The 18-year prison sentence handed down to Stewart Rhodes for storming the Capitol is a victory for democracy. But it is also fodder for an election campaign.
Stewart Rhodes must go to prison for 18 long years. The founder of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia whose name refers to keeping an oath to the U.S. Constitution — only according to their own, extreme reading of that document, of course — was convicted of engaging in a seditious conspiracy that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The judge may not have imposed the full 25-year sentence that prosecutors argued for, but the verdict, which punishes “terrorist behavior,” is appropriate. And it proves that the U.S. judicial system is acting independently, without fear, and that it isn’t in a hurry to abide by the right and bend to its intense pressure.
Judge Amit Mehta made clear that the courts remain untouchable — and need to stay that way. That is in the service of nothing less than the protection of democratic institutions. The Capitol building is the most obvious and important symbol of these institutions in the U.S., and attacks on U.S. democracy — which America claims to be the greatest and foremost in the world — need to be severely punished, even if anticipated political consequences of such punishment pose a massive threat.
Because, unfortunately, Rhodes’ prison sentence doesn’t just represent a victory for democracy, it simultaneously provides a great deal of grist for the mill of right-wing extremists. Donald Trump, and Ron DeSantis, the most promising Republican challenger to the former president who is seeking reelection, have already made clear that, if either of them defeats Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential election, they will closely “look at” all convictions related to the events of Jan. 6.
That provides excellent fodder for an election campaign on the right — and that should worry all moderate Americans, regardless of what party they prefer.