Founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers sentenced to 18 years in prison for attack on the U.S. Capitol

Stewart Rhodes

26th May 2023 – (Washington) Stewart Rhodes, founder of the extremist group Oath Keepers, was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison for his role in the 6th January, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes, 58, is the first person convicted of seditious conspiracy in the attack to receive his punishment. His sentence is the longest handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

The Justice Department’s investigation into the January 6 attack has led to seditious conspiracy convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers, who came to Washington prepared to fight to keep then-President Donald Trump in power at all costs.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department will continue to do everything in its power to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the attack on democracy.

In a first for a 6th January case, the judge agreed with the Justice Department that Rhodes’ actions should be punished as “terrorism,” which increases the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. That decision could foreshadow lengthy sentences down the road for other far-right extremists, including former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who have also been convicted of the rarely used charge.

Before announcing Rhodes’ sentence, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta described a defiant Rhodes as a continued threat to the United States and democracy. The judge expressed fear that what happened on Jan. 6 could be repeated, saying Americans will “nowhold our collective breaths every time an election is approaching.”

Rhodes was found guilty of leading a plot to forcibly disrupt the transfer of presidential power. Prosecutors alleged Rhodes and his followers recruited members, amassed weapons, and set up “quick reaction force” teams at a Virginia hotel that could ferry guns into the nation’s capital if they were needed to support their plot. The weapons were never deployed.

Rhodes’ January 2022 arrest was the culmination of a decades-long path of extremism that included armed standoffs with federal authorities at Nevada’s Bundy Ranch. After founding the Oath Keepers in 2009, the Yale Law School graduate built it into one of the largest far-right antigovernment militia groups in the U.S.

During his trial, Rhodes did not use his chance to address the judge to express remorse or appeal for leniency. Instead, he claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticised prosecutors and the Biden administration, and tried to play down his actions on 6th January.

“I’m a political prisoner, and like President Trump, my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country,” said Rhodes, who appeared in Washington’s federal court wearing orange jail clothes.

The judge fired back that Rhodes was not prosecuted for his political beliefs but for actions the judge described as an “offense against the people of the country.”

Rhodes’ sentence may signal the punishment prosecutors will seek for Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy. They will be sentenced in August and September. The Oath Keepers said there was never any plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory. However, prosecutors argued that the Oath Keepers saw an opportunity to further their goal of stopping the transfer of power and sprang into action when the mob began storming the building.