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Oath Keepers' Rhodes gets 18 years in Jan. 6 attack

by BLAIR MILLER Daily Montanan
| May 30, 2023 7:00 AM

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., convicted a Dillon man this week of seven counts, including assault of police officers, tied to his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack, while former Montana resident and Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy linked to the plot.

The sentence for Rhodes, a former Montana lawyer disbarred in 2015 who went on to found the extremist group Oath Keepers, is the longest handed down for anyone convicted so far with respect to the deadly riots that day in which hundreds of people stormed the U.S. Capitol to disrupt Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys planned the effort in order to keep then-President Donald Trump in office despite him losing the election two months earlier.

Rhodes was convicted of plotting to forcibly disrupt the transfer of presidential power. The DOJ had argued the Oath Keepers had a plan to try to overtake the Capitol with weapons if they were needed, which never materialized that day.

Prosecutors had sought a 25-year sentence for Rhodes in what they called an attempt to stop future political violence. At his sentencing Thursday, Rhodes claimed to be a “political prisoner” and said he and Trump were simply “opposing those who are destroying our country.” Other Oath Keepers are set to be sentenced in the coming days.

“Today’s sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions,” said Attorney General Merrick 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.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge convicted Isaac Sturgeon of Dillon of seven counts following a bench trial: Assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers; obstruction of an official proceeding; civil disorder; entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds; and act of physical violence in the U.S. Capitol grounds or buildings.

He faced the trial along with Craig Bingert of Pennsylvania; both were convicted of the seven counts. Both shoved a barricade into officers outside the Capitol, injuring at least one, and text messages and social media messages sent by Sturgeon showed he viewed his actions that day as a “last stand,” the judge wrote in his order convicting Sturgeon.

Sturgeon also sent messages after Jan. 6 about starting a “revolution,” the judge wrote. He added: “Simply put, there is no doubt in my mind after seeing the evidence that both defendants knew that they were part of something unlawful.”

Sturgeon had also argued that he could not have “acted corruptly,” as the judge wrote, because of Trump’s speech in which he said the election was being stolen, urged his supporters to march to the Capitol “peacefully” and “fight like hell.”

“Even if the defendants sincerely believed—which it appears they did—that the election was fraudulent and President Trump was the rightful winner, they still must have known it was unlawful to vindicate that perceived injustice by engaging in mob violence to obstruct Congress,” Judge Royce Lamberth wrote. “And that is true even if the defendants believed they had President Trump’s blessing.”

Lamberth found that Sturgeon knew he was not acting in self-defense when he pushed the barricade into police officers and that he was not allowed to be in the restricted area of the Capitol grounds.

“Simply put, the defendants could not possibly have believed that they had the right to stand in the middle of a riot, with tear gas and punches flying, and officers trying and failing to hold a line against the crowd, until they were asked to leave,” he said.

Sturgeon was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on March 6 – two months after the Capitol attack. He had received a passport on Jan. 8 and left for Kenya later that month. But a warrant for his arrest was issued Feb. 5 after linking body camera images of him to a social media account, and Kenyan officials found and deported him.

Sturgeon is set to be sentenced Aug. 25 and will remain out of jail on a personal recognizance bond until then, according to court records.