Three members of a far-right anti-government extremist group who joined a mob inside the US Capitol on January 6 were sentenced to federal prison after their convictions on a range of charges connected to the attack.
The hearings in US District Court in Washington DC follow the 18-year prison sentence for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted by a jury on a treason-related charge of seditious conspiracy after a nearly two-month trial last year. His is the longest sentence, to date, related to the assault at the Capitol on 6 January 2021.
Kelly Meggs, another member of the Oath Keepers who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in that same case alongside Rhodes, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on 25 May.
Jessica Watkins, a US Army veteran who was convicted of several other charges in that same trial, was sentenced to eight and a half years. A jury found Watkins guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress and guilty of conspiracy to obstruct.
“My actions and my behaviors that fateful day were wrong, and as I now understand, criminal,” she told US District Judge Amit Mehta on 26 May. “Violence is never the answer.”
Federal prosecutors argued that Watkins mobilised a group in Ohio alongside the Oath Keepers, and joined a mob in Washington DC in tactical gear to upend the results of the 2020 presidential election, fuelled by Donald Trump’s false narrative that the election was stolen and rigged against him.
“I was just another idiot running around the Capitol,” she said on 26 May. “But idiots are held responsible, and today you’re going to hold this idiot responsible.”
Prosecutors argued that she marched from the former president’s rally at the Ellipse and breached the halls of Congress in a military-style stack formation, encouraging members of the mob to push through law enforcement.
According to messages and recordings shared at trial, Watkins declared the group “stormed the Capitol” on a radio-like communication app on the day of the attack.
Judge Mehta, noting her apologies, said that her efforts that day were “more aggressive, more assaultive, more purposeful than perhaps others’.”
“And you led others to fulfill your purposes,” he added “And there was not in the immediate aftermath any sense of shame or contrition, just the opposite. Your comments were celebratory and lacked a real sense of the gravity of that day and your role in it.”
Kenneth Harrelson was found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.
He was sentenced to four years in prison on 26 May.
In his plea for leniency, Harrelson, weeping as he spoke, apologised to US Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who testified during the trial that the Oath Keepers that the group failed to support law enforcement and ignored his warnings that they were endangering officers’ lives.
“I am responsible and my foolish actions have caused immense pain to my wife and children,” Harrelson told Judge Mehta on Friday.
The judge noted that, in evidence from federal prosecutors, “there is not a single word in a single communication that anyone would consider extremist, radicalized” or “encourages anyone to engage in violence.”
Thomas Caldwell, a fifth member of the group who was on trial alongside the other four recently sentenced Oath Keepers, will face a sentencing hearing next week.
Caldwell was found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents or proceedings.
More than 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the January 6 attack.
Fourteen people, including the leader of the neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys and three of his lieutenants, have either been convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty on charges of seditious conspiracy in the aftermath of the riots.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the sentences against Rhodes and Meggs “reflect the grave threat the actions of these defendants posed to our democratic institutions.”
“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,” he said in a statement on 25 May. “The Justice Department will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable those criminally responsible for the [January 6] attack on our democracy.”