- Kristen Doererindependent journalist covering right-wing extremism.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers group, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. It is the longest sentence handed down so far to any participant in the January 6 insurrection, when thousands of Trump supporters stormed the halls of Congress to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. One of Rhodes’s associates, Kelly Meggs, who led the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison. A jury had convicted both men of seditious conspiracy in November. The sentences are a “substantial win for democracy,” says Kristen Doerer, who reports on right-wing extremism and followed the case.
AMY GOODMAN: The far-right founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy for plotting to keep Donald Trump in power after the 2020 election, resulting in the deadly January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. It’s the longest sentence handed down so far for anyone tied to the insurrection. One of Rhodes’ associates, Kelly Meggs, who led the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison. A jury had convicted both men of seditious conspiracy in November.
Following Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump in November 2020, Rhodes told his followers, quote, “We are not getting through this without a civil war,” unquote. Federal prosecutors had accused Rhodes of playing a key role in planning the January 6th insurrection, even though he did not enter the Capitol. Prosecutors described him as a, quote, “general overlooking a battlefield while his troops stormed inside.”
During Thursday’s sentencing, Stewart Rhodes wore an orange prison jumpsuit and claimed he was a political prisoner. Judge Amit Mehta rebuked Rhodes, saying, quote, “What we absolutely cannot have is a group of citizens who, because they did not like the outcome of the election, were then prepared to take up arms and ordered to foment a revolution. That’s what you did,” the judge said. The Justice Department had sought a 25-year sentence.
We’re joined now by Kristen Doerer. She’s an independent journalist covering right-wing extremism.
Kristen, first respond to this verdict, both for Stewart Rhodes — and talk about who he is — and his associate.
KRISTEN DOERER: Thanks for having me.
Yeah, this was a very substantial win for democracy. This was — 18 years is a very long time for Stewart Rhodes to be in prison, and it sends a strong message of deterrence to anybody else who is considering doing — trying to overthrow the government again in 2024 or in future years.
So, Stewart Rhodes is the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers organization. And so, the Oath Keepers is an anti-government extremist organization founded in 2009, and they have this idea that they’re protecting the United States from the federal government. And so they have always, you know, been willing and ready to defy the federal government. And they have heavily recruited from military, former military members, and police officers. And they have had as many as 40,000 people on their membership rolls, though likely they’ve only had a few thousand people as members at a time.
And I will say that they’ve always been very conspiratorial in tone, and they — you know, leaders of the Oath Keepers, like Stewart Rhodes, have suggested that the federal government has been taken over by global elites and that they want to put Americans in concentration camps. So, this is a very conspiratorial, far-right, extremist anti-government organization.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is the most severe and longest penalty of over a thousand criminal cases stemming from the Capitol attack?
KRISTEN DOERER: Yes, this is the most — this is the longest sentence. Before that, it was one other man who had, I think, up to 32 prior convictions and had assaulted police officers, and he was given 14 years. And Kelly Meggs, who you mentioned earlier, the leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 12 years, which is now the third longest. This really sends a strong message of deterrence. It also sends a message to those who are still waiting for their sentencing who have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the fact that Stewart Rhodes wore that orange prison jumpsuit, and the fact that he is saying he is a political prisoner, what he said in the courtroom?
KRISTEN DOERER: Yeah. So, this — you know, this is exactly what he’s been doing since he’s been in prison. You know, he has said that he is a political prisoner — and I don’t want to mess up this quote, so let me just take a quick look at it — but that he promised to, quote, “expose the criminality of this regime” while he was in prison — while he is in prison. And these are still things that he has said during his time waiting to be sentenced. You know, he has said that the election was stolen, which it was not. And he has, you know, said that his only crime is having different political views. But we very well know that he was plotting and planning for a violent overthrow of the U.S. government, and he was just waiting for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act before they brought weapons to the Capitol.
AMY GOODMAN: According to The New York Times, it’s also — this sentencing is the first to be increased for fitting the legal definition of terrorism?
KRISTEN DOERER: Yeah. So, you know, this is something that I think prosecutors were going after when they were seeking that 25-year sentencing. You know, seditious conspiracy holds a charge of 20 years, and so this was something that prosecutors were trying to put, you know, Stewart Rhodes in jail for for a longer period of time. And this is something that, you know, the judge recognized.
AMY GOODMAN: During a recent town hall, CNN town hall, former President Trump said if he’s elected again, he’d be inclined to pardon many of the insurrectionists. The CNN host, Kaitlan Collins, also asked Trump if he had any regrets about his actions on January 6th. This was his response.
DONALD TRUMP: January 6th, it was the largest crowd I’ve ever spoken to. That was prior to the walk down to the Capitol building. I don’t think — and I’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of people. I’ve never spoken to a crowd as large as this. And that was because they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud. They were there with love in their heart. That was an unbelievable, and it was a beautiful day. And what I was asked to do — I wasn’t involved in it very much. I was asked to come in: Would I make a speech? I made a speech. I said, “Walk peacefully and patriotically,” you know, many different things.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to this, Kristen Doerer?
KRISTEN DOERER: Yeah, it’s a bit — it’s unsurprising, in some ways. I mean, we saw, immediately after January 6, Trump, you know — or even during January 6, Trump not wanting to tell the protesters to go home. He has always remained very loyal to those who are unapologetically and loudly for him. And I think he saw the Oath Keepers as tools, as allies, in a certain sense.
And I think he also, you know, is going to say that he’s going to pardon these political — or, these — he’s going to pardon these people whom he calls political prisoners, in an effort to hold onto his base and to gin up enthusiasm. There’s been a major rewrite among the far right and among even the Republican Party to rewrite January 6 into not a national tragedy but a political protest that got out of hand.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the far right likes to call this an inside job, what happened on the day, on the January 6th insurrection. The FBI reportedly got a tip about Oath Keepers’ plans for armed fight in November of 2020. This was well before January 6th. We just have 30 seconds. Why wasn’t this stopped then?
KRISTEN DOERER: You know, this is one of the most frustrating things. You know, even right-wing — researchers for counterextremism, researchers and reporters, have been seeing this violent rhetoric, this — you know, all this activity around January 6. And, you know, there was bad communications, it appears, between the different government agencies. And there were certain people who didn’t take these threats seriously. And that’s something that we’ve seen time and time again, where when it comes to right-wing extremists, those threats are not always taken seriously.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kristen Doerer, I want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist covering right-wing extremism.
Coming up, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee on the legacy of Malcolm X, the making of the film, and the power of history. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Father to Son,” music from the movie Do the Right Thing, composed by Bill Lee, the father of Spike Lee. Bill died on Wednesday at the age of 94.