Sarasota County Oath Keeper thought the January 6 riot was historic. Now he’s “embarrassed”
WASHINGTON — A Sarasota County man who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right Oath Keepers testified Monday that he believes they are participating in a historic “Bastille-type event” reminiscent of the French Revolution .
Graydon Young, a government witness at the seditious conspiracy trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and four associates, said he saw parallels between the crowd that attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the people French who “raised himself and resisted the kings. and tyrants” more than two centuries ago.
“The people were obviously attacking the government and its function,” Young said during the fifth week of testimony in the trial.
Young, 57, of Englewood, said he came to Washington to fight “the corrupt elements of the government” who were preparing to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
“I think I acted like a traitor,” he added.
Young, who is between 29 people from the greater Tampa Bay area accused in the Capitol riot, he was the first member of the Oath Keepers to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge related to the Capitol attack. He was the second member of the group to testify for federal prosecutors at the trial under a cooperation agreement.
Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and four others are charged with seditious conspiracy in what authorities described as a plot to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Republican incumbent Donald Trump to Biden, the Democrat who won the 2020 election.
Young pleaded guilty in June 2021 to conspiracy to obstruct the joint session of Congress for the certification of the Electoral College vote.
Defense attorney James Lee Bright, one of Rhodes’ attorneys, pressed Young to point to any evidence of a criminal conspiracy or “explicit plan” for Oath Keepers to attack the Capitol.
“It was implicit to me at the time,” Young said. “I didn’t explicitly say, ‘We’re doing a crime,’ but I think it was implied.”
“It was spontaneous,” Bright said.
“It was,” Young said.
Others on trial are Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia; Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville; Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio; and Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon.
Jason Dolan was the first member of Oath Keepers to testify at the trial. Dolan, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, said members of the group were prepared to use “any means necessary” on January 6 to stop the certification of Biden’s election victory.
After leaving the “Stop the Steal” rally where Trump spoke on Jan. 6, Young said he initially joined Meggs to escort a relative of a rally speaker. But his “goal” changed, Young said, when Meggs learned that the crowd had breached police barricades at the Capitol.
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“We all knew there was the potential for a historic event to take place at the Capitol,” Young said.
Young was wearing a helmet and carrying a radio when he joined other Oath Keepers to climb the stairs on the east side of the Capitol in a military-style “stack” formation, according to a court document accompanying his guilty plea. After entering the building, Young and others pushed against a line of police officers guarding the hallway that connects the Rotunda to the Senate, the filing says.
“We stormed in and went inside,” Young later posted on Facebook before deleting his account.
Tampa Caleb Berry, then 19, was also part of the Oath Keepers stack formation, and also pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. He could also testify in the trial.
young, who has for years owned a nursery school with his wife, said that he became scared and ashamed as he realized how much trouble he was after the riot. He choked up when a prosecutor asked him why he decided to cooperate with authorities.
“It’s really embarrassing,” he said.
Young, who served in the US Navy reserves for 11 years, said he was a Trump supporter who “really got ginned up” by a steady diet of political videos on YouTube in 2020. Young’s sister in North Carolina told about the Oath Keepers. He joined the group less than two months before January 6, thinking that “it can be an effective way to participate.”
Graydon Young talks about how after the 2020 election he started spending more than 6 hours a day on YouTube and Facebook.
Young: “I was really shocked. I was really emotionally invested in what was going on. It really started to change my judgment and cloud my priorities.”
— Jordan Fischer (@JordanOnRecord) October 31, 2022
On December 20, 2020, Young posted an encrypted message to other Oath Keepers, saying “something more is needed” than marches and protests. Asked what he was referring to in that message, Young said: “Something more effective and stronger than just the protests.”
Young believed Trump’s unfounded claims of a stolen election, thought a “corrupt government” was responsible and felt a sense of “hopelessness and despair” as January 6 approached.
Jurors also heard testimony Monday from a police officer who crossed paths with Oath Keepers members at the Capitol during the riot. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said none of the rioters offered to help him during a standoff captured on video, submitting a statement of defense that Oath Keepers tried to protect the officer from other rioters.
Justice Department prosecutor Alexandra Hughes asked Dunn what the rioters could have done to help him and other officers during the siege on January 6, 2021.
“Just leave the building,” Dunn said.
Dunn admitted to telling the FBI in May 2021 that he allowed rioters in tactical gear to stand near him while he guarded a stairwell. He said that the interaction took place in the crypt area of the Capitol and he could not be sure that the rioters standing in front of him were Oath Keepers.
Jurors watched video of a separate encounter in which Dunn interacted with Oath Keepers in military-style gear near a staircase in the second-floor Rotunda.
“I’m not letting you come like that,” Dunn recalled saying in the Rotunda.
The video also captured Dunn telling the rioters that they wanted “an all-out war” and had injured dozens of officers.
“You want to kill everybody,” Dunn said.
Dunn said he had not heard of the Oath Keepers before Jan. 6 and only later learned he had interacted with members of the group.
More than 900 people have been charged with federal crimes for their behavior on January 6. Rhodes and his four associates are the first defendants in the Capitol riots to be tried on charges of seditious conspiracy.
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
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