In a significant boost for federal prosecutors, a member of the Oath Keepers who helped the group push into the US Capitol on Jan. 6 has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges and cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation into the militant group’s activities during the insurrection.
Graydon Young’s acknowledgment that he had conspired with other members of the Oath Keepers to impede or obstruct certification of the Electoral College by “intimidating and coercing government personnel” could help the prosecution make its case that the defendants had used covert communications to plan and coordinate their actions long before the insurrection. He is the first person charged with conspiracy to agree to plead guilty.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Young, 55, who appeared in the US District Court in Washington, DC, on Wednesday wearing a dark suit and a light blue face mask, has agreed to provide information and testimony to investigators and the grand jury and to serve as a witness for the government at trial. Fifteen others associated with the Oath Keepers are still facing federal charges in the case, which is the largest and arguably most ambitious prosecution to come out of the Capitol riots. The group is so large that Judge Amit Mehta has suggested that as many as three separate trials may be necessary.
In exchange for his cooperation, four other charges against Young were dropped, and prosecutors promised to advocate for a sentence reduction below the guideline recommendation of 63 to 78 months. Young also agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution to help cover the roughly $1.5 million in damages inflicted on the Capitol building that day.
Young, of Englewood, Florida, traveled to DC on Jan. 5 with his sister, Laura Steele. The following day, the two met up with other members of the Oath Keepers outside the Capitol. Dressed in tactical gear and ballistic helmets, they joined a military-style “stack” formation that forcibly entered the building at 2:28 p.m. Young remained in the building for about a half hour. According to court records, Steele, who is also a defendant in the case and has pleaded not guilty, became a dues-paying member of the Oath Keepers on Jan. 3 at Young’s urging.
Prosecutors have stated that they are seeking plea agreements with a number of defendants in the Oath Keepers case, recently telling Mehta that they hoped to finalize deals with a number of accused individuals. More than 450 people have been charged in the ongoing probe.
To prove a conspiracy, the government must show that two or more people agreed in advance to commit a crime — in this case, obstructing the certification of the presidential election — and that the actions of the charged individuals were not spontaneous. Young’s plea deal, in essence, is a big step toward surpassing that bar; by pleading guilty, he already affirms that there was such a conspiracy and, ostensibly, he can testify having made plans with other individuals.
Separately, the Justice Department has charged three members of the Proud Boys with conspiracy for their role in the events of Jan. 6. None have flipped so far.
In April, another member of the Oath Keepers, Jon Schaffer, also agreed to cooperate — but, unlike Young, he was not part of the “stack” that entered in battle formation and had not been charged with conspiracy.
Court records indicate that several other individuals associated with the Oath Keepers — including founder Stewart Rhodes — are under scrutiny. Although Rhodes, identified in filings as “Person One,” did not enter the Capitol, he was in frequent contact with members of the stack and met with them outside the building once they exited.
Court filings show that he was calling on others to go to Washington within days of November’s presidential election. According to prosecutors, he paid for a hotel room used by “the leader” of the Oath Keepers’ operations on Jan. 6.
In interviews and in public appearances, Rhodes has repeatedly denied breaking any laws. According to multiple reports, the FBI recently seized his cellphone as part of a search warrant and Rhodes has stated he anticipates being arrested.
Zoe Tillman contributed reporting to this story from Washington, DC.