Washington — Stewart Rhodesthe founder of the far-right group known as the Oath Keepers, is set to be sentenced on Thursday on numerous counts related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitolincluding the serious charge of seditious conspiracy.
Prosecutors have asked a federal judge in Washington, DC, to impose a harsh sentence of 25 years in prison, saying Rhodes and his co-defendants planned to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Rhodes was convicted by a jury last November.
Rhodes – the first defendant on Jan. 6 to be convicted on the serious, seditious charge – “pushed the idea among members of the Oath Keepers and others that with a large enough crowd they could intimidate Congress and its members and impose the will of the conspirators rather than the will of the American people: to stop the certification of the next president of the United States,” the government alleged in pre-sentencing documents.
Prosecutors say he and his fellow Oath Keepers planned the violence before the Capitol breach, communicated via encrypted messages and radios during the attack, and celebrated their actions following it.
“These defendants attempted to silence millions of Americans who had voted for a different candidate, to ignore the variety of legal and judicial mechanisms that legally controlled the electoral process before and on January 6, and to break the system democratic governance enshrined in our laws and in our Constitution,” they wrote. “This conduct has created a grave risk to our democratic system of government and must be dealt with swiftly and severely.”
Rhodes appears Thursday morning before Judge Amit Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to hear his sentence.
His defense lawyers argued for a much lighter sentence, as he has been in jail since his arrest more than a year ago. They previously maintained that there was “no plan to storm the Capitol…No plan to breach the rotunda…No plan to stop voter certification.”
During last year’s eight-week trial, the government presented evidence including encrypted chat messages, recorded meetings and social media posts to prove the defendants made detailed plans to get to Washington before Jan. 6, when lawmakers gathered to count the Electoral College vote and formalize Mr. Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Government lawyers and witnesses said the Oathkeepers’ plans included the building up an arsenal of weapons at a nearby hotel in Virginia, coordinating movements in a so-called Quick Reaction Force unit, and preparing for violence.
A graduate of Yale Law School, Rhodes was the alleged leader of the conspiracy, prosecutors told the jury and pleaded in sentencing notes, calling him the ‘architect’ of the plan who wrote open letters to Trump urging him to try to retain power using an obscure, age-old law known as the Law of Insurrection. “It will be 1776 again,” Rhodes wrote in an Oath Keepers leadership message group. “Might against might is the way to go.”
He was not charged with entering the Capitol on January 6, but admitted to being present near the building that day.
The plan, according to the government, began in earnest on December 19, 2020, when then-President Trump told his supporters to gather for what he said was a “wild” rally in Washington, D.C. , January 6th. prior to the attack, evidence at trial showed that Rhodes’ rhetoric was becoming more extreme, with him discussing revolutions and civil war.
Defense attorneys argued that their clients, including Rhodes, were in Washington to provide security details to high-level Trump supporters attending the rally near the White House that preceded the attack on the Capitol. Evidence at trial showed that numerous defendants, only some of whom would be convicted of sedition, marched through the Capitol building twice during the riot.
Rhodes’ co-defendant, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty on the seditious conspiracy charge, with prosecutors alleging he spearheaded efforts to enter the Capitol. He is due to be sentenced Thursday afternoon.
Three other oath keepers who were tried at the same time – Jessica Watkins, Thomas Caldwell and Kenneth Harrelson – were acquitted of the most serious charge, but convicted of other crimes. During a later trial, four other oath keepers were all found guilty of seditious conspiracy. They are to be condemned in the next few days.
Prosecutors alleged that Jan. 6 was not the culmination of the oath keepers’ alleged plot. Rather, it was part of a larger plan to oppose Mr. Biden’s presidency, a plan that did not end with the certification of Electoral College votes.
They wrote that Rhodes “stands out” among oath keepers because of “the frequency and vehemence” with which he urged his supporters to oppose the election results and “retaliate against the conduct of the government”. Rhodes’ actions, prosecutors argued, deserved special attention and deserved tougher penalties under anti-terrorism laws.
“Rhodes presents a current and unique danger to the community and to our democracy,” they wrote.
Defense attorneys argued at trial that the government failed to prove a real conspiracy to enter the Capitol building, saying their clients spoke in hyperbolic but constitutionally protected ways that did not constitute criminal conduct.
Rhodes’ legal team urged Mehta, the judge, to consider his history as a military veteran and founder of the Oath Keepers, which they described as a “volunteer organization” meant to help with disaster relief and to the protection of the community.
“The character of the Oathkeepers reflects the character of the man who created it,” the lawyers wrote earlier this month in a bid to have him serve time. “Mr. Rhodes gave his life to the Keepers of the Oath.”
“None of his protected speech incited or encouraged imminent violent or unlawful acts,” the defense team argued. “Mr. Rhodes focused at the time on President Trump using his power and authority while still in office.”
Ahead of Thursday’s sentencing, the court heard from victims who said they were affected by the actions of Rhodes and his co-defendants.
“I will never forget how my wife burst into tears and sat on the floor crying when she saw how my arms and legs were bruised, beaten and bloodied,” police officer Christopher said. Owens about the injuries he sustained in the attack.
Former U.S. Senate chamber aide Virginia Brown, who carried the Electoral College votes in the attack, testified that she had to take off her shoes and run across the Capitol to escape the crowds.