Stewart Rhodes, the chief of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in jail for his conviction on seditious conspiracy fees for the function he performed in serving to to mobilize the pro-Trump assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The sentence, handed down in Federal District Courtroom in Washington, was probably the most extreme penalty thus far within the greater than 1,000 legal instances stemming from the Capitol assault — and the primary to be elevated for becoming the authorized definition of terrorism.
It was additionally the primary to have been given to any of the ten members of the Oath Keepers and one other far-right group, the Proud Boys, who have been convicted of sedition in reference to the occasions of Jan. 6.
For Mr. Rhodes, 58, the sentence was the top of a tumultuous and weird profession that included Military service, a stint on Capitol Hill and a legislation diploma from Yale. His function because the Oath Keepers’ founder and chief thrust him into the highlight and can now ship him to jail for what’s prone to be the higher a part of his remaining days.
At a dramatic, almost four-hour listening to, Choose Amit P. Mehta chided Mr. Rhodes for searching for for years by his management of the Oath Keepers to have American democracy “devolve into violence.”
“You, sir,” Choose Mehta went on, immediately addressing the defendant, “current an ongoing risk and a peril to this nation, to the Republic and the very material of our democracy.”
Because the listening to opened, prosecutors urged Choose Mehta to condemn Mr. Rhodes to 25 years in jail, arguing that accountability was wanted for the violence on the Capitol and that American democracy was on the road.
Kathryn L. Rakoczy, one of many lead prosecutors within the case, informed Choose Mehta that Mr. Rhodes had been calling for assaults towards the federal government for greater than a decade and that his function within the Jan. 6 assault was a part of a longstanding sample.
The Oath Keepers chief, Ms. Rakoczy mentioned, exploited his skills and affect to goad his followers into rejecting the outcomes of the 2020 election and finally mobilized them into storming the Capitol in two separate military-style “stacks” in a violent effort to maintain President Donald J. Trump in workplace.
“It’s conduct that threatened — and continues to threaten — the rule of legislation in america,” she mentioned.
Ms. Rakoczy additionally famous that Mr. Rhodes had proven no regret for undermining the lawful transition of energy and continued to advocate political violence. Simply 4 days in the past, she mentioned, Mr. Rhodes gave an interview from jail, repeating the lie that the election had been marred by fraud and asserting that the federal government was “coming after these on the political proper.”
“It’s not going to cease till it’s stopped,” Mr. Rhodes mentioned throughout the interview, including that the nation wanted “regime change.”
As if to show the federal government’s level, Mr. Rhodes — in an orange jail smock and his trademark black eye patch — gave a defiant handle to the court docket, blaming the information media for demonizing the Oath Keepers for main the Capitol assault. He additionally in contrast himself to the Soviet-era dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and to the beleaguered most important character within the Kafka novel “The Trial.”
“I’m a political prisoner,” Mr. Rhodes mentioned.
The listening to opened per week of sentencing proceedings for eight different members of the Oath Keepers who have been convicted at two separate trials — in November and January — of fees that included not solely seditious conspiracy but additionally the obstruction of a congressional continuing to certify the 2020 election. One among Mr. Rhodes’ deputies, Kelly Meggs, who as soon as led the group’s Florida chapter, was set to be sentenced in a while Thursday.
The method for sentencing all of the defendants started on Wednesday, when some cops and congressional employees members testified in regards to the horror they skilled on Jan. 6.
A number of spoke by tears on the witness stand, describing lasting signs of post-traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt, notably after lots of their colleagues resigned and a few died by suicide within the months after the assault.
“I’m an introverted, depressed shell of my former self,” mentioned Harry Dunn, a Capitol Police officer who encountered members of the Oath Keepers within the Capitol rotunda. When Mr. Dunn referred to the officers who have been injured on Jan. 6 as “actual oath keepers,” he shot an offended look towards Mr. Rhodes and different members of the group within the courtroom.
In court docket papers filed this month, prosecutors dwelled on the significance of severely punishing Mr. Rhodes and his subordinates, stating that the acceptance of political violence was on the rise in america and that prolonged jail phrases have been wanted to function a deterrent towards future unrest.
