More evidence of the weapons that the Oath Keepers had come out 2:32
(CNN)-- Stewart Rhodes, founder and leader of Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison Thursday for leading a far-reaching plot to keep then-President Donald Trump in power after losing the 2020 election.
The sentence is the first in more than a decade on the seditious conspiracy charge.
"What we cannot have in any way is a group of citizens who, because they did not like the outcome of an election, or because they did not believe that the law was followed as it should be, fomented the revolution," District Judge Amit Mehta said before handing down the sentence. "That's what you've done."
"I dare say, Mr. Rhodes, and I have never said this to anyone who has sentenced, that you pose a continuing threat and danger to our democracy and the fabric of this country," Mehta said.
The judge added: "I dare say we all now hold our collective breath as the election approaches. Will we have another January 6 again? That remains to be seen."
- Oath Keepers Leader and Others Convicted in Seditious Conspiracy Case for Storming Capitol
Mehta said Rhodes, 58, has expressed no remorse and remains a threat.
"A seditious conspiracy, when you take those two concepts and put them together, is one of the gravest crimes an American can commit," the judge said. "It is an offense against the government to use force. It's an offense against the people of our country."
Mehta ruled Thursday that Rhodes' actions amounted to domestic terrorism.
"He was the one giving the orders," Mehta said. "He was the one who organized the teams that day. He was the reason they were actually in Washington. Oath Keepers wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for Stewart Rhodes, I don't think anyone can argue otherwise. He was the one who gave the order to go, and they went."
Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy by a Washington jury in November, in a landmark criminal trial that was a test of the Justice Department's ability to hold the Jan. 6 rioters accountable and that validated prosecutors' arguments that the breach of the Capitol was a grave threat to American democracy.
The charge of seditious conspiracy has rarely been brought in the century and a half that the statute and its precursors have been part of the law.
Prosecutors had asked Mehta to sentence Rhodes to 25 years behind bars and to apply increased sentences for terrorism.
"This is terrorism," prosecutor Kathryn Rakoczy said Thursday.
"It's not blowing up a building directly or telling someone to blow up a building, but in light of the threat of harm and the historic nature of trying to stop certifying an election for the first time in U.S. history." Rhodes and other Oath Keepers leaders should be punished more harshly, Said.
Rhodes, who was accused of leading dozens of people in a coordinated plot that culminated in the Jan. 6 siege, was also convicted of obstructing an official proceeding and tampering with documents.
Of the people Rhodes led, 22 have already been convicted of various federal crimes by jury or guilty plea. Eight, including Rhodes' co-defendant Kelly Meggs, who will also be sentenced later Thursday, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy.
Rhodes repeats false accusations about 2020 election
Rhodes, before being sentenced, said he was a "political prisoner" and vowed to continue "exposing the criminality of the regime" while in prison.
"I would like to start by saying that I am a political prisoner, and like President Trump, my only crime is to stand up to those who are destroying our country," Rhodes told Mehta in court.
For 20 minutes, Rhodes repeated accusations that the 2020 presidential election was unconstitutional and shouted that he "couldn't leave that under my oath" during his military service and "couldn't ignore the Constitution."
The leader repeatedly defended his actions and those of his supporters on Jan. 6, saying "no Oath Keeper participated in any of the fighting" and that the violence at the Capitol was "all done by other people."
"I think this country is incredibly divided, and this indictment, not just mine but all J6ers, is making it worse," Rhodes said. "J6er" refers to the Capitol rioters of January 6, 2021.
He continued, "I think every J6er is a political prisoner and they are all being overburdened. It's going to make people feel that this government is even more illegitimate than before."
Rhodes lawyers respond
Attorneys Phillip Linder, Ed Tarpley and James Lee Bright, who represent Oath Keepers frontman Stewart Rhodes, spoke to cameras outside federal court following Thursday's ruling.
Linder said he could not answer whether his client had received a fair sentence, but that it was lower than he expected.
"I can't answer that," Linder said. "We have differences of opinion about some of the evidence, of course I wanted less, the prosecutors wanted more, but based on Judge Mehta's belief of what the facts show, and his resurgence of that yesterday and today, it was lower than I thought Mehta would give him."
Bright also said that, given the judge's observations, he expected his client to receive a longer sentence.
"We are clearly defenders of Stewart," Bright said. "As I listened to Judge Mehta speak and then take that extra step and say that at no point in his career during sentencing had he had the opportunity to look at a defendant and say 'I consider you a future danger to the future of the country.' And when I heard that, just like Phillip just testified, I anticipated a much longer sentence than 18 years, not that I agree with the sentence."
Tarpley emphasized that Rhodes has been repeatedly punished for his words around the Capitol riot, but not for his actions.
"It wasn't their actions, it was their words," said Tarpley, who said they plan to appeal today's sentence.
"We believe we are in for a good appeal, we look forward to the appeal, the appeal process, and we strongly support Stewart Rhodes. We don't think it's a threat to society. We don't believe it at all."
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who testified earlier this week about his experience on Jan. 6, told CNN after the verdict that former President Donald Trump should be "next."
"It's a step toward full accountability," Dunn said. "His lawyers argued that Donald Trump is the root of the problem, and I wholeheartedly agree. Let it be next."
"I struggle to find joy or celebration in an 18-year sentence," Dunn said. "I think justice should not be celebrated... it must be expected."
Attack on the CapitolOath Keepers