25 May 2023, 09:57

Militia leader to be sentenced for US Capitol plot

 WASHINGTON, May 25, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, is to be sentenced on Thursday for his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

Prosecutors have asked Judge Amit Mehta to impose a 25-year prison sentence on Rhodes for plotting to block Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory.

Rhodes, 57, and Kelly Meggs, 53, leader of the Oath Keepers' Florida chapter, were convicted by a Washington jury in November of the rarely pursued charge of seditious conspiracy.

The 12-person jury acquitted three other members of the Oath Keepers of the sedition charge, but convicted them of lesser offenses such as obstructing an official proceeding.

Rhodes, an eyepatch-wearing former soldier and Yale law school graduate, and the four other group members were accused of plotting to keep Trump in power and overturn the results of the presidential election won by Biden.

During a nearly two-week trial, prosecutors said the Oath Keepers "concocted a plan for an armed rebellion... plotting to oppose by force the government of the United States."

More than 1,000 Trump supporters have been arrested for their roles in the assault on Congress, but most of them have faced less serious charges than those lodged against Rhodes and the other Oath Keepers.

The stiffest sentence handed out to a January 6 rioter so far was 14 years to a man who had an extensive criminal history.

Rhodes' lawyers have asked Judge Mehta to sentence the Oath Keepers founder to 16 months behind bars -- the time he has already spent in detention.

Six members of the Oath Keepers and four members of another right-wing extremist group, the Proud Boys, have been convicted of seditious conspiracy in three separate trials.

During Rhodes' trial, prosecutors accused the Oath Keepers of stocking weapons at a hotel near Washington and joining the crowd that stormed the Capitol.

Prosecutors showed videos of the attack by dozens of group members dressed in military-style combat gear.

Prosecutors also showed the jury text messages between Rhodes and his followers that called for action if Trump himself failed to act to prevent certification of Biden as the next president.

Rhodes did not personally enter the Capitol but directed his followers like a battlefield general, prosecutors said.

Rhodes took the witness stand during the trial and denied his group planned to assault the congressional complex, saying they were in Washington only to provide security at rallies.

Speaking in military terminology, he admitted that a number of Oath Keepers went "off-mission" and entered the building.

"I think it was stupid to go into the Capitol. It opened the door for the political persecution of us. And that's where we are," Rhodes said.