WASHINGTON — A member of the alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy who cut a deal with prosecutors admit he stashed guns at a Virginia hotel as part of preparations for demonstrations at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Mark Grods pleaded guilty on Wednesday afternoon to two felony counts for conspiracy and obstructing Congress. Grods confirmed the government’s long-standing allegation that members of the Oath Keepers who came to Washington, DC, to oppose Congress’s certification of the election were prepared for violence and arranged to store firearms outside of the city that could be brought in on short notice.
Grods agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of his plea deal, and prosecutors asked a judge earlier this week to keep his case under seal while he worked with the government, including testifying for the grand jury. The charges and confirmation of his cooperation were unsealed Wednesday morning and he appeared before a judge later in the day to formally enter a guilty plea.
Grods is facing an estimated sentencing range of between 51 to 63 months, according to his plea agreement, but he could argue for a sentence below that, and the government could advocate for less time if they're satisfied with his cooperation. He's also agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution towards what prosecutors have estimated was around $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol; other defendants who pleaded guilty to felony charges in these cases have agreed to a similar amount.
After the hearing, Grods and his attorney declined to speak with reporters. He'll be allowed to go home while his cooperates and waits for his sentencing; he's prohibited from being in contact with any members of the Oath Keepers or anyone charged in the other Oath Keepers conspiracy case.
Grods is the third person with ties to the Oath Keepers, a far-right militant group, to plead guilty in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the second person to do so who is part of the conspiracy case. A week ago, Graydon Young pleaded guilty to conspiracy and also agreed to cooperate as part of his deal with the government. Unlike Grods, Young had been publicly identified before as part of the Oath Keepers investigation.
The charges against Grods tie together a number of key elements of the alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy that prosecutors laid out in previous court filings. Aside from confirming that at least one member of the group arranged to store guns at a hotel in Virginia, Grods was part of a contingent that rode golf carts to the Capitol, and he later moved on foot toward the Capitol as part of a “stack” of people outfitted in helmets and other tactical gear.
Grods entered the Capitol carrying a “large stick,” according to the government, and was later instructed by an unidentified person to destroy evidence of messages they’d exchanged using the Signal app.
Grods’ charging papers don’t name the other defendants charged in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case so far, but they do include a number of overlapping details that make the connection clear. Grods was part of a Signal chat group called “DC OP: Jan 6 21” and participated in a Dec. 31, 2020, virtual conference called “SE leaders dc 1/6/21 op call,” both of which are referenced in the indictment against the other defendants publicly charged in the Oath Keepers conspiracy.
Prosecutors have alleged that members of the Oath Keepers arranged for a “quick reaction force” to be stationed outside DC and “ferry” in guns if needed. They previously presented images from surveillance video at the Comfort Inn Ballston in Arlington, Virginia, that they contend showed another person charged in the conspiracy, Kenneth Harrelson of Florida, rolling a luggage cart out on the morning of Jan. 7 with what appeared to be a rifle case.
No one in the group has yet been charged with weapon-related offenses. Absent photographic evidence of actual guns, Harrelson’s lawyers argued the surveillance footage from the hotel was only proof that he’d brought luggage. Grods stayed at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington but stored guns he’d brought in a “Virginia hotel,” according to his charging papers; the government didn’t name the hotel.
In the case of Thomas Caldwell, another person charged in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, prosecutors alleged that he’d explored options to store weapons in Virginia and have them brought into DC via pickup trucks or carried across the Potomac River by boat.
Grods is the 11th person charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection to plead guilty, and several more plea hearings are scheduled for the coming weeks. Prosecutors have confirmed that plea talks are underway in a number of cases; more than 500 people have been federally charged to date.
Updated with additional information about Grods' court appearance.