Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
May 25 (UPI) -- Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy, received the longest sentence of any defendant to date.
Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida chapter of the organization, was also sentenced Thursday to 12 years' imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release, the Justice Department said.
"Today's sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
"The United States proved at trial that the Oath Keepers plotted for months to violently disrupt the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. The Justice department will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the Jan. 6th attack on our democracy."
Before sentencing, Rhodes called himself a "political prisoner," NBC News reported, and said that when he talked about "regime change" in a call with supporters earlier this week he meant he hopes that former President Donald Trump will win in 2024.
"You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy," U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said before pronouncing the sentence in Washington.
Prosecutors said Rhodes, 57, was in contact with Trump between his election loss and Jan. 6, calling on him to invoke the Insurrection Act with the intent of creating an armed militia to act on his behalf.
"It will be 1776 all over again," Rhodes allegedly wrote to fellow Oath Keepers leaders in a group message. "Force on force is the way to go."
The group is a far-right anti-government militia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Oath Keepers differs from other anti-government extremist groups in that it explicitly attempts to recruit former and current military members, police officers and firefighters.
Rhodes is not believed to have entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 when a mob of Trump supporters besieged the building in a failed attempt to prevent Joe Biden from being certified as the 46th president of the United States. Rather, he orchestrated on-ground activity from a nearby hotel room for a portion of the day. He testified that he went to the Capitol later in the day but could not get past the barricades.
In November he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy along with Meggs following an eight-week trial and three days of deliberations.
Prosecutors said Rhodes, Meggs and others began their plot to violently oppose the transfer of presidential power following Trump's election loss in early November 2020.
Since the attack, authorities have arrested more than 1,000 people, the Justice Department said.