An Alabama man who stormed the United States Capitol with other members of the extremist group Oath Keepers pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy and is cooperating with prosecutors in another major boost to the Department of Justice in its vast investigation of January 6.
Mark Grods, 54, is the second member of the far-right group Oath Keepers to admit participating in a plot to block President Joe Biden’s certification of victory and agree to cooperate with the Ministry’s massive investigation. Justice. Grods’ case was kept under wraps until Wednesday to protect the investigation and his safety before he testified before a grand jury, court documents show.
The cooperation deals are sure to put pressure on more than a dozen other defendants associated with the far-right Oath Keepers who are still battling the allegations. It is the largest conspiracy case that authorities have yet initiated in the January 6 attack.
Grods, of Mobile, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstructing due process. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said Grods would likely face around four to five years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But prosecutors are likely to ask for even less time in return for his cooperation against others.
Grods and his lawyer did not speak to reporters as they left Washington federal court on Wednesday. The judge told Grods that he could not have any contact with other people associated with the Oath Keepers.
Last week, prosecutors got the first guilty plea in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case with defendant Graydon Young, 55, of Englewood, Fla., who was arrested in February. Young also agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Authorities say members of the Oath Keepers came to Washington with the intention of stopping the peaceful transition of power and were prepared to resort to violence if necessary. Prosecutors said members of the group prepared in the weeks leading up to January 6 as if they were heading for war and dressed that day in combat gear, such as helmets and tactical vests. .
The leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, who has not been charged, contacted some of the defendants in a Signal conversation titled “DC OP: Jan 6 21”, which prosecutors say shows the group “activated a use of force plan on January 21. 6.”
Defense lawyers argued that all discussions their clients had before Jan. 6 referred to the security of the rally before the riot or protection against possible attacks by anti-fa activists. They denied that there was any conspiracy to attack the Capitol or to stop the certification of the vote.
On January 2, Grods messaged Signal that said, “So I guess I’m taking all my gear unarmed?” I just read all the posts. I would rather have it and not need it, ”according to court documents. Authorities say he brought guns to Washington and gave them to someone else for storage in a Virginia hotel.
Grods rode in a golf cart to the Capitol and was among those who joined the military-style “pile” formation seen walking towards the building, court documents show. He entered with a large stick and left after police officers shot pepper balls at a wall near him, prosecutors said.
Another defendant later told him to “ensure that all signal communications regarding the operation have been removed and burned,” according to court documents.
More than 500 people across the United States have been arrested on federal charges so far in the January 6 riot. At least 12 defendants have pleaded guilty. A third member of the Oath Keepers group, Jon Ryan Schaffer, also pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but he was not charged in the conspiracy case.
Most of the other plea deals involved defendants who had only been charged with misdemeanors for entering the Capitol illegally. The only accused who has been convicted to date is a woman from Indiana who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. She was ordered to serve three years of probation, do 120 hours of community service and pay $ 500 in restitution.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.