Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has been sentenced to 18 years in prison after being found guilty of seditious conspiracy against the US for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
The leader of the far-right militia group avoided a 25-year term which prosecutors were pushing for. However, his sentence is the largest yet for those found guilty of involvement in the insurrection of the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
In a trial that lasted two months, it took the jury three days before finding Rhodes guilty of sedition, alongside Oath Keepers Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs. Rhodes’ three co-defendants Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell were not charged.
All five on trial were convicted of obstructing Congress in an attempt to prevent the inauguration of President Biden. According to Federal prosecutors, Rhodes had rallied members to fight for former President Donald Trump following his election defeat, discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and had warned the group that they may have to “rise up in insurrection”.
So, who are the Oath Keepers, who is Stewart Rhodes and what was their role in the January 6 attack? Here’s everything you need to know.
Who are the Oath Keepers?
The Oath Keepers are a far-right, anti-government militia who was founded by Elmer Stewart Rhodes in 2009.
In 2013, under Rhodes leadership the movement set up “Citizen Preservation” teams throughout the US. Before January 6, members would often show up, heavily armed at protests or political events, including during the Black Lives Matter protests which happened in Minneapolis in May 2020.
On January 6, members wearing combat gear were seen taking part in the storming of the Capitol in a bid to prevent President Biden from being sworn into office.
Who is Stewart Rhodes?
Rhodes is the founder of the far-right, anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers which he established in 2009. The 56-year-old, who sports an eye-patch after he accidentally shot out his eye, is a former graduate from Yale Law School.
Born in Fresno, California, he lived between there and Nevada with his mother and grandparents. He joined the army after leaving high school and was honourably discharged in January 1986 after breaking his back in a parachuting accident. He met his estranged wife, Tasha Adams in 1991 whilst working as a valet in Las Vegas.
What have they been found guilty of?
Rhodes and Meggs have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy against the US. The Oath Keeper founder did not go inside the Capitol after it was stormed but was accused of leading the plot and encouraging his members to do so.
According to federal prosecutors, Rhodes had rallied members to fight for Trump following his election defeat, discussing the prospect of a “bloody” civil war and had warned the group that they may have to “rise up in insurrection”.
Meggs, Watkins and Harrelson entered the Capitol wearing tactical gear. Rhodes testified that he was not aware the group’s members would join the mob that stormed the Capitol, saying that those who did were acting “stupid” and outside their mission.
However the prosecution were able to show jurors how he had spent thousands of dollars on an AR-platform rifle, magazines, mounts and sights prior to making his way to the rally at Washington D.C.
Reported by The Washington Post, Attorney General Merrick Garland thanked prosecutors and agents on the case. Garland said: “Today the jury returned a verdict convicting all defendants of criminal conduct, including two Oath Keepers leaders for seditious conspiracy against the United States.” He added: “The Justice Department is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”
In December, four more Oath Keepers members are due to go on trial charged with seditious conspiracy.
What is his sentence?
Rhodes has been sentenced to 18 years behind bars after prosecutors successfully convinced the court that he and his group had prepared for the attack. Meggs is due to be sentenced in the coming days.
Who are the Proud Boys?
The Proud Boys are a far-right, anti-immigrant, all-male group that was created in 2016 by Canadian-British right-wing activist Gavin McInnes.
Former president Trump was accused of defending the group, when in September 2020, after he was asked to condemn white supremacist and militia groups, the former president said: “Proud Boys - stand back and stand by,” which members of the group interpretted as a call to prepare for action.
In October 2022, Jeremy Bertino, a North Carolina Proud Boys leader, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for his role in the attack on the Capitol. Reported by Politico, he stated that following Trump’s 2020 comment, membership for the far-right group grew “Exponentially. I’d say tripled probably.”
In December, Proud Boys former chairman Enrique Tarrio will go on trial also facing seditious conspiracy charges.