SAN DIEGO —When the FBI began scrolling through the cellphone of a San Diego man arrested on weapons charges last summer, they stumbled onto a violent extremist group and a Georgia sheriff’s deputy at its center, according to federal authorities.

Calling itself “Shadow Moses,” the group communicated via text message about a theoretical civil war, militia training, weapons manufacturing and explosives, according to an FBI affidavit.

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 affidavit shows.

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.

In the end, the case was prosecuted on weapons violations. The San Diego man, Grey Zamudio, 33, pleaded guilty in December, and Griggers did the same earlier this week.

Yet the investigation, as detailed in court records in San Diego and Georgia, 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 alleged participants in the attack.

Zamudio’s membership in the Defend East County Facebook group, coupled with his own alleged 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 meting out violence against racial justice demonstrators. At least one member is an admitted member of the Proud Boys, an extremist group allegedly 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 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. “They are not used in hunting. They are not used for recreation purposes.”

Agents made another discovery, a copy of “The Turner Diaries,” a 1978 novel that — while not illegal to own — is, as Parmley notes, “notoriously a piece of propaganda for white separatists and is often found with individuals who are contemplating violent action against either the United States or against members who are not of the white race.”

Zamudio, a longtime San Diego resident who worked as a plumber, was ordered detained and was also served a gun violence restraining order, which allowed the removal of other guns from his possession because of 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.

One message, in August 2019, described how he beat a Black man suspected of trying to steal from a local gun store, saying the sheriff’s department said it looked like the suspect “fell.”

Wilkinson Sheriff Richard Chatman told the Macon Telegraph newspaper Wednesday that the department looked into the excessive-force claim but was not able find any evidence that Griggers had handled such a call and that he appeared to have been assigned to the jail during that time period. The comment was chalked up to braggadocio.

“That never happened,” Chatman told the newspaper. “We don’t even have a gun shop here.”

FBI agents in Georgia searched Griggers’ home in Montrose and his patrol car Nov. 19 and found 11 illegal firearms, including a machine gun with an obliterated serial number and an unregistered short-barrel shotgun.

He was arrested and fired.

“All law enforcement officers swear an oath to uphold the law and protect each and every citizen they serve,” Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement. “Griggers clearly violated his oath with his egregious actions and has no place in law enforcement.”

He pleaded guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered firearm Monday in Macon and faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced in July.

Zamudio pleaded guilty to possession of a short-barreled rife and two silencers in December. His sentencing is set for June.

Authorities have not said if they are investigating any other members of “Shadmo.”


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Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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