It wasn’t hard for the FBI to identify Jeff Grace as one of the rioters in the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. A 61-year-old long-haul truck driver from Washington state, Grace was in the background of one of the most ridiculous and iconic photographs from that day: the shot of a man in a red, white, and blue Trump hat waving to the camera while carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern through the rotunda. Grace’s bald head was visible in the background.
“You know the guy carrying the lectern out?” Grace would later ask a Texas police officer, in a video Grace recorded and posted online during a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border while he was on pretrial release.
“Yes, sir,” the officer responded.
“Look at the old man behind him,” Grace boasted. “That’s me.”
FBI agents arrested Grace at his home in Battle Ground, Washington, near the Oregon border, about three weeks after the Capitol riot.
According to a review of court records by The Intercept in collaboration with the Prosecution Project, Grace is one of 707 Americans charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with crimes related to the January 6 riot, during which five people died. As with 316 of those criminal defendants, or 45 percent of the total, Grace faces only misdemeanor charges for his part in a violent mob that overran barricades and killed and injured police officers at the Capitol as part of an effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president.
After his arrest, Grace told FBI agents that he had lost track of his son, Jeremy, with whom he had traveled from Washington state, during the melee and that he entered the U.S. Capitol without him. He also denied to federal agents that he was a member of the Proud Boys, a far-right militant group that has been responsible for violence throughout the United States.
According to The Intercept’s analysis of federal court records, the Justice Department has charged at least 47 alleged members and affiliates of the Proud Boys with crimes related to the Capitol riot, including some with conspiring to obstruct a congressional proceeding. The Proud Boys represented the largest militant-group contingent during the insurrection; the far-right Oath Keepers made up the second-largest contingent, with 29 alleged Oath Keepers charged for their roles in the insurrection. The FBI appeared to be concerned in advance about possible violence from the Proud Boys on January 6, 2021, with at least one informant providing firsthand details about the group’s activities to the FBI.
Federal prosecutors allege that Grace made two false statements to FBI agents: when he said he wasn’t with his son in the Capitol and when he said he wasn’t a member of the Proud Boys. Grace’s son has since also been charged with misdemeanors related to the January 6 riot, after investigators found videos among deleted files on Grace’s phone showing father and son together inside the Capitol.
Months after Grace pleaded not guilty to the federal misdemeanor charges, Justice Department prosecutors alleged in court that he engaged in armed clashes in Texas and Oregon. Prosecutors asked a judge to force Grace to relinquish his guns while he awaits trial. “Grace’s recent escalation in which he twice brought a firearm to pre-planned confrontations with others and vowed to continue doing so establishes that the proposed amendment is reasonably necessary to protect the safety of the community,” Mona Sedky, a federal prosecutor, wrote in a court filing.
Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images; Brent Stirton/Getty Images
Grace has complained in videos he’s posted to YouTube that the Justice Department is treating him unfairly. “How do you feel free thinking that I don’t deserve to carry my firearms?” Grace asked in one video.
But Grace is in fact benefiting from a long-running double standard in how the Justice Department prosecutes violent domestic extremists compared with extremists associated with international groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Since 9/11, for example, Muslims involved in bombing cases are often charged with using weapons of mass destruction, an anti-terrorism charge that comes with decades in prison, while anti-abortion extremists who’ve bombed reproductive health clinics have faced lesser explosives charges for similar crimes.
“There is no question that the FBI and federal prosecutors have treated white supremacist and far-right violence far more leniently than Muslims they accuse of supporting terrorism and even more leniently than nonviolent protesters opposing racism and police violence,” said Michael German, a former FBI undercover agent who investigated domestic extremists and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“There is no question that the FBI and federal prosecutors have treated white supremacist and far-right violence far more leniently than Muslims they accuse of supporting terrorism.”
The felony charge of making false statements to federal agents is particularly emblematic of the double standard. The Justice Department gave Grace a pass on the charge, but federal prosecutors have not been as generous in similar cases involving alleged Islamist extremists.
A few months after prosecutors charged Grace for his role in the Capitol riot, for example, they filed criminal charges against an alleged ISIS sympathizer, Hannibal Kokayi, following an investigation that dates back to 2018. The FBI had investigated whether Kokayi was part of a group that was introducing others to ISIS propaganda and encouraging people to join the terrorist group in Syria.
