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Jan. 6 prosecutors seek 25 years for Oath Keepers’ Rhodes

FILE - Stewart Rhodes, founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, on June 25, 2017. The Justice Department is seeking 25 years in prison for Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder convicted of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors described as a violent plot to keep President Joe Biden out of the White House, according to court papers filed Friday, May 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The Justice Department is seeking 25 years in prison for Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder convicted of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors described as a violent plot to keep President Joe Biden out of the White House, according to court papers filed Friday.

A Washington, D.C., jury convicted Rhodes in November in one of the most consequential cases brought in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, when a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters assaulted police officers, smashed windows and temporarily halted Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory.

Rhodes was convicted of plotting an armed rebellion with members of his far-right extremist group to stop the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden.

Prosecutors asked the judge to impose the quarter-century sentence, noting Rhodes had been convicted of multiple crimes — which also carry hefty sentences — in addition to seditious conspiracy, which calls for up 20 years in prison.

They asked the judge to go above the standard sentencing guidelines, arguing the offenses constitute terrorism.

The trial proved that Rhodes “led a conspiracy to use any means necessary, up to and including the use of force, to oppose the lawful transfer of power," prosecutors wrote. They said Rhodes “presents a current and unique danger to the community and to our democracy.”

“Using their positions of prominence within, and in affiliation with, the Oath Keepers organization, these defendants played a central and damning role in opposing by force the government of the United States, breaking the solemn oath many of them swore as members of the United States Armed Forces,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors are seeking prison sentences ranging from 10 to 21 years for eight other Oath Keepers defendants convicted at trials.

The sentencing recommendations come a day after jurors in a different case convicted four leaders of another extremist group, the Proud Boys — including former national chairman Enrique Tarrio — of seditious conspiracy. The Proud Boys were accused of a separate plot to forcibly keep Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election.

Rhodes is scheduled to be sentenced on May 25. Rhodes' attorneys haven't yet filed papers indicating how much time they will ask the judge to impose. They have vowed to appeal his conviction.

Prosecutors built their case around dozens of encrypted messages and other communications in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 that showed Rhodes rallying his followers to fight to defend Trump and warning they might need to “rise up in insurrection" to defeat Biden if Trump didn’t act.

Hundreds of people have been convicted in the attack that left dozens of officers injured and sent lawmakers running for their lives. But Rhodes and a co-defendant — Florida Oath Keepers chapter leader Kelly Meggs — were the first Jan. 6 defendants to be convicted at trial of seditious conspiracy.

Rhodes, who didn't go inside the Capitol, was cleared of two other conspiracy charges, but found guilty of obstructing Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

The Yale Law School graduate and former Army paratrooper, who took the witness stand at trial, insisted there was no plan to attack the Capitol and said the Oath Keepers who did acted on their own. Rhodes said the Oath Keepers’ only mission that day was to provide security for Trump ally Roger Stone and other figures at events before the riot.

Three other defendants on trial with Rhodes and Meggs were acquitted of seditious conspiracy, but convicted of obstructing Congress, which also carries up to 20 years in prison. Another four Oath Keepers were convicted of the sedition charge during a second trial.

Jurors in Rhodes’ case saw video of his followers wearing combat gear and shouldering their way through the crowd in military-style stack formation before forcing their way into the Capitol. After the riot, Rhodes and other Oath Keepers went to an Olive Garden restaurant to celebrate, according to prosecutors.

Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on an AR-platform rifle, magazines, mounts, sights and other equipment on his way to Washington ahead of the riot, prosecutors told jurors. Prosecutors said Oath Keepers stashed weapons for “quick reaction force” teams prosecutors said were ready to get weapons into the city quickly if they were needed. The weapons were never deployed.

The trial revealed new details about Rhodes’ efforts to pressure Trump to fight to stay in the White House in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6. Shortly after the election, in a group chat that included Stone, Rhodes wrote, “So will you step up and push Trump to FINALLY take decisive action?”

Another man testified that after the riot, Rhodes tried to persuade him to pass along a message to Trump that urged the president not to give up his fight to hold onto power. The intermediary — a man who told jurors he had an indirect way to reach the president — recorded his meeting with Rhodes and went to the FBI instead of giving the message to Trump.

“If he’s not going to do the right thing and he’s just gonna let himself be removed illegally then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes said during that meeting, according to a recording played for jurors.

“We should have fixed it right then and there. I’d hang (expletive) Pelosi from the lamppost,” Rhodes said, referring to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press

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