WASHINGTON– Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday following a significant verdict that found him guilty of orchestrating a weeks-long plot to maintain former President Donald Trump in power.
This plot ultimately resulted in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by far-right extremists on January 6, 2021.
Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of 25 years in prison for Rhodes. His sentencing will take place in a federal court in Washington, D.C., located near the Capitol.
Rhodes will be the first defendant involved in the events of January 6 to be sentenced for seditious conspiracy, and his punishment will serve as a precedent for the sentencing of other members of extremist groups involved in the attack.
Prosecutors argue that Stewart Rhodes continues to pose a threat to American democracy, emphasizing the lasting impact of his plot to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power from former President Trump to President Joe Biden following the 2020 election.
During a court hearing held on Wednesday, police officers and congressional staffers who were present at the Capitol on January 6 shared accounts of the ongoing physical and emotional trauma they have endured.
They recounted engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the rioters for hours and fleeing as the mob roamed the halls in search of lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
These testimonies underscore the severe consequences of the attack and its lasting effects on those who experienced it firsthand.Stewart Rhodes, residing in Granbury, Texas, was convicted in November for seditious conspiracy, along with Oath Keepers’
Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, and four other members of the group were also convicted on the same charge in a subsequent trial in January. Although three of Rhodes’ co-defendants were acquitted of seditious conspiracy, they were found guilty of other offenses.
This case holds significant importance as it represents the Justice Department’s efforts to demonstrate that the Capitol riot orchestrated by right-wing extremists such as the Oath Keepers was not a spontaneous event but rather the result of weeks of planning with the intention of overturning Joe Biden’s election victory.
The prosecution seeks to establish the underlying conspiracy behind the attack and the coordinated actions of extremist groups involved.
Rhodes and Meggs were the first people in nearly 30 years to be found guilty of seditious conspiracy at trial. Meggs will be sentenced after Rhodes on Thursday, while two other Oath Keepers will be sentenced on Friday.
Four additional defendants convicted of seditious conspiracy will be sentenced next week.The judge decided to cancel the scheduled sentencing hearing for Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia.
The judge is considering whether to overturn the jury’s guilty verdict against Caldwell for obstruction and tampering with documents.These convictions dealt a significant blow to the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government militia group founded by Rhodes in 2009.
The group, which recruits from current and former military and law enforcement personnel, promotes the belief that the federal government aims to infringe on citizens’ civil liberties. It portrays its members as defenders against tyranny.
Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers said there was never any plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
The defense tried to seize on the fact that none of the Oath Keepers’ messages laid out an explicit plan to storm the Capitol. But prosecutors said the Oath Keepers saw an an opportunity to further their goal to stop the transfer of power and sprang into action when the mob began storming the building.
Messages, recordings and other evidence presented at trial show Rhodes and his followers growing increasingly enraged after the 2020 election at the prospect of a Biden presidency, which they viewed as a threat to the country and their way of life.
In an encrypted chat two days after the election, Rhodes told his followers to prepare their “mind, body, spirit” for “civil war.”In a conference call days later, Rhodes urged his followers to let Trump know they were “willing to die” for the country.
One Oath Keeper who was listening was so alarmed that he began recording the call and contacted the FBI, telling jurors “it sounded like we were going to war against the United States government.”
Another man testified that after the riot, Rhodes tried to persuade him to pass along a message to Trump that urged the president not to give up his fight to hold onto power.
The intermediary — who told jurors he had an indirect way to reach the president — recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of giving the message to Trump. Rhodes told the man during that meeting that the Oath Keepers “should have brought rifles” on Jan. 6.
The longest sentence in the over 1,000 Capitol riot cases was recently given to a man with a prior criminal record. He received a 14-year prison sentence for assaulting police officers with pepper spray and a chair during the Capitol attack.
Out of the total defendants, approximately 500 have been sentenced. More than half of them have received prison terms, while others have received sentences like probation or home detention.