The FBI interviewed Kokayi twice, first at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and later at his home, and in both interviews, Kokayi lied about supporting ISIS and about his knowledge of people who wanted to join the group. Federal prosecutors charged Kokayi with making false statements, a felony; he pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 24 months of probation.
In international terrorism prosecutions, Kokayi’s case isn’t an outlier, and in some cases, the penalties have been significantly more severe than what Kokayi received. In Florida, Robert Blake Jackson posted ISIS propaganda on Facebook and expressed an interest in joining the group. When the FBI questioned him, he lied about what he’d written on Facebook. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Alexander Samuel Smith, a North Carolina man who went by the name Amir Alexander, communicated online with an FBI informant who he believed was an ISIS supporter. Smith claimed that he could get cheap airline tickets through his girlfriend, who worked for an airline, and when the FBI asked Smith about this conversation, he lied about it. He received five years in prison.
Perhaps the most relevant and moving case involves a husband and wife in Texas, Mohommad and Sumaiya Ali, who were in contact with their two sons who’d joined ISIS in Syria. When FBI agents questioned the couple about their children, Mohommad and Sumaiya lied, saying they didn’t know that their sons were in Syria or with ISIS. Mohommad was sentenced to a year in prison and Sumaiya two and a half years for making false statements to FBI agents. Their rationale was likely the very same as Grace’s: He said he lied to the FBI to protect his son.
German points to recent activity in the Pacific Northwest as indicative of the double standard. The Proud Boys, which as an organization promotes misogynist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and antisemitic views, have been involved in violent clashes there, including an attack on the Oregon Capitol two weeks before the January 6 riot in Washington, D.C. But prosecutors have not aggressively gone after the Proud Boys and other violent right-wing extremists there, instead bringing nearly 100 cases against Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, including for serious felony charges such as assaulting a federal officer.
“It’s no wonder that far-right militants appear emboldened all across the country,” German noted, “as their public violence continues to be unpoliced.”
Grace’s life began to change after the Capitol riot, and he’s documented the changes in dozens of YouTube videos posted over the last eight months. Most have fewer than 100 views. They start on April 17, when Grace posted a video of himself pulling up to the parking lot of Daimler Trucks North America, his employer for 26 years. The video was filmed by someone sitting in the passenger seat next to Grace.
“How’s it going?” Grace said to a company employee as he drove up.
“Pretty good,” the employee said. “I can’t let you on-site.”
“What?” Grace asked, surprised.
“You’ve been banned.”
Grace said that he had been fired by his company after being indicted in Washington, D.C. “I’m not being supported by the union or Daimler, and I’ve been accused of a crime,” Grace said. “I am not convicted.”
He posted his next video a couple months later. Grace recorded it two days after the FBI arrested his son. “It’s absolutely amazing how much money they’re spending on myself and my son,” Grace said of the federal government. In the video, Grace is wearing a T-shirt showing the U.S. Capitol with the words “Our House” below it — the type of shirt that he’s now trying to sell online under his politically charged “Our House” apparel brand.
Grace said in this video that any good father would lie to protect his son, and he denied that he was a member of the Proud Boys. “So Proud Boys, no, I’m not one of you, and I’m not part of you, but I do have respect for you,” he said.
Grace admitted to Cotta that he falsely told FBI agents that he became separated from his son on January 6, 2021.
After his son’s arrest, Grace began to capture the attention of fringe internet personalities. In June, he sat for an interview with Todd Cotta, a California gun store owner who has a podcast called “Rebel Radio.” Grace admitted to Cotta that he falsely told FBI agents that he became separated from his son on January 6, 2021. “Because I wanted to protect my son, I said I separated myself from him,” Grace said. He also admitted to deleting data from his phone — which investigators later recovered and discovered were videos and photos showing him and his son together in the Capitol. Grace boasted around this time of doing an interview with Jake Beaird, a far-right activist who has livestreamed Proud Boys’ hooliganism and been kicked off some social media platforms.
