Far-right militia leader receives 18-year prison term for Jan 6 capitol riots

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes speaks during a rally in Berkeley, California on April 15, 2017.—Reuters

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the US Capitol riots.

Rhodes was convicted of conspiracy and other crimes, making his sentence the longest ever given to a capital rioter. Prosecutors had initially sought a 25-year prison sentence for Rhodes. Kelly Maggs, leader of the Oath Keepers Florida chapter, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

During the riot on January 6, 2021, Rhodes did not enter the capitol building but interacted with Maggs and other members who stormed the premises. Both Rhodes and Maggs were also convicted of obstructing official proceedings and tampering with documents. The trial was one of the most high-profile cases involving the capital riots.

Rhodes showed little remorse during the hearing, claiming to be a “political prisoner” and saying the Oath Keepers were opposing people “who are destroying our country.” However, Judge Amit Mehta rejected the claims and expressed concern over Rhodes’ violent rhetoric, including threats to execute former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The judge deemed Rhodes a continuing threat to the country and its democracy.

Prosecutors had asked for 25 years for Rhodes and 21 years for Maggs, while defense attorneys argued for less than three years each. Rhodes, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer, founded Oath Keepers in 2009. Composed of armed anti-government members, the group rose to prominence as staunch supporters of Donald Trump.

Actions by Oath Keepers leading up to the January 6 riots included Rhodes launching a campaign to reject the election results just days after the November 2020 vote. He delivered a message to supporters, urging them to prepare for civil war. The group spent thousands of dollars on weapons and equipment, storing them in a Virginia hotel room near the Capitol. During the commotion, Rhodes remained outside the building, coordinating activities while the other Oathkeepers, including one led by Magus, forced their way inside. Prosecutors described Rhodes as a “battlefield general” during the chaotic events.

Rhodes and Meigs were convicted of conspiracy to commit treason, a rarely used Civil War-era statute that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Defense attorneys plan to appeal the convictions. To date, more than 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the capital riots, more than half of whom have pleaded guilty to various charges. The U.S. Department of Justice has reported nearly 80 guilty verdicts after trials.

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