“As this court docket is properly conscious, the justice system’s response to Jan. 6 bears the weighty accountability of impacting whether or not Jan. 6 turns into an outlier or a watershed second,” the prosecutors wrote. “Left unchecked, this impulse threatens our democracy.”
In court docket on Thursday, prosecutors persuaded Choose Mehta to extend Mr. Rhodes’ sentence by arguing that his repeated requires violence towards the federal government and his plan to stage an arsenal of weapons outdoors Washington in case of an emergency on Jan. 6 must be punished as an act of terrorism.
“This wasn’t blowing up a constructing,” Ms. Rakoczy mentioned. However “organizing an armed drive” and advocating “bloody civil conflict” got here “fairly shut,” she mentioned.
The federal government had requested to use the terrorism enhancement in 4 earlier Jan. 6 instances, however judges — together with Choose Mehta — had denied the requests every time.
From the outset of the listening to, Mr. Rhodes’ legal professionals — Phillip Linder and James L. Shiny — have been constrained of their efforts to ask for leniency, unable to completely declare that Mr. Rhodes was remorseful or now not offered a risk to the federal government, understanding that his stemwinder assertion to the court docket was coming.
Mr. Shiny determined to not say something. When Mr. Linder spoke, he merely mentioned that the federal government had tried to make Mr. Rhodes “the face of Jan. 6,” however that figures like Mr. Trump have been extra answerable for the chaos and violence on the Capitol that day.
Ultimately, Choose Mehta mentioned he had imposed a harsh sentence as a result of seditious conspiracy was “among the many most severe crimes a person in America can commit.”
He additionally scolded Mr. Rhodes, telling him that he had not been prosecuted due to his political opinions however reasonably as a result of he had “ready to take up arms and foment revolution” just because he didn’t just like the outcomes of an election.
“That’s what you probably did,” Choose Mehta mentioned. “You’re not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You’re right here due to your actions.”
The trial of Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Meggs and three different defendants — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — was a milestone within the Justice Division’s sprawling investigation of the Capitol assault. The convictions of Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Meggs on seditious conspiracy fees was the primary time that federal prosecutors had received a sedition case since 1995, when a bunch of Islamic militants was discovered responsible of plotting to bomb a number of landmarks in New York.
At first of the month, 4 members of the Proud Boys — together with their former chief, Enrique Tarrio — have been additionally convicted of sedition and are scheduled to be sentenced in a sequence of listening to in August.
Jeffrey S. Nestler, one of many prosecutors, opened Mr. Rhodes’ trial by telling the jury that within the weeks after Joseph R. Biden Jr. received the election, the Oath Keepers chief and his subordinates “concocted a plan for an armed rise up to shatter a bedrock of American democracy”: the peaceable switch of presidential energy.
In closing the government’s case, Mr. Nestler declared that the Oath Keepers had plotted towards Mr. Biden, ignoring each the legislation and the need of voters, as a result of they hated the outcomes of the election.
On the trial, prosecutors confirmed the jury lots of of encrypted textual content messages by Oath Keepers members, demonstrating that Mr. Rhodes and a few of his followers have been in thrall to outlandish fears that Chinese language brokers had infiltrated the U.S. authorities and that Mr. Biden — whom they referred to as a “puppet” of the Chinese language Communist Get together — would possibly cede management of the nation to the United Nations.
Prosecutors additionally sought to reveal how all through the postelection interval, Mr. Rhodes was determined to contact Mr. Trump and persuade him to take extraordinary measures to take care of energy.
In December 2020, for instance, Mr. Rhodes posted an open letter on his web site urging Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, a greater than two centuries-old legislation that he believed would give the president the ability to name up militias just like the Oath Keepers to suppress the “coup” — purportedly led by Mr. Biden and Kamala Harris, the incoming vp — that was searching for to unseat him.
As a part of the plot, prosecutors maintained, Mr. Rhodes positioned a “fast response drive” of closely armed Oath Keepers at a Consolation Inn in Arlington County, Va., able to rush their weapons into Washington if their compatriots on the Capitol wanted them.
Zach Montague contributed reporting.