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Stewart Rhodes' Crime Against America
After sentencing him to 18 years in prison, Judge Amit Mehta makes clear the continuing danger of this seditious conspiracist
You probably saw that the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, the longest sentence thus far for anyone connected to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. You might have heard that Judge Amit Mehta—born in India, a graduate of Georgetown University and University of Virginia Law School, appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2014—had strong words for the remorseless felon.
“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.
But I think on this Memorial Day, a day when we remember Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country to defend the U.S. Constitution and our democratic system of government, it’s worth pausing on some of the detail in Judge Mehta’s remarks. They served to explain his reasoning as well as rebut the arrogant Rhodes’ self-serving rant. “I am a political prisoner,” Rhodes said, adding of his time in prison, “My goal will be to be an ‘American Solzhenitsyn’ to expose the criminality of this regime.”
“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. That is not why you are here,” Mehta said. “It is not because of your beliefs. It is not because Joe Biden is the president right now.”
The judge made clear the seriousness of the conviction of seditious conspiracy. “A seditious conspiracy—when you take those two concepts and put it together—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,” Mehta said. “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.”
“What we absolutely cannot have,” he continued, “is a group of citizens who—because they did not like the outcome of an election, who did not believe the law was followed as it should be—foment revolution.”
Referring to Rhodes’ absence of remorse and his continuing attraction to violence, Mehta said, “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.”
He had additional words when addressing Kelly Meggs, another (and more contrite) Oath Keeper defendant who received a lesser sentence of 12 years. “You don’t take to the streets with rifles,” he said. “You don’t hope that the president invokes the Insurrection Act so you can start a war in the streets…You don’t rush into the U.S. Capitol with the hope to stop the electoral vote count…It is astonishing to me how average Americans somehow transformed into criminals in the weeks before and on January 6.”
“Somehow transformed into criminals.” Judge Mehta did not hesitate asserting the key role of Rhodes, actions which he said 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, D.C. 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.”
These words were part of how the judge explained how so many that day in Washington, D.C. turned to violence. But they did not include discussion of the role of one Donald J. Trump in inciting that seditious conspiracy. That’s an indictment and a criminal trial that the nation has yet to see. And it raises the question: If Stewart Rhodes can be tried, convicted and sentenced for 18 years for seditious conspiracy, what about Donald Trump who continues to walk free? This question is more than rhetorical: We await the prosecutorial decision of Special Counsel Jack Smith.
One last note: Consider how many Americans have played a positive role in pushing back against dangerous extremists like Stewart Rhodes who remain convinced of the legitimacy of their violent behavior. In an eight-page letter to Judge Mehta, Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown’s law center, refuted Rhodes’ contention that he should receive a lighter sentence because of his founding work for the paramilitary Oath Keepers.
“Mr. Rhodes contends that the Oath Keepers is not an ‘extremist’ organization, but one that is quintessentially ‘American’ in its focus on mutual aid in times of crisis and upholding the United States Constitution,” McCord wrote. “This characterization ignores the many instances of illegal, dangerous, and insurrectionist activity that has been the hallmark of the Oath Keepers since its founding.
“Mr. Rhodes molded the Oath Keepers into central players in a coalition of anti-government extremists that has grown into one of the most significant threats to U.S. national security,” she continued. “Contrary to the revisionist history offered by Mr. Rhodes, under his leadership the Oath Keepers joined in several high-profile standoffs between a newly re-energized militia movement and the federal government, which were fueled by often violent conspiracy theories about the perceived tyranny of the federal government under the leadership of then-President Barack Obama.
“Following the election of former President Donald Trump, Mr. Rhodes increasingly aligned himself with the most violent and militant figures on the far-right, and began to threaten President Trump’s opponents with civil war years before the insurrection on January 6th.”
On this Memorial Day, we may pause and recall over 400,000 U.S. military deaths during World War II to fend off the Nazis and myriad attacks against freedom and the democratic way of life. It will take the continuing commitment to justice and service to country by people like Amit Mehta to ensure more seditious conspiracists receive long prison sentences—reminders of the need to hold such violent opponents of democracy accountable and to honor so many Americans who sacrificed their lives. For the good of the country, may there soon be more examples of justice served at the highest levels.
As Judge Mehta warned on Thursday, “I dare say we all now hold our collective breaths when an election is approaching. Will we have another Jan. 6 again? That remains to be seen.”
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