Oath Keepers member: Capitol riot was historic, spontaneous

Oct 31, 2022, 12:33 PM | Updated: 6:12 pm
FILE - Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washin...

FILE - Members of the Oath Keepers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. A Florida man who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right Oath Keepers testified On Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, that he believed they were participating in a historic "Bastille-type event" reminiscent of the French Revolution. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Florida man who stormed the U.S. Capitol with other members of the far-right Oath Keepers testified Monday that he believed they were 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 mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the French people who “stood up and resisted kings and tyrants” more than two centuries ago.

“The people were obviously attacking the government and their function,” Young said during the trial’s fifth week of testimony.

Young said he came to Washington to fight against “the corrupt elements of the government” that were preparing to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

“I guess I was acting like a traitor,” he added.

Young, 57, of Englewood, Florida, was the first Oath Keepers member to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge related to the Capitol attack. He was the second group member to testify for federal prosecutors at the trial under a cooperation agreement.

Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, and four others are charged with seditious conspiracy for what authorities have 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 conspiring to obstruct the joint session of Congress for certifying 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 did not explicitly say, ‘Let’s commit a crime,’ but I thought it was implicit.”

“It was spontaneous,” Bright said.

“It was,” Young said.

The others on trial are Thomas Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia; Kenneth Harrelson of Titusville, Florida; Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio; and Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida.

Jason Dolan was the first Oath Keepers member to testify at the trial. Dolan, who pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge, said group members were prepared to use “any means necessary” on Jan. 6 to stop the certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

After leaving the “Stop the Steal” rally where Trump spoke on Jan. 6, Young said he initially joined Meggs in escorting a rally speaker’s relative. But their “goal” changed, Young said, when Meggs learned that the crowd had breached police barricades at the Capitol.

“We all knew that there was the potential for a historical event to be taking place at the Capitol,” Young said.

Young was wearing a helmet and carrying a radio when he joined other Oath Keepers in walking up stairs on the east side of the Capitol in a military-style “stack” formation, according to a court filing accompanying his guilty plea. After entering the building, Young and others pushed against a line of police officers guarding the hallway connecting the Rotunda to the Senate, the filing says.

“We stormed and got inside,” Young later posted on Facebook before deleting his account.

Young said he became scared and ashamed as he realized how much trouble he was in 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 U.S. Navy reserves for 11 years, said he was a Trump supporter who “got really ginned up” by a steady diet of political videos on YouTube in 2020. Young’s sister in North Carolina told him about the Oath Keepers. He joined the group less than two months before Jan. 6, thinking “it might be an effective way to get involved.”

Young posted an encrypted message to other Oath Keepers on Dec. 20, 2020, that said “something more is required” than marches and protests. Asked what he was referring to in that message, Young said, “Something more effective and more forceful than just the protests.”

Young believed Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election, thought a “corrupt government” was responsible and felt a sense of “desperation and hopelessness” as Jan. 6 approached.

Jurors also heard testimony Monday by a police officer who crossed paths with Oath Keepers members inside the Capitol during the riot. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn said none of the rioters offered to help him during an encounter captured on video, undercutting a defense claim that Oath Keepers tried to protect the officer from other rioters.

Justice Department prosecutor Alexandra Hughes asked Dunn what rioters could have done to help him and other officers during the siege on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Just leave the building,” Dunn said.

Dunn acknowledged telling the FBI in May 2021 that he allowed rioters in tactical gear to stand near him while he was guarding a stairwell. He said that interaction occurred in the Capitol’s Crypt area and he couldn’t be certain whether the rioters who stood in front of him there were Oath Keepers.

Jurors saw a 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 this way,” Dunn recalled saying in the Rotunda.

Video also captured Dunn telling rioters that they wanted “an all-out-war” and had injured dozens of officers.

“You want to kill everybody,” Dunn said.

Dunn said he hadn’t heard of the Oath Keepers before Jan. 6 and only later learned that he had interacted with members of the group.

More than 900 people have been charged with federal crimes for their conduct on Jan. 6. Rhodes and his four associates are the first Capitol riot defendants to be tried on seditious conspiracy charges.

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Oath Keepers member: Capitol riot was historic, spontaneous