Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The Far Right Is Splintering

| May 26, 2023

In his trial, the Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes turned against other extremists.

As Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Stewart Rhodes yesterday to 18 years in prison—the longest yet for a defendant involved in the January 6 insurrection—he explained why the leader of the far-right group the Oath Keepers needed to be behind bars for a long time. "You pose an ongoing threat and peril to our democracy and the fabric of this country," Mehta told Rhodes.

Mehta was right about that. At his sentencing, Rhodes was unrepentant. In a 20-minute speech before the court, he portrayed himself alternately as a character in Kafka's The Trial; as an "American Solzhenitsyn," after the Soviet dissident writer who was sent to the gulag; and as a misunderstood advocate for peace. This monologue was standard fare for Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate who likes to align himself with literary heavyweights and historical leaders.

And yet Rhodes also unwittingly revealed deepening fissures in the far-right movement that, two years ago, resorted to violence to keep Donald Trump in the White House. The defendant used some of his time to distance himself from the Proud Boys, another extremist organization, with whom he had met in the days before the insurrection. "Unlike other groups like the Proud Boys, who seek conflict and seek to street-fight," Rhodes explained, "we deter." I've been misunderstood, he was telling the court; the Proud Boys are the ones you want.

Rhodes, it seems, is not entirely in sync with his radical brethren. A unified extremist front is a threat to our democracy—but the story is different when extremists start pointing fingers at one another in the criminal-justice system....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“The Far Right Is Splintering.” The Atlantic, May 26, 2023.

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