In the days before the attack on the Capitol, Allen Groat wrote in a since-deleted tweet that the results of the 2020 presidential election were fraudulent, and that he was going to support Donald Trump on Jan. 6 by a “show of force,” according to a screenshot of the post.
This month, Charlottesville made an announcement that stunned and angered some residents: Groat would keep his job.
The controversy has drawn local and national attention, putting officials on the defensive in a city that was host to an earlier episode of far-right violence: the 2017 Unite the Right white-supremacist rally, which saw an avowed neo-Nazi plow his car into a crowd, killing one woman and injuring dozens more. Local activists say it is disappointing to see Groat on the government payroll, given what the city has been through.
Interim city manager Michael Rogers said at an Aug. 1 City Council meeting that Groat had provided a letter of apology and that an FBI investigation into Groat’s actions had not produced any charges after a year and a half. Groat did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
“He is very sorrowful of his activities,” Rogers said. “He has experienced a great deal of personal loss. Considering the totality of circumstances including that it’s been a year and a half without any action, I conclude that no further action or review is warranted in this case.”
That did not sit well with some in the city. Molly Conger, a local activist and journalist, has questioned the city’s handling of Groat’s case repeatedly in recent weeks and highlighted his social media postings on Twitter. Groat is tasked with providing tech help to the city’s police and fire departments. She did not respond to a request for comment.
“Whether or not groat’s conduct on january 6th rose to the level of being federally prosecutable is entirely separate from the question of whether this person’s conduct is consistent with what this city should expect from public safety professionals,” Conger tweeted.
Lisa Woolfork, a local anti-racist organizer, told HuffPost, “The city of Charlottesville’s continued support of Groat undermines the credibility of city government and any anti-racist statements they make on paper.”
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said in an interview that city code did not allow officials to fire Groat unless he was charged with a crime. He said some towns and cities have codes of conduct that allow employees to be fired if they act disreputably, but Charlottesville does not.
“That is something we may look at,” Snook said of a code of conduct.
He added he did not want to fire Groat because he had become a “political football.” He said it would send a bad message to other employees.
Groat’s presence inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 became public in June, when former Charlottesville police chief RaShall Brackney tweeted about it, saying the city had “downplayed” the affair. Charlottesville fired Brackney late last year, and she is now suing the city for alleged racial and gender discrimination.
In an interview, Brackney said a city official had tipped her off in mid-January 2021 that a Charlottesville police officer had been at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Brackney said she assigned her deputy chief to investigate the matter.
The deputy chief discovered the man was not an officer, but a city IT employee detailed to the police and fire departments. The deputy chief interviewed Groat, who said he had been inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and showed photos, according to an internal probe of the matter that Brackney posted on Twitter.
Groat told the deputy chief that he was an independent journalist and photographer, who was inside the Capitol along with other media outlets, including CNN, according to the probe. Groat said Capitol police officers allowed the media outlets in, and he left when officers asked him to leave after the action inside became “disorderly,” according to the probe.
The deputy chief concluded no criminal activity had occurred and that Groat’s case was a personnel matter for the city, according to the probe. “The department should not be involved in this matter further,” the deputy chief wrote.
Brackney said she disagreed — and that she was suspicious of Groat’s claims.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Brackney said Groat had told the department he was going to miss work on Jan. 6 so he could take his wife to the doctor.
She said she was also concerned because he had access to police reports, victim information and personnel records within the department as part of his job, and that she was disturbed by his Twitter account. Snook said city officials would know if Groat abused his access to sensitive information.
In one post, Groat is pictured with former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and he claimed to have worked with the group to provide impromptu security for Infowars founder Alex Jones at the Million MAGA March in D.C. in November 2021. In another, he asked people who “love America and will defend the republic by any means necessary” to follow him. He cursed Black Lives Matter in a third.
Brackney said she reached out to the FBI, which began an investigation. She said she was told by FBI officials that Groat would be charged at one point, but no charges have been filed.
Rogers said at the City Council meeting that Groat had been interviewed three times by the FBI, but it’s unclear if the investigation remains active. FBI officials referred all questions about Groat to the U.S. attorney’s office in D.C., which declined to comment.
The Justice Department estimates 2,000 people were involved in the siege of the Capitol, and federal prosecutors are continuing to charge people for trespassing-related misdemeanors, as well as more serious felonies.
A small number of those charged have claimed to be journalists. In those cases, prosecutors pointed to a lack of history in journalism and comments supportive of the riot as evidence the defendants were participants, not observers.
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.