A second alleged member of the Oath Keepers involved in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection pleaded guilty Wednesday to reduced charges and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in hopes of reducing a recommended six-year prison term.
Graydon Young, 55, of Englewood, Fla., admitted to two felony counts, including conspiracy and obstructing Congress’s confirmation of the 2020 presidential election results, punishable by up to five and 20 years in prison, respectively.
In a plea agreement summarized by US District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington, the government agreed to dismiss four other counts and could request a sentence below a recommended 63- to 78-month range in exchange for Young’s substantial cooperation.
’'Do you understand the decision to request a motion for a reduction rests exclusively with the government, is that understood? . . . And the ultimate decision to grant the motion is my decision, is that understood?’' Mehta asked during a brisk 30-minute hearing.
’'I understand, sir,’' said Young, an MBA graduate who has said he felt ’'duped’' by the Oath Keepers. His sister was also charged after signing up with the group.
Young’s plea was one of three on Wednesday by defendants charged in the Capitol breach as prosecutors seek to build momentum on with nearly 500 federal cases.
Anna Morgan-Lloyd of Bloomington, Ind., pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building and is the first defendant set to be sentenced. Robert Reeder of Harford County, Md., pleaded guilty to the same charge Wednesday but will not be sentenced until August. Four defendants pleaded earlier.
Young admitted to being part of a group that the government says forced entry through the Capitol’s East Rotunda doors shortly before 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 after marching single-file up the steps, wearing camouflage combat clothing and tactical vests with plates, helmets, eye protection, and Oath Keepers insignia.
Prosecutors alleged that Young on Dec. 3 e-mailed a membership application to the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers, writing, ’'looking to get involved in helping.’' They also allege that he recruited others to the group on Facebook — including his sister Laura Steele, then 52, of Thomasville, N.C., who has also been charged — and engaged in firearms training and sought further training Dec. 26 for members of the group.
Young and Steele traveled to the Washington area, stayed overnight at a Hilton in Springfield, Va., and met up with the group that eventually made its way up the Capitol steps, according to the indictment. Once inside, on a walkie-talkie-type application, Ohio militia founder and bar owner Jessica Watkins, 38, allegedly stated on a recorded ’'Stop the Steal J6′' Zello channel:
’'We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.’'
In February, Young told a federal judge at a bond hearing that he felt he had been ’'duped’' into joining the militia.
US prosecutors have criminally charged at least 19 alleged Oath Keepers or associates, including Jon Ryan Schaffer, an Indiana rock musician who was the first defendant to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors. In a plea deal, Schaffer admitted to two felonies — the lead obstruction of a congressional proceeding charge relied on heavily by prosecutors in the wider probe, and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed — hoping to pare down a recommended sentencing range of about four years by assisting the government.
Prosecutors say the Oath Keepers, a loose network of groups founded in 2009 that includes some self-styled citizen militias, targets law enforcement and military members for recruitment with an apocalyptic vision of the US government careening toward totalitarianism. Its members have provided security to some conservative politicians and causes in recent years.
Prosecutors alleged that members of the group were in contact with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes — usually identified as ’'Person One’' by the government in court documents. Prosecutors say certain codefendants were in contact with Rhodes, including Watkins; former Navy intelligence officer Thomas Caldwell, 65, of Berryville, Va.; and Florida car dealer Kelly Meggs, 52.
Rhodes has not been charged and is not accused of wrongdoing. He has accused prosecutors of trying to manufacture a nonexistent conspiracy.
’'I may go to jail soon, not for anything I actually did but for made-up crimes,’' Rhodes told Texas Republicans at a March rally in Laredo. He urged supporters of former president Donald Trump to ’'not cower in fear’' and claimed the federal government ’'was trying to get rid of us so they can get to you.’'
All 16 codefendants had pleaded not guilty.
In interviews with The Washington Post, Rhodes has disputed previous government allegations regarding his posts to an encrypted Signal group that included Oath Keepers leaders from several states at the scene, calling them an effort to call members together outside the Capitol to ’'keep them out of trouble.’'