FBI agents scrolling through the cellphone of a San Diego man arrested on weapons charges stumbled onto a violent extremist group and a Georgia sheriff’s deputy at its center, federal authorities said, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
The group, which calls itself “Shadow Moses,” communicated via text message about a theoretical civil war, militia training, weapons manufacturing and explosives, the news outlet reported, citing an FBI affidavit.
The affidavit states that “then-Wilkinson County sheriff’s Deputy Cody Griggers stood out as a group member who rationalized violence with rhetoric steeped in White supremacist and far-right ideology.”
The beating of a Black theft suspect was “sweet stress relief,” Griggers, 28, allegedly bragged in one text, according to court records. Charging Black people “with whatever felonies I can to take away their ability to vote” was in his opinion “a sign of beautiful things to come,” read another message.
The case was prosecuted on weapons violations, the report noted. The San Diego man, Grey Zamudio, 33, pleaded guilty in December, and Griggers did the same earlier this week.
As detailed in court records in San Diego and Georgia, “the investigation offers a window into a broader militia movement that has attracted former and current members of law enforcement and the military, as demonstrated by the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol. More than 50 people with backgrounds in law enforcement, military or government service have been identified so far as participants in the attack.”
Zamudio’s membership in the Defend East County Facebook group, coupled with his own threats of violence on social media, has also reinforced public safety concerns posed by vigilante groups that sprang up to oppose Black Lives Matter.
The Facebook group, which grew to more than 20,000 members last summer following the La Mesa riot, was a hotbed of far-right conspiracies where members often wrote about meeting out violence against racial justice demonstrators. At least one member is an admitted member of the Proud Boys, an extremist group heavily involved in the Capitol assault.
The investigation began last summer, when someone reported Zamudio’s social media postings to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Parmley told a judge, according to a court transcript. The postings included statements that he was “ready to die” and it was “up to the vigilante to crush the liberal terrorists,” Parmley said.
He also posted on the Defend East County Facebook page about owning an “SBR,” or short-barreled rifle. Rifles with barrels that are shorter than 16 inches are generally illegal under California and federal law, according to court records. A search of his apartment and truck on Aug. 1 turned up such a rifle, as well as two silencers that weren’t registered with the government, making them illegal.
“There are really no legitimate uses for silencers, other than to kill people,” Parmley told the judge.
Zamudio was ordered detained and was also served a gun violence restraining order, which allowed the removal of other guns from his possession due to alleged threats of violence.
Evidence of those threats included a video on his cellphone showing Zamudio threatening to run down protesters in his new Ford F-150 Raptor truck — an $80,000 vehicle — as well as bragging about a time he pointed a gun at a Black Lives Matter protester, according to Parmley.
On the phone agents also found “Shadow Moses,” or “Shadmo” for short.
Based on comments and photos posted in the ongoing text messages, agents were able to confirm the group had an active sheriff’s deputy in its midst.
Griggers worked for Wilkinson County, in a rural area east of Macon.
At one point, Griggers offered to provide Zamudio with law enforcement-only 9 mm ammunition and explosives, according to the FBI’s affidavit filed in federal court in Macon.
“Yeah I’ll pay big money for bang an boom,” Zamudio allegedly wrote, responding to an offer from Griggers to steal flashbangs and entry charges from his department. “I’m ready to terrorize (L.A.).”
In another text, Griggers allegedly offered to provide members of the group with various prescription drugs, including medication used to treat hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease and nerve pain.
Some of Griggers’ more lengthy commentary revolved around a brainwashed population, a possible civil war, and how he might engage as a law enforcement officer in such a scenario, according to the affidavit.
“I’m the guy on the inside. I can figure out if my dept is siding with the enemy or not, and from there I’m either positioned to maximize damage by attacking from the inside, or coordinate efforts to safely identify ourselves as patriots in order to maximize weapons pointed towards the enemy and minimize friendly fire,” he allegedly wrote in one message, according to the affidavit.
He also used racial and homophobic slurs and spoke positively about the Holocaust.
FBI agents in Georgia searched Griggers’ home in Montrose and his patrol car on Nov. 19 and found 11 illegal firearms, including a machine gun with an obliterated serial number and an unregistered short-barreled shotgun. He was arrested and fired.
Griggers pleaded guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered firearm on Monday in Macon and faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced in July.
Zamudio pleaded guilty to possession of a short-barreled rifle and two silencers in December. His sentencing is set for June, according to the report.