18 years in prison for Oath Keepers militia leader Stewart Rhodes
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for “sedition” for his role in the attack on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump in January 2021. According to the prosecution , he had that day led his troops by radio “like a general on the battlefield”.
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One of the figures of the American far right, Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced Thursday, May 25 to 18 years in prison for “sedition”, the highest sentence to date linked to the assault on the Capitol, which had shaken the United States on January 6, 2021.
The founder of the Oath Keepers militia adopted a defiant posture until the end: “I am a political prisoner”, “my only crime is to oppose those who destroy our country”, he launched during of the hearing, in a Washington court.
Federal Judge Amit Mehta snapped him in his place: “You are NOT a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” he said. “You are here because twelve jurors (…) have found you guilty of sedition”, “one of the most serious crimes an American can commit”.
He also justified the severity of the sentence by the leadership role of Stewart Rhodes, a 58-year-old ex-serviceman, in the attack on the congressional headquarters, and his lack of remorse. “You represent a persistent threat and a danger to the country,” asserted the magistrate.
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On January 6, 2021, thousands of supporters of Donald Trump had sown chaos and violence in the temple of American democracy, when elected officials certified the victory of his rival Joe Biden in the presidential election. The sprawling investigation that followed resulted in the arrest of more than 1,000 people. Nearly 300 received prison sentences, the heaviest of which so far was 14 years.
“Like a General”
But only ten activists from far-right groups – six members of the Oath Keepers and four Proud Boys – have been found guilty of “sedition” after three separate trials in Washington.
After weeks of hearings, jurors felt they had prepared, amassing weapons and entering military training in the Capitol to block the formalization of Joe Biden’s victory.
On D-Day, Stewart Rhodes, known for his black eyepatch and fiery rants, remained outside the Capitol but, according to the prosecution, he led his troops by radio “like a general on the battlefield “.
During his trial, the tribune had denied “planning” the attack and maintained that the “mission” of the Oath Keepers was to provide security for the demonstration called by Donald Trump to denounce alleged “electoral fraud”.
Claiming to have been presented with a fait accompli, he had considered it “stupid” that Kelly Meggs, who heads the Florida section of the Oath Keepers, had entered the Capitol. “It opened the door to our political persecution,” he said. Kelly Meggs, also convicted of sedition, was subsequently sentenced to twelve years in prison.
“Enjoy the Chaos”
A former soldier and law graduate from Yale University, Stewart Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, recruiting former soldiers or police officers, initially to fight against the federal state deemed “oppressive”. Like other radical groups, this militia was seduced by Donald Trump’s anti-elite rhetoric and fully subscribed to the allegations of electoral fraud brandished – against all evidence – by the Republican.
In court documents, lawyers for Stewart Rhodes have tried to portray them as “philanthropists”, called upon to deploy to prevent riots, after natural disasters or during demonstrations against police violence. “For Rhodes, imposing the Oath Keepers in crisis situations was not intended to help but to contribute and profit from the chaos,” prosecutors retorted.
Judge Mehta also ruled that the presence of the leader of the Oath Keepers was generally not good news because of his “appetite for violence”. “You’re smart, charismatic and eloquent. That’s what makes you dangerous,” he told her.