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Oath Keepers leader gets 18 years for US Capitol riot

Prosecutors claimed that Stewart Rhodes organized an armed insurrection on January 6, 2021

FILE PHOTO ©  AP / Andrew Harnik

A federal judge in Washington, DC sentenced Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison on Thursday, calling him an ongoing threat to the US. It was the longest sentence yet in the matter of the January 6 riot at the US capitol, and the first on charges of seditious conspiracy.

“You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country, to the republic and to the very fabric of our democracy,” Judge Amit Mehta told Rhodes at the sentencing. “You are smart, you are compelling, and you are charismatic. Frankly, that is what makes you dangerous.”

Rhodes replied that he was a “political prisoner” and that he felt like the lead character in Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial,’ whose guilt was foreordained. “My goal will be to be an ‘American Solzhenitsyn’ to expose the criminality of this regime,” he told the court.

Prosecutors sought at least 25 years, describing the January 2021 riot as a “brazen attack” that threatened the “most important and vulnerable part of American democracy.” Mehta agreed with their claim that Rhodes had been a leader of the “insurrection” and agreed to classify his actions as terrorism, which drastically increased the length of the sentence.

“What we cannot have – we absolutely cannot have – is a group of citizens who because they didn’t like the outcome [of the election] were then prepared to take up arms in order to foment a revolution,” Mehta told Rhodes. “That’s what you did.”

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An FBI informant embedded in the Oath Keepers had recorded Rhodes saying the group should have come to the Capitol armed and hanged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “from the lamppost.” 

The Indian-born Mehta, appointed by the Democrat president Barack Obama in 2014, has so far handed out the longest sentences in relation to the January 6 riot. Earlier this month, he sentenced Peter Schwartz to 14 years in prison for pepper-spraying police officers at the Capitol, calling the Kentucky man a “soldier against democracy.”

Democrats insist that events of January 6 amounted to an “insurrection” against the US government, a term last used for the Civil War in the 1860s. Thousands of protesters, who supported then-president Donald Trump and believed the 2020 election was ridden with irregularities, objected to Congress rubber-stamping the electoral college results that proclaimed Democrat Joe Biden the winner. At one point, some of the protesters broke through the security fence and into the Capitol building, disrupting the joint session of the House and the Senate for several hours.

A month after the riot, Time magazine revealed that Democrats had told their activists to stay away from the Capitol and avoid trouble, having previously “fortified” the election.


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