Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers founder, sentenced to 18 years for seditious conspiracy
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It's the longest punishment yet in a criminal case stemming from the Capitol riot. A judge has sentenced Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, to spend 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy, a rare charge that has roots in the Civil War. Rhodes used his moment in the spotlight to cast himself as a political prisoner and vowed to appeal. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is at the federal courthouse here in Washington. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Big day in court. How did the judge arrive at this punishment for Stewart Rhodes?
JOHNSON: Judge Amit Mehta says in all the years he's been doing this, he's never seen a defendant like Stewart Rhodes. The judge looked right at Rhodes in the courtroom and said, "you, sir, present an ongoing threat and peril to the country and to the very fabric of democracy." The judge talked about how Stewart Rhodes is a lawyer, that he's smart and charismatic and that he prompted dozens of people, rather, to come to the U.S. Capitol on January 6. And that's what makes Rhodes dangerous, the judge said. Now, even before January 6, Rhodes was promoting political violence, and after the violence at the Capitol that day, Rhodes suggested hanging the then-House speaker by a lamppost. And even since then, since he's been behind bars and been convicted of seditious conspiracy, the judge says Stewart Rhodes has alluded to violence - political violence - even as recently as a few days ago.
SHAPIRO: Rhodes is known to be talkative, and he had a say today, too. Tell us about it.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Stewart Rhodes stood up. He was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, and he cast himself as a political prisoner. He says he felt like a character in a Franz Kafka novel. He compared himself to a Soviet-era dissident who spent years in a forced labor camp. Rhodes basically said, from prison, however long it would be, he would work to, quote, "expose the criminality of the government," meaning, I guess, the Biden administration. And Stewart Rhodes is going to be in prison for a long time, Ari. He's in his late 50s, and if his appeal is not successful, he's not going to get out for well over a decade.
SHAPIRO: As we said, it's the longest sentence of anyone convicted in the siege on the U.S. Capitol. Should others who have been charged in the investigation look at this judge's decision and worry?
JOHNSON: You know, this is very serious business. We've seen sentences of 10 years and 14 years already for some rioters who were convicted of attacking police, but this judge said sedition is perhaps the most serious offense an American can commit against their own government. And this 18-year sentence for Stewart Rhodes could have some implications for Enrique Tarrio. He's the former leader of the far-right Proud Boys also convicted of sedition this year. Tarrio is going to be sentenced in late August. But where all this goes from here is hard to say right now. Remember that former President Donald Trump, who's running again for the White House, says he's going to consider pardons for, quote, "a large portion of the January 6 defendants," and he's used them as rhetorical devices in his political campaign. Whether Stewart Rhodes and Enrique Tarrio are in that category - hard to say right now.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, some of the people who lived through the insurrection described their experience. Can you give us a snapshot of what they said?
JOHNSON: Very emotional testimony - police officers saying their bruises have healed, but the emotional trauma lingers, other officers saying they used to love to go to work - not anymore. And a woman who was the chief of staff to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about how her staff cowered in fear for hours on January 6. She said, the defendants violated our workplace, our government and our democracy, but they did not succeed. Democracy succeeded. And Judge Mehta said today the law enforcement officers and those Hill staffers who did their jobs at the Capitol on January 6 are the true oath-keepers, not Stewart Rhodes.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST AND JAY-Z SONG, "NO CHURCH IN THE WILD (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN)")
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