Stewart Rhodes Sentenced to 18 Years Behind Bars for Seditious Conspiracy
Updated: Aug 2
Judge Imposes 18-Year Prison Sentence to Oath Keepers Leader for Seditious Conspiracy Crimes
Thursday, May 25, 2023, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, and Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the organization, were sentenced in U.S. District Court for offenses related to the Capitol breach that occurred on January 6, 2021. The court found that the defendants had been plotting for weeks, if not months, to oppose a peaceful transfer of power.
Oath Keepers' Planning of January 6th
The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the defendants had been plotting to forcibly oppose the transfer of presidential power following the 2020 election. The Oath Keepers is a loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. Beginning in late December 2020, the defendants used encrypted and private communications applications to coordinate travel to Washington, D.C. for January 6, 2021.
They staged an armed "Quick Reaction Force" at a hotel near the Capitol. Leading up to January 6th 2021, the Oath Keepers held training sessions, purchased weapons, and communicated with Trump's allies. Stewart Rhodes personally purchased $33K worth of guns and equipment on his way to DC.
Map Showing Stewart Rhodes Spent Thousands on Weapons En Route to D.C.
[See the complete timeline of the Planning of the January 6th Attack at the Capitol]
Private, encrypted chat messages from Steward Rhodes to members of the Oath Keepers in preparation for civil war in the days before January 6th, 2021.
"We must now do what the people of Serbia did when Milosevic stole their election. - Refuse to accept it and march en-mass on the nation's Capitol."
"I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside, and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in armed, if they have to [...] We hope [the President] will give us the orders. We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia."
"It will be a bloody and desperate fight. We are going to have a fight. That can't be avoided."
"We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen."
Sentences for Rhodes and Meggs
Rhodes, 57, of Granbury, Texas, was sentenced to 18 years in prison and 36 months of supervised release, making it the longest sentence related to the incident.
Meggs, 53, of Dunnellon, Florida, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and 36 months of supervised release.
Justice Department Response
U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement, “Today’s sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions.” U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves also commented, “More people were convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the siege of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, than any other criminal event since the statute was enacted during the Civil War.”
Judge Amit Mehta Handing Down the Sentence
Before delivering the 18-year prison sentence, Judge Amit Mehta delivered a chilling address to Rhodes about the consequences of his actions in the US Capitol attack.
“I dare say, Mr. Rhodes – and I never have said this to anyone I have sentenced – you pose an ongoing threat and peril to our democracy and the fabric of this country,” Mehta said. “I dare say we all now hold our collective breaths when an election is approaching. Will we have another January 6 again? That remains to be seen.”
Judge Describes the Offense of Seditious Conspiracy
The judge took the opportunity to explain to the public the seriousness of a seditious conspiracy and laid out the crimes in detail.
Mehta said that a seditious conspiracy is “among the most serious crimes an American can commit. It is an offense against the government to use force. It is an offense against the people of our country. It is a series of acts in which you and others committed to use force, including potentially with weapons, against the government of the United States as it transitioned from one president to another. And what was the motive? You didn’t like the new guy.”
The judge granted a request by the Justice Department to enhance the potential sentence against Rhodes, ruling that his actions amounted to domestic terrorism.
“He was the one giving the orders. He was the one organizing the teams that day. He was the reason they were in fact in Washington, DC. Oath Keepers wouldn’t have been there but for Stewart Rhodes, I don’t think anyone contends otherwise. He was the one who gave the order to go, and they went.”
Judge Highlights the Heroism and Bravery of US Capitol Staff
During the sentencing hearing, Mehta acknowledged the bravery of police officers and congressional staffers who were at the Capitol on January 6th and put their bodies on the line to protect democracy.
“The other enduring legacy is what we saw yesterday. It is the heroism of police officers and those working in Congress … to protect democracy as we know it. That is what they are doing.”
Stewart Rhodes Expresses No Remorse
Rhodes addressed the court for 20 minutes repeating false claims about the 2020 election fraud, calling himself a political prisoner and expressing his desire to continue fighting.
Mehta, however, noted that the defendant has expressed no remorse and continues to be a threat.
“It would be one thing, Mr. Rhodes, if after January 6 you had looked at what happened that day and said … that was not a good day for our democracy. But you celebrated it, you thought it was a good thing. Even as you have been incarcerated you have continued to allude to violence as an acceptable means to address grievances.”
Mehta concluded that American democracy does not work if citizens resort to violence as a way to address grievances.
“We are all the objects of your plans to – and your willingness to – engage in violence. Nothing has changed, Mr. Rhodes, nothing has changed. And the reality is as you sit here today and as we heard you speak, the moment you are released you will be prepared to take up arms against our government.”