A federal judge veered toward leniency with more junior members of the group who were involved in the attack on the Capitol, issuing lighter sentences than prosecutors had sought.
A federal judge sentenced two members of the Oath Keepers militia to less than four years in prison for seditious conspiracy on Friday, placing a brake on the government’s effort to impose lengthy terms on members of the group for roles in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021.
The two men, David Moerschel and Joseph Hackett, who traveled from Florida to join the Oath Keepers in Washington on Jan. 6, received terms of three years and three and a half years, respectively.
Judge Amit P. Mehta, who has presided over three separate Oath Keepers trials that all have now concluded, diverged from federal guidelines in his decisions in Federal District Court in Washington this week. Prosecutors had requested 12 years for Mr. Moerschel and 10 years for Mr. Hackett.
The prison terms were a marked contrast to the ones Judge Mehta handed down last week to the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, and one of his deputies, Kelly Meggs. They received 18 years and 12 years, respectively. The judge veered toward leniency with members lower in the Oath Keepers’ hierarchy. Two others convicted of seditious conspiracy were sentenced this week to no more than four and a half years in prison.
“Sentencing shouldn’t be vengeful; it shouldn’t be such that it is unduly harsh simply for the sake of being harsh,” Judge Mehta said at the end of Mr. Moerschel’s hearing.
On the day of the riot, both Mr. Moerschel and Mr. Hackett marched in a “stack” formation led by Mr. Meggs, forcing their way past police officers and into the Capitol.
Both were also part of a group chat for members in Florida in which Mr. Rhodes repeatedly encouraged people to come to Washington to dispute the election results.
“We need to make those senators very uncomfortable with all of us being a few hundred feet away,” Mr. Rhodes wrote to the group two weeks before Jan. 6.
Prosecutors emphasized on Friday that Mr. Moerschel had brought his own weapons with him ahead of the riot, storing his AR-15 rifle and semiautomatic pistol among a cache of weapons that members had amassed in Virginia a day earlier. They told the judge that they believed Mr. Moerschel came to Washington ready to heed “the impulses of madmen” like Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Meggs, and stood ready to take up arms in Washington if called upon to do so by the Oath Keeper leaders or former President Donald J. Trump.
Judge Mehta determined that each man’s conduct on Jan. 6 amounted to an act of terrorism, applying a sentencing enhancement that slightly increased their incarceration time.
Yet he seemed to accept assurances on Friday that the two men had come to view their association with the Oath Keepers as painfully misguided, driven by loud and influential voices within the group and on conservative platforms and social media.
“Choices aren’t made in a vacuum; we make choices with information available to us,” said Angela Halim, Mr. Hackett’s lawyer.
In issuing the Oath Keeper sentences this week, Judge Mehta repeatedly stressed that even those relatively junior members of the group who had not directly engaged in violence with the police had nonetheless increased the chaos during the riot by descending on the Capitol as an organized militia.
“When you act with others, the danger is greater than when you act by yourself,” he said. “When the act is against the government, it makes the conduct particularly dangerous.”