Capitol rioter Kenneth Grayson of Bridgeville, a former correctional officer who once fought professionally in tough-guy competitions, said he was led astray by then-President Donald Trump’s rhetoric in storming the Capitol but insists he lied when he bragged online about beating up “commies” at previous Trump rallies, saying, “All I do now mostly is talk a lot of mess.”
Grayson, 53, is set to be sentenced Monday in federal court in Washington for breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in support of Trump’s election lies.
He’s one of 25 people from Western Pennsylvania charged so far in the insurrection, although the FBI investigation is ongoing. The nationwide caseload is approaching 1,000.
Grayson, a QAnon supporter who wore a big yellow Q on his shirt and an Infowars patch during the rioting, pleaded guilty in September to interfering with police during a civil disorder, a federal felony that cost him his high-paying oil industry job and standing in the community.
He faces a sentence of zero to six months in prison.
He and his public defender, Ned Smock, are asking for probation, arguing he has already suffered from his actions and didn’t hurt cops or damage any property during the rioting.
“Unlike most January 6 defendants who engaged in comparable conduct, Mr. Grayson has here incurred a felony conviction, he has endured significant restrictions on his liberty for nearly two years, and he lost nearly everything he worked his entire life for after his arrest,” Smock said in sentencing papers this week.
Federal prosecutors are asking for three months behind bars, three years of probation and $2,000 in restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Fedor said Grayson told friends on Facebook in the weeks before the insurrection that Trump had called “patriots” to action and that he was obeying his president.
In his online posts, Grayson bragged he was “sick of these [expletive] posers on FB big tough guys always talking about their guns and tempers and ooo scary guy [expletive]. I’m on the front line every time mother [expletive]!”
He also told friends that “we might be there doing street battle.”
Grayson rented a van and drove to Washington with three associates, including Jennifer Heinl, the former wife of a Shaler police officer, who was previously sentenced to two weeks in jail and community service for her role in the rioting.
Grayson admitted he illegally entered the Capitol through the Senate wing doors and walked into the crypt. He also entered the rotunda area where a mob was fighting with police. Prosecutors said Grayson joined the rioters in pushing against the officers. He also livestreamed his conduct on Facebook. Some friends back home told him to get out of the building, but others egged him on, telling him to steal things.
The FBI showed up at his house a few weeks later and arrested him.
Smock said Grayson, the son of a police officer, had grown increasingly engaged in politics during Trump’s presidency and was encouraged by Trump’s “inflammatory words.”
Grayson said he started presenting himself as a “fearless supporter” of Trump on social media to the point of making up stories to make himself sound tough.
Smock said that’s what Grayson was doing when he boasted online that he had traveled to Washington for Trump rallies in November and December 2020, and assaulted leftists there whom he described as Antifa members.
In one post, he said he had left someone unconscious after bashing him with a flagpole.
Grayson was at those rallies, but he said he left before any violence and didn’t do any beating. Smock said the stories he told were baseless “puffery.”
In a letter to the judge, Grayson said he’s now embarrassed by what he wrote during that time. Although he once fought in West Virginia tough-man events, and got into some alcohol-fueled bar fights, he said that at 52 his body is wracked by injuries and mostly just talks big now.
“I hope you can understand that it was only talk,” he told the judge. “The messages were trying to sound tough and even included stories of things I never did to sound tough and act as if I was more involved than what I actually was. I never attacked, hurt or even touched anyone ever at any political event that I’ve ever been to — especially in Washington, D.C.”
Prosecutors said Grayson twice joined rioters in pushing against the police line as captured on video, and is later seen leaving the building while rubbing his eyes from tear gas exposure.
He and Heinl walked out together after spending 45 minutes inside the Capitol and then drove home to Pennsylvania with two others.
In his interview with the FBI after his arrest, Fedor said, Grayson told agents that he gets his news from online sources and followed the QAnon movement and the Infowars site. He said the two groups hate each other, which is why he had patches from both on his clothes.
When the agents asked about the riot, Grayson told them he took it seriously when “you get invited literally by the president to be somewhere.”
He said he was there because he felt the election was stolen and he wanted to do something about it. He also said it was a “joke” to describe rioters as “storming” the Capitol because that’s not what he saw.
“To me that wasn’t a storming,” he said. “I was watching them walk in.”
He also minimized his actions by saying he wouldn’t have entered if there had been a sign saying not to.
“I didn’t take, rip, steal, touch or fight,” he told agents. “I only yelled and filmed and acted like an idiot.”