Kelly Meggs, the Florida leader of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday for his part in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
The sentencing came just hours after the group's national leader, Elmer Stewart Rhodes, was sent to jail for 18 years. Roger Parloff from Lawfare, Brandi Buchman from Emptywheel and Scott MacFarlane from CBS News all live-tweeted as the sentencing hearing unfolded.
At the beginning of the sentencing, District Court Judge Amit Mehta suggested that Meggs had not been coordinating with other Oath Keepers, a fact the assistant US Attorneys disputed.
Messages from Meggs indicated that days before the Jan. 6 attack, he and others assumed President Donald Trump was seeking to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would permit him to stay in office.
“Trump’s staying in, he’s gonna use the emergency broadcast system on cell phones to broadcast to the American people. Then he will claim the insurrection act,” Meggs said in one Facebook message on Dec. 26.
“Any idea when?” a person replied.
“Next week,” Meggs said. “Then wait for the 6th when we are all in dc to insurrection.”
Meggs' lawyer, Stanley Woodward, objected to characterizations from the jury that his client was "co-terminus with the conspiracy."
"We respect that the jury found when Meggs went in that the purpose was criminal, but that doesn't change the fact that there wasn't evidence of that kind of plan."
Meggs said that he had resigned from the Oath Keeprs and had made it clear to Rhodes he didn't want to participate in Jan. 6, but he remained on the calls and contacts.
"This is the moment we signed up for," Meggs said on Jan. 6.
Meggs later wrote: "Easy to chat here, the real question is who is ready to die?" and "Scare the hell out of them..." Another suggested flying Oath Keeper flags over Washington. Another said: "There'll be blood in streets no matter what."
Meggs' lawyers claimed this was overactive hyperbole.
"Truth was, it wasn't," said Mehta.
The judge also said that Meggs was responsible for the destruction of property on the east side of the U.S. Capitol doors. On the level 2 enhancement of his charges, Mehta said that he believes he was directed to go into the Capitol.
"It is because of Mr. Rhodes that Mr. Meggs is, in part, sitting here today," Mehta said. "I'm not suggesting I'm absolving him of responsibility or he didn't act of his own free will. But Rhodes' influence on Meggs and dozens of other people who came to Washington that day."
He went on to say that many of those who ultimately broke the law "require(s) that the court make clear that Stewart Rhodes' conduct warrants greater enhancement than Meggs."
Mehta had earlier set the sentencing guideline at 15.5-20 years.
Before Mehta announced the sentence, Meggs' lawyer implored Mehta for leniency.
Mehta also reiterated what a unique charge and conviction it has been.
He said that in this case, "a substantial sentence is necessary" because of the nature of the circumstance, citing whether Meggs was looking for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while he was making his way through the Capitol. Today, he said, Meggs called it unfortunate and hyperbolic — but if that's hyperbole, Mehta said that there's quite a lot of it.
Mehta cited Rhodes' words on the group call, saying, "There's nothing left to do but fight," the idea that Meggs would see that as doing nothing more than security isn't believable. He said he didn't know how anyone could stand in the court and say that it was all just "bombast" when Meggs was telling others on the Oath Keepers Florida chat that he was prepared to die, because that's what patriots do. Again, it doesn't sound like just a "security detail," as Meggs claimed.
He repeated something he said he's also mentioned in the other Jan. 6 cases: "It is astonishing to me how average Americans somehow transformed into criminals in the weeks before Jan. 6."
He closed by saying the sentence will reflect that the United States has a process, an election, "and if your guy or gal loses, you hope for a better result next time. You don't take to the streets or join in for a war in the streets. You don't rush into the U.S. Capitol with the hope of trying to stop the electoral count." He said if that is allowed to happen, and the rule of law is not upheld, the country will descend into chaos. That, he said, is why they're in the courtroom today.