Oath Keeper leader’s 18-year sentence is a 'message' to Trump and other 'militants': ex-federal prosecutor

Oath Keeper leader’s 18-year sentence is a 'message' to Trump and other 'militants': ex-federal prosecutor

On Thursday, May 25, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Stewart Rhodes — founder of the far-right militia group The Oath Keepers — to 18 years in federal prison for his role in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. And fellow Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs, a co-defendant, received a 12-year sentence.

Rhodes and Meggs had both been found guilty of seditious conspiracy, and Mehta told Rhodes, "You, sir, present an ongoing threat and peril to this country.... and to the very fabric of our democracy."

Mehta was not exaggerating. On January 6, 2021, a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol Building in the hope of preventing Congress from certifying now-President Joe Biden's victory over former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. And the will of U.S. voters did not matter to the insurrectionists.

READ MORE: 'Grabbed her by the throat': Unsealed court docs allege Stewart Rhodes created 'constant fear' at home

In a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, Attorney General Merrick Garland is quoted as saying, "Today's sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions. 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 January 6th attack on our democracy."

The outcome of 2024's presidential election could determine how much time Rhodes and Meggs will actually spend in prison. If elected president next year, Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would have the power to grant either of them a federal pardon.

In a listicle published by the conservative website The Bulwark on May 26, former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut argues that Rhodes' 18-year sentence is an important "message" for: (1) Trump, (2) Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, (3) "militants," and (4) "the people."

Aftergut says of Trump, "Rhodes was a leader of the Oath Keepers but not, as his lawyer and (Capitol police officer) Harry Dunn both emphasized, of the whole insurrection. We're waiting for special counsel Jack Smith to indict the true leader. Nerves are fraying in Mar-a-Lago."

By "the true leader," Aftergut is obviously referring to Trump. One of Smith's two federal Trump-related investigations is focusing on the January 6 insurrection and Trump's post-election activities.

READ MORE: Proud Boys verdict is in: Guilty of seditious conspiracy

Aftergut notes that rhetorically, Rhodes' comments on January 6 sound a lot like Greene — who has described the defendants as "political prisoners." And the former federal prosecutor argues that Rhodes and Meggs' "long sentences" are a "message" to "domestic violent extremists" that there will be repercussions for their actions.

The sentences, Aftergut adds, are also a "message to the country," which will have a chance to vote for or against "the rule of law" in 2024.

Aftergut warns, "Trump has promised to pardon 'a large proportion' of January 6th participants. Yesterday, Ron DeSantis, Trump's closest competitor for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would consider pardoning 'some'…. Voters will consider whether we want a lawful society or one where the political ends justify violent means. Yesterday's sentences tell us where our system of justice stands. The rule of law and our freedom from violence will be on the ballot in November 2024."

READ MORE: 'There is no fairytale ending to an insurrection': Oath Keepers militia collapsing after leaders jailed

Dennis Aftergut's full article for The Bulwark is available at this link.

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