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2nd Oath Keepers cooperator says he saw Jan. 6 as ‘Bastille-type’ moment

Graydon P. Young testifies in Rhodes seditious conspiracy trial that he thought Capitol breach at time could start a revolution: “I was acting like a traitor, someone acting against my own government”

Jessica Marie Watkins, second from left, and Donovan Ray Crowl, center, both from Ohio, march down the east front steps of the U.S. Capitol with the Oath Keepers on Jan. 6, 2021. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

A star government witness in the seditious conspiracy trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes testified that he believed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol could start a new American revolution potentially led by the extremist group.

“I felt like it was a ‘Bastille-type’ moment in history, like in the French Revolution,” Florida Oath Keepers member Graydon Young testified.

“I guess I was acting like a traitor, someone acting against my own government,” he said in the trial of Rhodes and four others in federal court in Washington.

The testimony on Monday of Young, 57, of the Tampa area, is critical to the prosecution. He is one of three expected witnesses who have pleaded guilty to at least one of three overlapping conspiracies in which Rhodes and others are charged. Oath Keepers co-defendants are accused of being in military-style gear in a “stack” formation outside the Capitol and with staging firearms just outside Washington.

Prosecutors must show that even though Rhodes did not enter the building that day, he and co-defendants conspired to oppose by force the lawful transition of presidential power, to obstruct Congress as it met to certify the 2020 election results, or to impede lawmakers.

What you need to know about the Oath Keepers trial

Young said he believed there was an implicit understanding among Oath Keepers who participated in encrypted communications with Rhodes that he had called for violently opposing President Biden from taking office, even though Young said there was no specific order to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6 or explicit agreement to commit a crime.

“There was no specific plan that you were aware of to breach the doors of the Capitol, is that correct?” Rhodes’s lawyer James Lee Bright asked during cross-examination.

“Yes,” Young replied.

But Young told prosecutor Jeffrey S. Nestler, “I participated in a conspiracy to obstruct Congress. … We were going to disrupt Congress, wherever they were meeting.”

“I felt like it was common-sense,” he said. “We talked about doing something about fraud in the election when we got there on the 6th, and when crowds went over the barricades into the building, the opportunity presented itself to do something.”

Young, a retired civilian software project manager and Navy Reserves information systems technician, told jurors how after the 2020 election he grew bored by his and his wife’s rental property and child-care businesses and spent “two to six” hours a day following President Donald Trump’s false claims of massive voter fraud.

Young said he believed that further protests would be “ineffectual,” knew that Congress’s joint session Jan. 6 was the “last step” before Biden’s inauguration two weeks later, and joined the Oath Keepers because “I felt like something needed to change or be done.”

“I was really emotionally invested in what was going on. It started to cloud my judgment and modified my priorities” away from his family, Young said.

Young signed up to be a bodyguard for Trump political confidant Roger Stone in Florida, where he met a paramilitary trainer. Young, who owned 10 firearms including two AR-15 military-style rifles, said he explored firearms training using simulated rounds for his security team, and reported to Rhodes and his co-defendant Florida Oath Keepers Jan. 6 leader Kelly Meggs, who both directed Oath Keepers actions in Washington that day, Young testified.

On the stand, Young said he remembered Trump attorney Sidney Powell saying voting machines had been tampered with and the U.S. government was being complicit; he believed it was time to stand up against a corrupted government “forcing us to accept an invalid election and whatever else.”

Young testified that Meggs told other Florida members in encrypted chats in December 2020 that Oath Keepers were ready to be the potential leaders of “millions” once resistance started. When Young fretted that opposing federal authority was a “fools’ errand,” and he and others doubted that they could stop the election certification, Rhodes unexpectedly joined in the chat to “motivate” them — “like the CEO showing up in your chat.”

“It’s not a fools errand,” Rhodes said in a Christmas Day thread, just after another participant claimed, “We are going to be in the lead of 1776.2.”

Congress needed to be scared and convinced “it will be torches and pitchforks time i[f] they don’t do the right thing,” Rhodes said, adding that if Trump didn’t act by calling out the military and private militia to remain in power, the Oath Keepers would.

Young said he took that as an implicit understanding that Oath Keeper patriots would oppose an “enemy” consisting of Congress, Biden and heads of federal agencies: “I didn’t know exactly how we [Oath Keepers] would act or when … — whether the general population would stop to resist the fraud, and then we would step in and help them, or we would get them to do something — but I thought it meant after Biden was confirmed there would then be a reaction and resistance.”

Young said he did not bring a rifle to Washington because he traveled by air, and Meggs said he would bring one for him. However Young said he and his sister, a former police officer in North Carolina, brought a couple of handguns with them to the D.C. area.

In Washington that day, Meggs made the decision for a group of Oath Keepers to head to the Capitol to rendezvous with Rhodes after hearing police barricades had been breached and was in communication with Rhodes, Young testified.

Ex-Oath Keeper outlines dark worldview behind U.S. Capitol attack

Once there, Young said he put his hand on the shoulder of co-defendant Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keepers member and co-defendant. Young said the pair spent about 30 minutes in the Capitol after he “pushed” his way into the building and joined a crowd that tried to push past police defending the Senate chamber before being repelled by chemical irritants.

Young pleaded guilty in June 2021 to conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding of Congress. He testified after prosecutors offered to dismiss four other counts and trim back a recommended 63-to-78-month prison sentence in a deal for his “substantial cooperation.”

Young’s testimony, coming in the fifth week of trial and after proceedings had been interrupted last week by Rhodes testing positive for the coronavirus, could be central to whether prosecutors can distinguish Rhodes’s and his co-defendants’ actions from those of nearly 300 who are accused of trying or conspiring to obstruct Congress, but not using force to oppose the government.

Two weeks ago, a second cooperator, Jason Dolan, 46, of Wellington, Fla., testified that members of the group were prepared to stop Congress from confirming the 2020 election result “by any means necessary,” including armed combat, and was grappling with potentially dying a “treasonous” death.

It “would be treasonous fighting against what I saw as an illegitimate form of government,” Dolan explained. Like Young, Dolan testified that Rhodes had declared that Oath Keepers would act even if Trump did not: “We will act to stop the certification of the election … by any means necessary. That’s why we brought our firearms.”

But Dolan also testified that he knew of no order or “specific mission” to enter the building and took it as a “commander’s intent” or general goal to keep Trump in office.