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U.S. seek 25 years for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes in seditious conspiracy case

Prosecutors said Rhodes “used his talents for manipulation to goad more than twenty other American citizens into using force, intimidation, and violence" on Jan. 6.
Image: Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes was found guilty of seditious conspiracy in November.Susan Walsh / AP file

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors want the founder of the Oath Keepers sentenced to 25 years in federal prison, writing that members of the far-right organization were "prepared to fight" Jan. 6 and that Stewart Rhodes should receive a terrorism sentencing enhancement for trying to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power and keep Donald Trump in office.

Rhodes should receive 25 years in federal prison, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed late Friday, while eight of his co-defendants should receive prison sentences of between 10 and 21 years.

Rhodes and fellow Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in November, while three of their co-defendants — Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell — were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting. Other members of the Oath Keepers, Roberto Minuta, Ed Vallejo, Joseph Hackett and David Moerschel, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in a separate trial in January.

Prosecutors are seeking 21 years for Meggs, 18 years for Watkins, 17 years for Minuta, 17 years for Vallejo, 15 years for Harrelson, 14 years for Caldwell, 12 years for Hackett and 10 years for Moerschel. Rhodes will be sentenced May 25, while other defendants will be sentenced in a series of hearings set for May 24, May 26, June 1 and June 2.

Last week, four members of the Proud Boys were also found guilty of seditious conspiracy, bringing the total number of defendants found guilty of that rare charge in connection with the Jan. 6 attack to 14. (Three other members of the Oath Keepers — William Todd Wilson, Joshua James and Brian Ulrich — pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last year. One Proud Boy, Jeremy Bertino, pleaded guilty to the seditious conspiracy charge and testified at trial.)

Prosecutors wrote that the "scope and scale of Rhodes’ conduct in calling for and conspiring to perpetrate violence against the U.S. government to change the results of a presidential election and retaliate against Congress for certifying those results merits" increasing the amount of time he spends in prison because the attack was a crime of terrorism.

"Defendant Rhodes stands out among the conspirators for the frequency and vehemence with which he urged his followers to use intimidation and coercion to influence and affect the conduct of government (to stop the lawful transfer of power from President Trump to President Elect-Biden) and to retaliate against government conduct (for failing to intercede to change the election result to his desired outcome)," prosecutors wrote.

Stewart Rhodes
U.S. Attorney's Office for D.C.

Seditious conspiracy, prosecutors wrote, "is an egregious offense for which defendants are rarely convicted and sentenced," noting that "very few defendants have been sentenced since the advent of the Sentencing Guidelines" but that those who were sentenced "typically receive lengthy terms of incarceration."

Prosecutors cited a case involving the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, noting that the defendants were "sentenced under the Treason guidelines" and received sentences ranging from 25 years to life in prison. Prosecutors also mentioned a 2004 case in which the two co-defendants who planned to travel to Afghanistan to fight alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban were sentenced to 18 years, and a 2009 case in which a defendant who provided material support for a plan to attack targets in the U.S. was given 13½ years.

Prosecutors said Rhodes "used his talents for manipulation to goad more than twenty other American citizens into using force, intimidation, and violence to seek to impose their preferred result on a U.S. presidential election" and deserved 300 months in federal prison.

"The Court saw evidence at trial of Rhodes’ talent at finding and exploiting potential followers’ manipulation points," prosecutors wrote. "Co-conspirators Jason Dolan, Graydon Young, and Caleb Berry all provided powerful testimony about how Rhodes’ framing of that moment in time—as a critical turning point in an ongoing battle against a tyrannical government—gave them purpose and meaning that was lacking in their lives for different reasons. Rhodes’ messages and speeches are clearly designed to radicalize his followers."

The longest sentence imposed for a Jan. 6 defendant so far has gone to Peter Schwartz, a rioter with a lengthy criminal record who was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison Friday. The prior record, 10 years in prison, was set at the sentencing of former New York City Police Officer Thomas Webster.

About 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and hundreds more cases are in the works.