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Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes says his creation of group entitles him to ‘time served’ for seditious conspiracy conviction for Jan. 6


Left: Stewart Rhodes booking photo (via Collin County (Tex.) Jail). Right: Rhodes outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 (via DOJ).

The leader of a right-wing antigovernment militia-style group who was convicted of leading a seditious conspiracy against the U.S. — culminating in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — has asked a judge to issue him a sentence of time served.

Stewart Rhodes, who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009, was convicted in November of plotting to use violence to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win in order to keep Donald Trump in power on Jan. 6. At trial, prosecutors had presented jurors with evidence a plan between Rhodes and his co-defendants — Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, Ohio State Regular Militia founder Jessica Watkins, retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Thomas Caldwell, and Florida Oath Keepers member Kenneth Harrelson — to stockpile a cache of weapons in a hotel room in Arlington, Virginia, and tried to procure a boat to ferry them across the Potomac River to the Capitol.

The Capitol riot did stop Congress from its certification of the results, which is mandated by the Constitution, and forced lawmakers and staffers to either flee or spend hours sheltering in place as members of the pro-Trump crowd violently raged through parts of the building.

Rhodes and Meggs were convicted of seditious conspiracy, widely seen to be the most serious charge in the federal government’s expansive prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters. They were also convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, which, like the seditious conspiracy charge, carries a potential 20 years behind bars. Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins were found guilty of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, which carries a potential six years in prison, while Rhodes, Meggs, Harrelson, and Caldwell were all convicted of tampering with documents or proceedings, a 20-year felony charge that Watkins did not face.

Four more co-defendants, who were tried separately, were all convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges. Edward Vallejo, Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, and David Moerschel were additionally convicted of obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress, and conspiring to obstruct an officer from discharging duties.

Rhodes has been in custody since his arrest in Jan. 2022.

In the sentencing motion, attorneys James Lee Bright, Phillip Linder, and Edward Tarpley seek to undermine the validity of the federal probation department’s pre-sentence report (PSR) from the start, alleging that “from all outward appearances it appears as if the Department of Justice itself” wrote part of the report.

“It reads very similar to the Opening Statements made by Mr. Nestler in the Rhodes’ trial,” the brief says, referring to the federal prosecutor who tried the case in late 2022.

The defense attorneys note that their client, who was convicted of conspiring to prepare a cache of weapons less than 10 miles from the Capitol on Jan. 6 and possibly using those weapons to keep their preferred presidential candidate in office, “is an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army” who was injured while attempting a “low altitude jump” in 1986. A graduate of Yale Law School, Rhodes clerked for a Nevada Supreme Court judge and worked at a private law firm.

But it was Rhodes’ creation and leadership of the Oath Keepers — which has been deemed to be a dangerous extremist group by civil rights watchdog organizations — that Rhodes’ lawyers say is the greatest mitigating factor against an extensive prison sentence and in favor of a downward variation in the recommended sentence range.

“If the history and character of a man is to be judged by what he creates and how that organization functions with and for the benefit of society, then it is imperative that the Court give great deference to Mr. Rhodes for the 12 years of service and dedication of the Oath Keepers,” the brief says, citing what it describes as the group’s “history of community involvement and volunteerism in times of natural disasters and civil unrest.”

Indeed, the brief describes the creation of the group as having been in response to a true disaster — albeit one that had occurred years before, under a different presidential administration.

“On April 19, 2009, partially as a result to the Federal Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Stewart Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers at Lexington, Massachusetts,” the brief says. Notably, Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans in August of 2005, during the administration of former President George W. Bush. The Oath Keepers creation in 2009 came months after Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, took office.

The filing notes that Oath Keepers were also present as “voluntary security for speakers and the public” at “sometimes violent venues such as Berkeley, Dallas, Ferguson, D.C., etc.” as well as at demonstrations and protests that arose after police killings of unarmed Black people, including Michael Brown, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor.

The brief rejects any suggestion that the Oath Keepers group and its founder are “white nationalist” and “racist.”

“[T]he Vice-President of the entire Oath Keepers organization was an African-American, as was Michael Greene, a.k.a. Whip, a close friend and colleague of the Oath Keepers,” the brief says, adding that “many of its members were minorities.” The filing also notes that defendant Watkins “is transgender.”

The brief also says that Rhodes is “proud of his own Hispanic heritage.”

Throughout the brief, Rhodes’ lawyers reiterated the judicial standard that a convicted offender’s sentence should be “sufficient but not greater than necessary” to achieve the objectives of sentencing. The brief emphasizes that standard at least eight times in the 16-page brief, arguing that anything more than time served would, indeed, be “greater than necessary” in order to ensure that justice is served.

Rhodes’ sentencing date before U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, is set for May 25.

The government is seeking a range of sentences for Rhodes’ co-defendants, but nothing less than 10 years: 14 years for Caldwell, who is set to be sentenced on May 24; 21 years for Meggs, scheduled for sentencing after Rhodes on May 25; and 36 years for Watkins and 15 years for Harrelson, both with a sentencing date of May 26. Prosecutors have requested 17 years each for Minuta and Vallejo, who are scheduled to be sentenced on June 1, 10 years for Moerschel and 12 years for Hackett, who will be sentenced on June 2.

Read Rhodes’ sentencing brief here.

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