The founder of a far-right extremist group has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for inciting his followers to join the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, was sentenced after being convicted of seditious conspiracy. He is the first of those charged with that offence in connection with the riots to be sentenced.
The sentence is the longest that has been handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
US District judge Amit Mehta told Rhodes that he is a continued threat to the US as he wants democracy in the country to “devolve into violence”.
Rhodes insisted he never told anyone to go inside the Capitol building, or went inside himself on 6 January. He called himself a “political prisoner” and compared himself to Donald Trump.
“My only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country,” Rhodes said, moments before the judge handed down the sentence.
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His lawyer, who is planning to appeal against his conviction, said prosecutors are unfairly trying to make him “the face” of 6 January.
As of 13 January 2023, 11 people were charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the Capitol riots.
The charge occurs when two or more people in the US conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” the US government, or to levy war against it, or to oppose by force and try to prevent the execution of any law.
Anyone convicted faces up to 20 years in prison.
The charge was rarely used before the Capitol riots, as it is difficult to prove, and harder to win.
Attorney Phillip Linder told the judge that Rhodes could have had many more Oath Keepers come to the Capitol “if he really wanted to”.
Messages, recordings and other evidence presented at his trial showed Rhodes and his followers grew increasingly enraged after the 2020 election at the prospect of a Biden presidency, which they viewed as a threat to the country.
In an encrypted chat two days after the election, Rhodes told his followers to prepare their “mind, body, spirit” for “civil war”.
Days later, during a conference call, Rhodes urged his followers to let Trump know they were “willing to die” for the country.
Before Thursday, the longest sentence in the more than 1,000 Capitol riot cases was 14 years for a man with a long criminal record who attacked police officers with pepper spray and a chair as he stormed the Capitol.
Another Oath Keeper – Kelly Meggs – who was convicted alongside Rhodes in November, was expected to receive his sentence later.
Four other members found guilty of seditious conspiracy are scheduled to be sentenced next week, while another two, acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of other offences, will be sentenced on Friday.
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Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers group promotes the belief that the federal government is out to strip citizens of their civil liberties and wills on its followers to defend against what it describes as tyranny.