CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Justice Department appealing prison sentences given to convicted Oath Keepers members

Jul 13, 2023, 6:00 AM

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, center, speaks during a rally outside the White House ...

Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, center, speaks during a rally outside the White House in Washington, June 25, 2017. Photo credit: Susan Walsh/AP/FILE

(CNN) — The Justice Department is appealing the sentences that eight convicted defendants tied to the Oath Keepers received for seditious conspiracy or other conspiracy charges related to their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Federal prosecutors working on the cases of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and others filed court papers Wednesday saying they are appealing the sentences set by a judge in late May. Some of the Oath Keepers who were sentenced had already filed their own appeals.

A ninth man tried in the case, Thomas Caldwell, hasn’t been sentenced yet and subsequently is not part of the group being appealed.

The appeals will keep alive tests in court of aspects of the case against the Oath Keepers, potentially generating new law around the seditious conspiracy offenses – a rare charge that marked the most aggressive and politically charged response to the Capitol riot to date from the Justice Department.

Wednesday’s filings did not provide the reasoning or legal arguments for the DOJ’s appeals, but several of the Oath Keepers’ sentences were well below what prosecutors had asked for in court.

For instance, Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Rhodes to 18 years in prison. Yet prosecutors had sought 25 years. Kelly Meggs, the leader of the Florida contingent of the group, received from Mehta a 12-year sentence, though prosecutors had sought 21 years. Meggs’ sentence is among those being appealed as well.

Attorneys for Rhodes and Meggs, who along with four other defendants were convicted of seditious conspiracy, didn’t provide responses to the DOJ’s appeal on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office that prosecuted the cases and filed the appeals also didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

The Oath Keepers’ sentences were the first handed down in more than a decade for seditious conspiracy. At his sentencing, Mehta told Rhodes the offense was “among the most serious crimes an American can commit” and that his and others’ actions amounted to domestic terrorism.

A jury had found Rhodes and others guilty of working together to plot and execute the January 6 attack, which included some of the group moving together in military gear into the Capitol complex and stashing guns across the river from the National Mall.

Others in the group received a fraction of Rhodes’ sentence from Mehta, though they were not all convicted of the same crimes as Rhodes. The Justice Department had sought at least 10 years in prison for each of the defendants tied to the far-right group who were tried and convicted at the beginning of this year.

On the day of Rhodes’ and Meggs’ sentencing, Attorney General Merrick Garland applauded his prosecutors for holding the Oath Keepers accountable through the case.

“Today’s sentences reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions,” he said in a statement.

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Justice Department appealing prison sentences given to convicted Oath Keepers members