The fringe media attention appeared to embolden Grace in his quest to become a right-wing YouTube celebrity. In brief video monologues that increased in frequency, he denied that there was any violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. “Peaceful protest,” he said. “There was no insurrection.” He then claimed that the FBI broke a window at the Capitol and bused in violent antifascists. He railed against Black Lives Matter and antifascist groups and referred to “the left” as if it were an organized, monolithic force. He complained that some businesses in Oregon and Washington state were still requiring masks. “And that is the start of socialism, people,” Grace said. He also claimed that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and that an audit in Arizona would prove it.
In July, Grace set off for the U.S.-Mexico border with Beaird, the Proud Boys videographer. Founded in 2016, the Proud Boys received international attention during the 2020 presidential debate, when Trump told the group’s members to “stand back and stand by.”
As Grace and Beaird traveled to the border, Grace uploaded videos. Reflecting his conspiratorial view that the United States is in the middle of a culture war as immigrants “flood” the country, Grace said he expected to record videos of immigrants crossing over into the United States illegally. But as he stood next to the border in one of his videos, Grace said, as if genuinely surprised: “Not a whole heck of a lot going on.”
In late July, local police approached Beaird and Grace as they filmed outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Texas. An officer asked what they were doing. “We’re filming because clearly there’s some crazy stuff going on here,” Beaird answered.
Beaird and Grace said they saw a bus pull up next to the building, and Grace recorded himself telling the local police officers that he believed it was part of a government conspiracy to distribute illegal immigrants throughout the United States. “You hear all the talk about the immigrants that are coming in and being dispersed across the U.S.,” Grace said.
In that conversation, Grace boasted to the officer about being at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and explained that he could be seen in the background of the infamous photograph of the man carrying Pelosi’s lectern through the rotunda. After checking their IDs, the police allowed Beaird and Grace to continue filming the federal building.
In a court filing, the Justice Department said that during this trip to Texas, Grace engaged in armed confrontations with people he believed were illegal immigrants.
Then, after attending a Trump rally in Phoenix, Grace returned with Beaird to the Pacific Northwest, where they joined the Proud Boys to provide what Grace described as “perimeter security” for Artur Pawlowski, a controversial Canadian minister who has promoted homophobia and resistance to mask mandates. Antifascist activists and Proud Boys clashed at the gathering as police in Portland looked on. Photographs from the event show Grace carrying a sidearm and holding a baton while in the bed of a truck surrounded by other white men dressed for battle. In video recorded by Beaird, Grace can be seen taking part in the assault of a man under a bridge in Portland.
Grace recorded a YouTube video afterward in which he admitted to participating in the Proud Boys event in Portland. “Looking forward to the next event I am able to embrace,” Grace said.
Three days after this violent clash, prosecutors in Washington, D.C., asked the court to order Grace to give up his weapons and alleged that Grace had falsely said he was not with his son in the U.S. Capitol and that he was not a member of the Proud Boys. Federal prosecutors referred in their court filing to the public photographs of Grace in Portland and the video Beaird recorded of the assault under the bridge there.
The Justice Department declined a request from The Intercept to explain why it has chosen not to prosecute Grace for making false statements when prosecutors have filed that felony charge against dozens of other alleged extremists for similar conduct. “We typically do not comment on cases, investigations, or charging decisions beyond what is stated or submitted to the court,” said Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. “We have no comment on this particular matter.”
Grace may be curious to hear prosecutors’ explanation as well. In his interview in June with Cotta, the California gun store owner, Grace said he was expecting to be charged with making false statements: “Now I have another charge that’s going to be coming on me for lying to the FBI —”
“Oh,” Cotta replied, interrupting.
“Which is a felony,” Grace finished.
“Oh, jeez,” Cotta said.
“Yeah,” Grace said.
But that didn’t happen. To date, Grace faces only misdemeanor charges, despite having admitted publicly to making false statements to federal agents. Now unemployed, Grace has been living out of a trailer, traveling from RV park to RV park in the Pacific Northwest as he uploaded videos to YouTube that espouse his conspiratorial, nativist view of the world.
“Am I concerned that I’m going to be put in jail or prison till my trial?” he asked in one recent video. “Well, if I said I wasn’t, thinking about it for a little bit, I’d be a liar, because I’m not stopping and they’re trying to stop me. Every week it’s something new, something different. But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to stand up. I’m going share.”
But Grace did stop. After The Intercept first contacted Grace and his public defender in October 2021 and asked questions about his case and the videos in which he admitted to criminal conduct, Grace’s YouTube channel went quiet.