Moments before being sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy in connection with the Capitol riot, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes went on an unhinged, politically charged rant—and continued to pledge fealty to the former president who landed him in prison in the first place.
“I’m a political prisoner,” Rhodes, clad in an orange prison uniform, said from the podium in D.C. federal court on Thursday. “I feel like I’m the lead character in Kafka’s The Trial.”
Rhodes was found guilty in November of seditious conspiracy and evidence tampering in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection that forced dozens of elected officials into hiding for hours and left several people dead. The far-right leader was convicted of the rare Civil War-era charge alongside Florida Oath Keeper leader Kelly Meggs, who is set to be sentenced on Thursday afternoon.
Prior to his sentencing, Rhodes stressed that he never entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 and noted that his only crime—like Donald Trump— was “opposing those who are destroying our country.”
“This country is incredibly divided..and this prosecution…is making it worse” he added, before saying he hoped Trump won again in 2024..
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta seemed to disagree. In a searing speech, he said Rhodes was not a political prisoner and a jury convicted him of one of the “most serious crimes an individual American can commit.”
“It’s an offense against the government, to use force. It’s an offense against the people of the country,” he said.
During Rhodes’ sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that Rhodes and his fellow Oath Keepers plotted for months to subvert democracy, unlike the hundreds of other rioters who showed up to the Capitol under a false belief that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. While Rhodes did not physically enter the Capitol, prosecutors said, he organized an “armed force” that he directed from afar.
Prosecutors urged Mehta to give him 25 years in prison, the largest sentence in connection with the Capitol riots. Mehta also approved Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy’s request to apply a terrorism enhancement to Rhodes’ sentencing after Rakoczy argued that Rhodes set up an armed force outside D.C. and advocated for a civil war.
The terrorism enhancement marks the first time the penalty provision has been approved in the hundreds of Jan. 6 criminal cases, according to The New York Times.
“Treason has been determined to be the appropriate analogue,” Mehta said.
Rhodes’ defense, however, asked Mehta for time served, arguing that their client had already been in jail for over a year and did not actually storm the Capitol. Defense attorney Philip Linder said during a sentencing hearing that “there were no orders or plans by the Oath Keepers to go into the Capitol” on the day of the riots.
“Assisting fellow citizens in times of natural disasters, protecting them when under siege from rioters, and upholding the United States Constitution are not ‘extreme’ ideals, they are American ideals,” attorneys James Lee Bright and Phillip A. Linder wrote a pre-sentencing memo.
Throughout the landmark seven-week trial, prosecutors showed jurors audio recordings and text messages to prove that the Oath Keepers had planned to block the 2020 election certification just days after Biden was declared the new president. In these months-long discussions, Rhodes rallied the Oath Keepers to defend Trump and warned about having to “rise up in insurrection.” Jurors also watched videos of Oath Keepers on the day of the riots wearing combat gear and pushing through the MAGA crowd in a military-style formation.
“We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight,” Rhodes said in a recording of a Nov. 9, 2020, meeting revealed in court. “But let’s just do it smart, and let’s do it while President Trump is still commander in chief.”
Rhodes was among three Oath Keepers who testified in their own defense but, unlike the others, he took the opportunity on the stand to throw his fellow members under the bus for breaching the Capitol.
“I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. One, because it wasn’t our mission,” Rhodes told jurors in November. “And two, it opened the door for our political enemies to persecute us. And that’s what happened, and here we are.”