcement agencies to bring justice to those who sought to disrupt the democratic process. As the nation continues to grapple with the aftermath of the riot, this significant legal outcome serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding the rule of law and defending the foundations of democracy.