By Holmes Lybrand and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN
Graydon Young, the first Oath Keeper to plead guilty to conspiracy in connection to January 6, 2021, told a jury Monday in the trial of five alleged leaders of the far-right group that after the 2020 election, he and other members believed the US government was covering up election fraud and the militia needed to act.
Young testified that he quickly became involved in the group after getting sucked into internet conspiracies of voter fraud after the 2020 election and, after the events of January 6, abandoned the group just as quickly — burning his Oath Keeper shirt and the gear he wore that day in his sister’s backyard, worried his mom would find out.
Young’s fast-track to radicalization has been a theme from government witnesses, many of whom joined the Oath Keepers around the 2020 election and left around the time of January 6. His story exemplifies the toxic rhetorical environment around the last election, which dozens of supporters of former President Donald Trump, who had otherwise innocuous or even heroic lives, have said in court pushed them into action that day.
“I felt sort of a sense of desperation and hopelessness. At the time I thought that there had been fraud committed. I listened to what Trump’s attorneys were saying, and I didn’t think there was anything that wasn’t going to keep it from going on course,” Young told the jury.
“I thought maybe an organization like [the Oath Keepers]…might be an effective way to get involved,” Young said, adding that he had felt protests weren’t making a difference.
Now, looking back, “I guess I was acting like a traitor against my own government,” Young testified.
Young was the first Oath Keeper to plead guilty to conspiracy charges, testifying that he quickly felt the effects of his actions on January 6. At the time of his guilty plea last year, Young said he had been assisting government prosecutors for months in their investigation against the far-right group, including against his sister.
Prosecutors asked Young why he thought it was so important to confess. “I hope that [prosecutors] understand that I won’t do anything like that ever again,” he said. “It was really embarrassing.” Young began to cry on the stand, taking tissues from the federal judge and struggling to speak.
“On a personal level, to be forgiven you have to confess. I feel like I had to confess, completely and wholly,” Young said.
He could face a likely sentence of more than five years in prison, according to estimates read at his plea hearing. He has also agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution for damage done to the Capitol building.
Young testified that after storming the Capitol with several Oath Keepers including Kelly Meggs and someone he knew as “Kenny,” the discussion quickly turned to how ineffective police armor seen that day would be against bullets.
“We had also spoke about gas masks and the fact that we didn’t have them,” Young added. “The whole general context was that if we had been more geared up or prepared, we might have been able to get through” police defense with gas masks and guns.
Young testified on cross-examination that there was no explicit agreement between himself and other Oath Keepers to enter the Capitol building on January 6, but that he assumed the group felt as “excited and motivated” as he did when they arrived at the Capitol steps.
Defense attorneys doubled down on the admission, noting that no one had ordered Young to act.
“You went in willingly?” James Lee Bright, a lawyer for the Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes, asked.
Young responded, “Yes.”
“Not at anyone’s command?” Bright asked.
“No, I did not” Young said. Young described the stack formation and breach as “spontaneous,” and said that there was “no explicit prior planning to do what we did.”
“I feel like it’s common sense,” Young said later, calling a plan to storm the Capitol implicit. “We talked about doing something about the fraud in the election when we got there on the 6th. And then when the crowd went through the barricades and up to the building, the opportunity presented itself.”
Young is the second person with a cooperation agreement to testify during the seditious conspiracy trial against the Oath Keepers. Prosecutors used testimony from Jason Dolan, a 46-year-old former Marine from Florida, to illustrate how the group intended to try and keep Trump in power by intimidating Congress on January 6.
The five alleged members of the Oath Keepers on trial — Rhodes, Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Jessica Watkins — have all pleaded not guilty to charges including seditious conspiracy.
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