One of the militia leaders accused of waging "insurrection" on January 6th, Oath Keepers' founder Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday.
The sentence for exceedingly rare "seditious conspiracy" charges is the most severe so far for a January 6th defendant. It's a feather in the cap of Democrats, who have argued for more than two years that January 6th was a planned right-wing attack on the government.
Attorney General Merrick Garland celebrated Rhodes' stiff sentencing as a victory for "our democracy."
The case may be used as a template to pursue President Trump, who Democrats have accused of inciting the riot.
"Like President Trump, my only crime is opposing those who are destroying our country," Rhodes told the court, asserting he is a "political prisoner."
Rhodes, 58, remained outside the Capitol on January 6th, and other Oath Keepers members who went inside said they entered spontaneously once the riot was in progress. They were unarmed, although dressed in "paramilitary" gear.
What did the "plot" consist of? Prosecutors were unable to substantiate a developed conspiracy to attack the Capitol. But they alleged a broader plan to use force to overthrow the government, pointing to weapons the group stashed at a Virginia hotel and fiery chat messages discussing "civil war."
Another Oath Keepers member, Kelly Meggs, was sentenced to 12 years for sedition Thursday. Two others who entered the Capitol with Meggs in a military-style "stack" formation, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson, were sentenced Friday to eight and a half and four years, respectively, for obstruction of an official proceeding.
The judge accepted prosecutors' enhancement for "terrorism" against Rhodes, a first in a January 6th case. Obama appointee Amit Mehta told Rhodes that he is a continued threat to America.
"You present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country,” Mehta told Rhodes. “You are smart, charismatic and compelling and that is frankly what makes you dangerous."
The sentencings leave unaddressed questions about the government's relationship with groups like the Oath Keepers. Rhodes' "number two" was an FBI informant in the months before January 6th.
Four leaders of the Proud Boys were also convicted of "seditious conspiracy" earlier this month after a trial that uncovered significant federal infiltration of the right-wing group. The two cases are the most significant in the DOJ's sprawling investigation, which has brought charges against over 1,000 people.
Rhodes' sentencing was handed down on the third anniversary of the death of George Floyd, which inspired widespread rioting that went largely unpunished. Prosecutors wanted 25 years for Rhodes, arguing it was necessary to send a message about the government's commitment to the "rule of law."