WASHINGTON, May 25 (Reuters) – The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers movement, Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, the longest sentence imposed to date during the 6 January in the US Capitol that aimed to keep Donald Trump in the White House.
US District Judge Amit Mehta handed down the sentence after a defiant Rhodes stood before him in an orange jumpsuit and claimed he was a ‘political prisoner’ who, like Trump, was trying to oppose people “who are destroying our country”.
“For decades, Mr. Rhodes, it is clear that you wanted the democracy of this country to escalate into violence,” Mehta told him.
“I dare say, Mr. Rhodes, and I have never said this about anyone whom I have convicted: you, sir, present a permanent threat and peril to this country, to the republic and to the very fabric of our democracy.”
Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper turned Yale-trained lawyer, was convicted in November by a jury in federal court in Washington.
Rhodes’ prison sentence marks the longest sentence for any of more than 1,000 people charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by supporters of then-Republican President Trump in the part of a failed attempt to block Congress from certifying Democratic rival Joe Biden. Victory in the November 2020 elections.
The longest sentence so far was 14 years in prison for a Pennsylvania man who attacked police during the rampage.
Prosecutors had requested a 25-year sentence for Rhodes.
“Mr. Rhodes led a conspiracy to use force and violence to intimidate and coerce members of our government to prevent the lawful transfer of power following a presidential election,” said federal prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy. “As the court has just found, this is terrorism.”
Rhodes expressed no remorse and instead accused the far left of destroying America.
“I think this country is incredibly divided. And this lawsuit – not just against me, but against all J6ers – only makes things worse. I consider every J6er a political prisoner and all are grossly overcharged,” he said.
He also vowed to “expose the criminality of this regime” from his prison cell.
In addition to seditious conspiracy – a felony charge involving an attempt to “overthrow, overthrow, or destroy by force the government of the United States” – Rhodes was convicted of obstructing official process and falsifying documents. Rhodes was acquitted on two other counts.
Rhodes, who wears an eye patch after accidentally shooting himself in the face with his own gun, founded the Oath Keepers in 2009.
Members of the militant group 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 protests that followed the 2020 killing in Minneapolis of a black man named George Floyd by a white police officer.
Mehta also sentenced co-defendant Kelly Meggs, a former Florida chapter leader also convicted of seditious conspiracy, to 12 years in prison on Thursday.
Prosecutors have asked Mehta to sentence Meggs, the former head of the group’s Florida chapter, to 21 years in prison, though members of Meggs’ family have urged the judge to consider the defendant’s good qualities as protector and provider in his role as father, brother and husband. .
Meggs’ wife, Connie, was also convicted separately in a separate trial along with other Oath Keepers associates for their roles in the attack on the Capitol.
“I really apologize for being here,” Kelly Meggs said in tears. “It not only destroyed my life, but the life of my whole family.”
Meggs admitted he should never have entered the grounds of the Capitol, but he nonetheless denied planning his actions in advance, and he blamed his “despicable and hateful language” for leading to his conviction. .
Meggs, who in addition to seditious conspiracy was also convicted of four other crimes including obstruction of official process, led a group of oath keepers dressed in paramilitary gear to the Capitol on January 6.
Others, meanwhile, organized a “quick reaction force” at a hotel near Arlington, Va., which prosecutors said was equipped with firearms that could be quickly transported to Washington.
Although Rhodes’ lawyers have vowed to appeal the sentence, they told reporters outside the courthouse they were pleasantly surprised Mehta did not impose a harsher sentence.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Mark Porter
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