WASHINGTON — The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers has been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol following his conviction on seditious conspiracy.
The sentence for Stewart Rhodes is the longest imposed on a Jan. 6 defendant to date. In a politically-charged speech in the courtroom just before his sentencing, he called himself a "political prisoner" and said that when he talked about "regime change" in a phone call with supporters earlier this week, he meant he hopes that former President Donald Trump will win in 2024.
The judge disagreed that Rhodes had been locked up for politics, saying it was his actions that led to his criminal convictions.
“You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy," Judge Amit Mehta said before handing down the sentence.
Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy in November along with Kelly Meggs, a fellow Oath Keepers member.
"They won't fear us until we come with rifles in hand," Rhodes wrote in a message ahead of the Jan. 6 attack. After the attack, in a recording that was played in court during his trial, he said his only regret was that they “should have brought rifles.”
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit Thursday, Rhodes said he believes the only crime he committed was opposing those who are “destroying our country.”
Mehta told Rhodes that he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy “not because of your beliefs, not because you supported the other guy, not because Joe Biden is president right now,” but because of the facts of the case, and his actions before, during and after Jan. 6.
“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” he said.
Meggs was also sentenced by Judge Mehta Thursday, to 12 years in federal prison. Mehta said Meggs did not pose the same continuing threat as Rhodes and a shorter sentence was more appropriate. The 12-year sentence for Meggs is the third longest handed down for a Jan. 6 defendant.
An emotional Meggs delivered a statement and apologized to his family for the pain and suffering he’d caused them. Meggs’ sister, brother and son were in the courtroom — his wife Connie, who also participated in the Jan. 6 riot and has been separately convicted on multiple counts, was not present.
“I want to apologize to those that I’ve disappointed and let down,” Meggs said. “My deepest regret is the pain and suffering I’ve caused my family.”
Rhodes and Meggs were put on trial alongside Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell, fellow Oath Keepers who were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, but not seditious conspiracy. Watkins and Harrelson will be sentenced Friday.
Rhodes took the stand in his case, saying at the trial that the other members of the Oath Keepers were "stupid" to storm the Capitol and that he disagreed with those who went inside; Rhodes did not enter the building. “I had no idea that any Oath Keeper was even thinking about going inside or would go inside,” he said.
But the government also produced messages in which Rhodes said he thought that Jan. 6 was the last opportunity to stop what he saw as a takeover of the government.
"On the 6th, they are going to put the final nail in the coffin of this Republic, unless we fight our way out. With Trump (preferably) or without him, we have no choice," Rhodes wrote in a message ahead of Jan. 6.
He also celebrated Oath Keepers' actions in the immediate aftermath of the attack, after meeting with other members of the group at an Olive Garden restaurant in Virginia that night.
“Patriots, it was a long day but a day when patriots began to stand," he wrote the night of Jan. 6. "Stand now or kneel forever. Honor your oaths. Remember your legacy."
Prior to Thursday's sentence, Peter Schwartz, who was armed with a wooden tire knocker and engaged in a series of assaults on officers during the Capitol attack, had received the longest time behind bars for a Jan. 6 defendant: just more than 14 years. Schwartz had 38 prior convictions.