A member of the far-right Oath Keepers movement who entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot told a federal court judge and jury on Monday that upon entering the building he and fellow Oath Keepers felt elated. But now he feels only ashamed.
Graydon Young, a 57-year-old Englewood, Fla., resident who worked as a software developer and served in the U.S. Navy Reserves, pleaded guilty to riot-related charges in June of last year and is one of four group members who have entered such pleas.
On Monday, Young told the judge and jury hearing the case against five Oath Keepers, including Stewart Rhodes, the militia group’s founder and leader, that he became a solid supporter of then-President Donald Trump in the run-up to the November 2020 presidential election.
He said he became involved with the Oath Keepers movement because he believed there was a “better than 50-50 chance” that there was massive fraud in the election that Joe Biden won over Trump.
Young, who pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating the riot, told the jury that before the 2020 election he spent “way too much time” on YouTube and Facebook watching election fraud propaganda. He said he watched as much as two to six hours a day, and became “really invested” in what was going on, which he said clouded his judgment.
At one point, Young told the jury, he communicated directly with Rhodes, who told him it would not be a “fool’s errand” to head to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.
Young participated in a rally addressed by Trump before the riot and then headed for the Capitol after being told he and some fellow Oath Keepers would be acting as escorts for a VIP. The person who his group was escorting was a “middle-aged” woman who had trouble keeping up with her escorts, Young said.
Young said that Kelly Meggs, an Oath Keepers leader from Florida and defendant in the current trial, told him and his group to move quickly because they were going to rendezvous with Rhodes. Young testified that Meggs told him that the Capitol building had been breached, and said something like “we’re in.
“I felt it was like a Bastille-type movement,” Young said, referring to the uprising that overran a notorious Paris prison during the early days of the French Revolution. “I thought it was going to be a similar type of event for us.”
“It was exhilarating. I thought I was going to be part of an important event.”
Young said that other rioters storming the Capitol building steps recognized his group as Oath Keepers “and the crowd parted and allowed us up the steps” as they pushed up in a military-style formation. He said that he and other Oath Keepers went up the stairs with their hands on each other’s shoulders but subsequently got separated from each other once inside the building.
He testified that he sent a Facebook post at 4:22 p.m. on the afternoon of the riot, declaring “We stormed and got inside.” Later that night he left Washington with his sister. The day after arriving at her North Carolina residence, Young said he burned a helmet and vest he had taken to the riot as well as an Oath Keepers shirt. By then, he said, he and his sister were “solidly in freakout mode.”
He subsequently deleted Signal, an encoded messaging app used by the Oath Keepers, from his phone as well as his Facebook account.
Before the riot, Young said, he felt he and his fellow Oath Keepers were engaged in “some kind of historical event to achieve a goal.” Today, Young told the judge and jury, “I feel extremely ashamed.”
Tearing up before the jury, Young said that after pleading guilty in his case, he had told the judge he was deeply sorry for his actions, and that on a personal level he had to confess completely and wholly.
Under questioning from a defense lawyer, Young acknowledged that before the riot, he was unaware of any explicit plan or intent on the Oath Keepers’ part to breach the Capitol and that the move to do so was just a “stupid, let's do this thing. ... We didn’t explicitly say we were going to go in. We all just went in. It was spontaneous.”
Under reexamination by the prosecution, Young said, “I guess I was acting as a traitor to my own government.”
Young acknowledged that he could still be sentenced to up to 72 months in prison for his guilty plea, though he expressed a hope for a lesser sentence in view of his efforts to provide “substantial assistance” to investigators and prosecutors.
He is one of four Oath Keepers to plead guilty so far to riot-related charges. In earlier testimony during the current trial, Jason Dolan, another member of the group who entered a guilty plea, testified that while group members were not explicitly told to prepare for violence at the Capitol, their conversations had an implicit undertone about the need to “fight back. ... It was a feeling.”
Last week, the trial of Rhodes and his co-defendants was on recess for a couple of days after Rhodes tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, however, Rhodes, wearing his eye patch and dressed in a suit, was back in the courtroom at a table with other defendants and their lawyers.