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Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right militia Oath Keepers, was sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison on charges of seditious conspiracy over his role in mobilizing the pro-Trump attack on the Capitol in January. 6. 2021.
The sentence, handed down by Washington's federal district court, was the harshest yet in the more than 1,000 criminal cases related to the Capitol bombing — and the first to be increased based on the legal definition of terrorism.
It was also the first awarded to one of ten members of the Oathkeepers and another far-right group, the Proud Boys, who were convicted of sedition in connection with the events of 6 January.
For Rhodes, 58, the verdict marked the end of a turbulent and unusual career that included military service, a stint on Capitol Hill and a law degree from Yale. His role as the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers put him in the spotlight and will now send him to prison for most of his remaining days.
In a dramatic, nearly four-hour hearing, Judge Amit P. Mehta reprimanded Mr. Rhodes for years of trying, under his leadership of the Oath Keepers, to "turn American democracy to violence."
"You, sir," Justice Mehta continued, addressing the defendant directly, "are a constant menace and danger to this country, to the Republic and to the fabric of our democracy."
Earlier in the hearing, prosecutors urged Judge Mehta to sentence Mr. Rhodes 25 years in prison because the violence in the Capitol was responsible and American democracy was at stake.
Kathryn L. Rakoczy, one of the lead prosecutors in the case, told Judge Mehta that Mr. Rhodes had been calling for attacks against the government for more than a decade and that his role in the Jan. 6 attack was part of a long established pattern. .
The leader of the Oath Keepers, Ms. Rakoczy said, used his talents and influence to get his supporters to reject the results of the 2020 election, eventually mobilizing them to storm the Capitol in two separate military-style "stacks." to defend US Capitol President Donald J. Trump in office.
"These are behaviors that threaten and continue to threaten the rule of law in the United States," she said.
Ms Rakoczy also noted that Rhodes had shown no remorse for undermining the legitimate transfer of power and continued to advocate political violence. Just four days ago, she said, Mr Rhodes gave an interview from prison in which he repeated the lie that the election had been marred by fraud and claimed the government was "targeting the political right".
"It won't stop until it stops," Rhodes said during the interview, adding that the country needs "regime change."
As if to prove the government's point, Mr. Rhodes - dressed in an orange prison gown and his trademark black eyepatch - delivered a defiant speech to the court in which he accused the news media of demonizing the Oath Keepers as the masterminds behind the attack on the Capitol. . He also compared himself to the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the beleaguered protagonist of Kafka's The Trial.
"I am a political prisoner," Mr Rhodes said.
The hearing opened a week-long sentencing process for eight other members of the Oath Keepers, who were convicted in two separate trials - innovemberIJanuary— the charges, which include not only seditious conspiracy but obstruction of a congressional process to confirm the 2020 election. One of Mr. Rhodes' deputies, Kelly Meggs, who once ran the group's Florida chapter, was later sentenced to 12 years in prison in a separate trial Thursday.
The trial to convict all the defendants began on Wednesday, as some police officers and congressional officials testified about the horror they witnessed on January 6.
Several spoke tearfully on the witness stand, describing lingering symptoms of post-traumatic stress and guilt among the survivors, especially after many of their peers quit their jobs and some committed suicide in the months following the attack.
"I'm an introverted, depressed shell of my former self," said Harry Dunn, a Capitol police officer who met members of the Oath Keepers in the Capitol rotunda. When Mr. Dunn called the injured officers "real oath keepers" on Jan. 6, glaring at Mr. Rhodes and other members of the group in court.
In lawsuits filed this month, prosecutors emphasized the importance of punishing Mr. Rhodes and his subordinates harshly, saying that the acceptance of political violence in the United States was growing and that long prison terms were necessary as a deterrent against future civil unrest.
"As this court is well aware, the justice system's response on January 6th bears a great deal of responsibility for whether January 6th will be an outlier or a turning point," prosecutors wrote. "If this impulse is not checked, it threatens our democracy."
In court Thursday, prosecutors persuaded Judge Mehta to increase Rhodes' sentence, arguing that his repeated calls for anti-government violence and his plan to deploy an emergency arsenal outside Washington on Jan. 6 should be punished as an act of terrorism.
"It didn't blow up any buildings," Rakoczy said. But "organizing a force" and advocating a "bloody civil war" came "close enough," she said.
The government had asked to use the "terrorism" extension in four previous cases on January 6, but judges - including Justice Mehta - had each time rejected the requests.
From the beginning of the hearing, Mr. Rhodes' lawyers - Phillip Linder and James L. Bright - limited their efforts to seek clemency because they could not fully argue that Mr. Rhodes repents or is no longer a threat to the government. knowing that his Stemwinder testimony would end up in court.
Mr. Bright decided not to say anything. When Mr. Linder spoke, he simply said that the administration had tried to make Mr. Rhodes to "the face of January 6", but that people like Mr. Trump was more responsible for the chaos and violence in the Capitol that day.
In the end, Judge Mehta said he imposed a harsh sentence because seditious conspiracy "is one of the most serious crimes a man can commit in America."
He also scolded Mr. Rhodes and told him that he had not been persecuted for his political beliefs, but because he was "willing to take up arms and start a revolution" simply because he did not like the election results.
"You did," said Judge Mehta. "You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You are here for what you have done."
The trial against Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Meggs and three other defendants — Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell — were a landmark in the Justice Department's full investigation into the attack on the Capitol. The conviction of Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Meggs on riot charges marked the first time federal prosecutors won a riot case since 1995, when a group of Islamist militants were found guilty of plotting to bomb several New York landmarks.
At the beginning of the month, four members of the Proud Boys were also present, including their former leader Enrique Tarrioconvicted of rebellionand will be sentenced in August in a series of court hearings.
Jeffrey S. Nestler, one of the plaintiffs,opened the trial against Mr. Rhodestold the jury that in the weeks following Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s election victory, the leader of the Oath Keepers and his subordinates had "conceived a plan of armed insurrection to destroy a foundation of American democracy": the peaceful transfer of power to the president .
Iclose the government caseSir. Nestler explained that the Oath Keepers plotted against Mr. Biden in violation of both the law and the will of the voters, because they do not like the election results.
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors hundreds of coded text messages from Oath Keepers members that revealed Mr. Rhodes and some of his followers were plagued by strange fears that Chinese agents had infiltrated the American government and that Mr. Biden – which will see him branded a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party and could hand over control of the country to the UN.
Prosecutors also sought to show how Rhodes desperately wanted to contact Trump in the post-election period to persuade him to take extraordinary measures to retain power.
For example, Mr. Rhodes posted an open letter on his website in December 2020I encourage Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrere Act. He believed the law, which is more than two centuries old, would give the president the power to call in militias such as the Oath Keepers to quell the "coup" - allegedly led by Mr Biden and Kamala Harris, the new vice president - who would impeach him.
As part of the conspiracy, prosecutors alleged, Mr. Rhodes a "quick reaction force" of heavily armed Oath Keepers stationed at a Comfort Inn in Arlington County, Virginia, ready to send their weapons to Washington when their compatriots were at the Capitol. they needed. .
Zach Montague contributed coverage.
Alan Feuer deals with extremism and political violence. He joined The Times in 1999. @Alan Fire
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