January 6th’s Oath Breaker

Patrick McCorkle
3 min readMay 26, 2023

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You may have never heard of Stewart Rhodes or the Oath Keepers.

But what happened to the disgraced former lawyer should be noted by everyone.

Today, a judge sentenced Mr. Rhodes to 18 years in prison for seditious conspiracy for actions before, during and after the January 6th Capitol attack. CBS Congressional Correspondent Scott McFarlane provided excellent reporting of the proceedings. I encourage you to watch his entire segment.

The U.S. Code defines seditious conspiracy as:

“If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down or destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.”

As you can imagine, seditious conspiracy is difficult to prosecute on top of not being that common. Prior to Mr. Rhodes, the last successful conviction and sentencing of the crime was in 1995 against the plotters of a bomb attack directed at New York City.

Mr. Rhodes was arrested in January 2022, a full year after January 6th. His trial lasted from October to November and then was found guilty in late November. During his trial and sentencing, Mr. Rhodes did not express regret or a wish to do things differently. He was defiant until the end.

The judge defended his sentencing because of the combination of Mr. Rhodes’s previous actions and current defiance, believing that the Oath Keeper leader remains a danger to democracy.

As Mr. McFarlane summarized: “The judge was asked to compare this case to other January 6th cases to ensure there weren’t unwarranted sentencing disparities. And the judge said this case is kind of a unicorn. It doesn’t line up well with other January 6th cases, despite there being so many of them, because this was the first one to go to sentencing involving seditious conspiracy: plotting to attack the government by force.

So he had to compare to previous, almost generational sedition cases and those are kind of apples and oranges because those cases involved terrorist strikes, violent attacks. And Rhodes was not accused of engaging in any violence personally. This really was a precedent setter, versus a precedent follower.” (3:57–4:40)

While January 6th was a traumatic and awful day in the U.S.’s history, Mr. Rhodes’s verdict gives me some hope. He went through the legal system, having over a year in court. The government called 24 witnesses against him and the judge carefully weighed the options prior to sentencing.

In some other societies, Mr. Rhodes’s actions would be punishable by life imprisonment or death. Can you imagine what would happen to him in China, Russia, Iran or North Korea? There’s no toleration in those countries when the government is threatened or perceived to be threatened. While the rule of law has arguably weakened in the U.S. in recent years, Mr. Rhodes’s treatment is proof that we still have some modicum of it.

As a final note, Mr. Rhodes’s life itself has become a tragedy. He attended Yale Law School and possessed a desire to defend U.S. citizens against encroaching government authority after the passage of the Patriot Act. As Edward Snowden and others have pointed out, those fears turned out to be true.

Many of Mr. Rhodes’s former associates describe him as magnetic and persuasive. Think of what he could have done if he dedicated himself to more constructive purposes. Governments abuse their authority all too often. We need more people challenging them, reminding them that they serve us, not the other way around.

It’s beyond sad that Mr. Rhodes became what he was trying to prevent. Hopefully, he will realize this.

He’ll have a long time to think about it.

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.