Founder of far-right US extremist group sentenced to 18 years in jail for insurrection

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes declared an 'ongoing threat' to US over his role in January 6 insurrection at Capitol

Oath Keepers militia founder Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and a Yale-educated lawyer, was convicted in November of seditious conspiracy by a federal jury. Reuters
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A US federal judge sentenced the founder of the far-right militant group the Oath Keepers to 18 years in prison on Thursday for crimes related to the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.

A defiant Rhodes stood in front of the judge before sentencing and insisted he was a “political prisoner”.

“For decades, Mr Rhodes, it is clear you have wanted the democracy of this country to devolve into violence,” US District Judge Amit Mehta said.

“You are not a political prisoner.”

The judge added that he believes Rhodes represents an “ongoing threat” to the country.

Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and a Yale-educated lawyer, was convicted in November of seditious conspiracy by a federal jury in Washington.

Rhodes's prison term represents the longest sentence for any of the 1,000-plus people charged in connection with the Capitol attack undertaken by supporters of then-president Donald Trump in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden's electoral victory.

Until now, the longest sentence was 14 years in prison given to a Pennsylvania man who attacked police during the rampage. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 25 years for Rhodes.

“Mr Rhodes led a conspiracy to use force and violence to intimidate and coerce members of our government into stopping the lawful transfer of power following a presidential election,” federal prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy said.

“As the court has just found, that is terrorism.”

Rhodes claps as he listens to Donald Trump Jr address a rally in El Paso, Texas. AFP

Before his sentencing, Rhodes, clad in an orange jumpsuit, stood before the judge and said his jailing was political and that he, like Mr Trump, was trying to oppose people “who are destroying our country”.

“I believe this country is incredibly divided. And this prosecution – not just of me, but of all J6ers – is making it even worse. I consider every J6er a political prisoner and all of them are being grossly overcharged,” he said.

He also vowed to “to expose the criminality of this regime” from his prison cell.

In addition to seditious conspiracy – a felony charge involving attempting “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States” – Rhodes was convicted of obstructing an official proceeding and tampering with documents. He was acquitted of two other charges.

As part of their sentencing request, prosecutors asked the judge to enhance Rhodes's sentence based on several factors, including his “terroristic conduct”.

Mr Mehta agreed that all of those proposed sentencing enhancements could be applied, saying the evidence showed that Rhodes “was at the top of the chain” and he was culpable for the actions of the entire group.

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 George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer.

Some of the Oath Keepers breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others at a suburban hotel staged 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.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: May 25, 2023, 10:56 PM

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