Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes sentenced to 18 years in prison for Capitol riot crimes
Rhodes, defiant in speech before sentencing, was convicted of rare seditious conspiracy charge
Stewart Rhodes, the former Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer who founded the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy related to the 2021 U.S. Capitol attack.
It is by far the longest sentence for any of the 1,000-plus people charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack by supporters of Republican then-president Donald Trump in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying Democratic rival Joe Biden's November 2020 election victory. The longest previous sentence was 14 years in prison given to a Pennsylvania man who attacked police during the rampage.
Rhodes was convicted in November by a federal court jury in Washington.
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. Rhodes was acquitted of two other charges.
Rhodes gave a defiant speech before sentencing, likening himself to Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, according to reports.
Judge Amit Mehta rejected the notion of Rhodes being a political prisoner in lengthy remarks before handing down the sentence.
Co-defendant Kelly Meggs, also convicted of seditious conspiracy, was set to be sentenced later Thursday.
Officers say they were traumatized
Ahead of the sentencing hearings, five law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol and congressional employees who fled to safety during the violence addressed the court on Wednesday.
"We were spit on. We were punched," said Metropolitan Police Department officer Christopher Owens, who choked back tears as he recalled how rioters attacked police officers and called them "traitors."
Officer Harry Dunn of the U.S. Capitol Police told the court he now lives in fear for his family's safety, calling the attack a nightmare "that plays on a constant loop and never stops."
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 U.S. military personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders.
They have showed up, often heavily armed, at protests and political events including racial justice demonstrations that followed the May 25, 2020, murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd by a police officer.
LISTEN | Andy Campbell, author of We Are the Proud Boys, on Oct. 13, 2022:
Some of the Oath Keepers breached the Capitol clad in paramilitary gear. Others staged at a suburban hotel a "quick reaction force" that prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported into Washington. Rhodes was on the Capitol grounds that day but did not enter the building.
Two others associated with the Oath Keepers, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson, are due to be sentenced on Friday. They were acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted on other felony charges. Four Oath Keepers members convicted of seditious conspiracy in a second trial are due to be sentenced next week.
The judge postponed a sentencing hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday for Thomas Caldwell, another co-defendant acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other charges.
The sentencing Thursday comes just weeks after former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside other leaders of his far-right group for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to block the transfer of presidential power. The Proud Boys are scheduled to be sentenced in August and September.
With files from the Associated Press