Oath Keepers extremist group founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison for orchestrating a weekslong plot that culminated in his followers attacking the US Capitol in a bid to Keep President Joe Biden out of the White House after winning the 2020 election.Rhodes is the first person convicted of seditious conspiracy in the January 6, 2021 attack to receive his punishment, and his sentence is the longest handed down so far in the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.It’s another milestone for the Justice Department’s sprawling January 6 investigation, which has led to seditious conspiracy convictions against the top leaders of two far-right extremist groups authorities say came to Washington prepared to fight to keep former US President Donald Trump in power at all costs.“The Justice Department will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the January 6th attack on our democracy,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.In a first for a January 6 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, US 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 January 6 could be repeated, saying Americans will “now hold our collective breaths every time an election is approaching.”Rhodes did not use his chance to address the judge to express remorse or appeal for leniency but instead claimed to be a “political prisoner,” criticised prosecutors and the Biden administration, and tried to play down his actions. “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.Another Oath Keeper convicted of seditious conspiracy alongside Rhodes — Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs — Was sentenced later on Thursday to 12 years behind bars.Meggs said he was sorry he was involved in the riot that left a “black eye on the country,” but maintained that he never planned to go into the Capitol.Other Oath Keepers are expected to be sentenced on Friday and next week.