By SDCN Editor
The founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, and the leader of the Florida chapter of the organization, were sentenced Thursday for seditious conspiracy and other charges related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Their actions disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress that was in the process of ascertaining and counting the electoral votes related to the presidential election.
Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, 58, of Granbury, Texas, was sentenced to 18 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. His is the longest sentence, to date, related to the assault on law enforcement and the U.S. Capitol Building.
Kelly Meggs, 54, of Dunnellon, Florida, was sentenced to 12 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
“Today’s sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “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.”
“Today’s sentencings reflect the FBI’s commitment to do our part to hold accountable individuals who committed criminal acts on January 6, 2021, as well as those who plotted to interfere with the lawful transfer of power,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “We will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those who violated our laws in connection with the siege on the U.S. Capitol.”
“There have been few instances in our nation’s history when our fellow citizens have engaged in a seditious conspiracy — a conspiracy to use force to oppose the functioning of our government,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “More people were convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the siege of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, than any other criminal event since the statute was enacted during the Civil War. Today’s sentencing affirms the rule of law and imposes substantial consequences on Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs who, together, conspired to violently attack our government and our democracy.”
Rhodes and Meggs were found guilty on Nov. 29, 2022, following an eight-week trial and three days of deliberations. In addition to the seditious conspiracy charge, Rhodes was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents and proceedings. Meggs was also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.
According to the government’s evidence, the Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. Following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, Rhodes, Meggs, and others began plotting to oppose, by force, the lawful transfer of presidential power. Beginning in late December 2020, via encrypted and private communications applications, Rhodes, Meggs, and others coordinated and planned to travel to Washington, D.C., on or around Jan. 6, 2021, the date of the certification of the electoral college vote.
The defendants also, collectively, employed a variety of manners and means, including: organizing into teams that were prepared and willing to use force and to transport firearms and ammunition into Washington, D.C.; recruiting members and affiliates; organizing trainings to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics; bringing and contributing paramilitary gear, weapons, and supplies – including knives, batons, camouflaged combat uniforms, tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection, and radio equipment – to the Capitol grounds; breaching and attempting to take control of the Capitol grounds and building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the electoral college vote; using force against law enforcement officers while inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; continuing to plot, after Jan. 6, 2021, to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power, and using websites, social media, text messaging and encrypted messaging applications to communicate with each other and others.
On Jan. 6, 2021, a large crowd began to gather outside the Capitol perimeter as the Joint Session of Congress got underway at 1 p.m. Crowd members eventually forced their way through, up, and over U.S. Capitol Police barricades and advanced to the building’s exterior façade. Shortly after 2 p.m., crowd members forced entry into the Capitol by breaking windows, ramming open doors, and assaulting Capitol police and other law enforcement officers. At about this time, according to the government’s evidence, Rhodes entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds and directed his followers to meet him at the Capitol.
At approximately 2:30 p.m., according to the government’s evidence, Meggs, along with other Oath Keepers and affiliates – many wearing paramilitary clothing and patches with the Oath Keepers name, logo, and insignia – marched in a “stack” formation up the east steps of the Capitol, joined a mob, and made their way into the Capitol. Rhodes remained outside, coordinating activities.
While certain Oath Keepers members and affiliates breached the Capitol grounds and building, others remained stationed just outside of the city in quick reaction force (QRF) teams. According to the government’s evidence, the QRF teams were prepared to rapidly transport firearms and other weapons into Washington, D.C., in support of operations aimed at using force to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power.
Rhodes was arrested on Jan. 13, 2022, in Texas. Meggs was arrested on Feb. 17, 2021, in Florida.
In the 28 months since Jan. 6, 2021, more than 1,000 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including more than 320 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
The investigation remains ongoing.