A federal judge handed down the longest prison sentence yet for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by using an enhanced penalty for terrorism attached to a seditious conspiracy conviction, the Washington Post reports. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers, to 18 years, well short of the 25 years prosecutors sought but a decade longer than any previous Jan. 6 defendant who did not assault police. The longest previous sentence was 14 years, given to a man who had dozens of prior convictions and who assaulted four officers with a dangerous weapon the Capitol attack. Mehta said seditious conspiracy is “among the most serious crimes an individual American can commit,” more dangerous than a single act of assault, and that Rhodes deserved a long sentence for the role he played in convincing others that they had the right to impose their political beliefs by force. “You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country, to the republic and the very fabric of our democracy,” Mehta told Rhodes, saying he had never expressed such a belief about another defendant.
The five defendants sentenced for seditious conspiracy over the past two decades all received at least 10 years on that count. Those defendants were all accused of supporting Islamist terrorist groups. Rhodes, a military veteran with a Yale law degree, launched the Oath Keepers with a pledge to defend the Constitution from federal overreach, recruiting former military and law enforcement who shared his distrust of government. But he and similar activists embraced Donald Trump as a perceived ally and shifted to targeting the president’s political rivals on the left. “Violent rebellion because you don’t like the results of an election is anathema to our Constitution,” said Mary McCord, who headed the Justice Department’s national security division for the first several months of Trump’s presidency. “Eighteen years is a significant sentence and sends a strong message of deterrence.” Rhodes and five others were found guilty at trials in November and January. Rhodes' co-defendant Kelly Meggs was sentenced shortly after Rhodes to 12 years. A New York Times explainer tells how seditious conspiracy differs from insurrection, treason and terrorism offenses.