Former NC cop joined Oath Keepers days before Capitol riot. Now she faces prison.
A former North Carolina police officer, who joined the Oath Keepers militia group only days before the Capitol riot, was convicted Monday of conspiracy and obstruction charges tied to the violence.
Laura Steele of Thomasville was among a group of Oath Keepers who used a military “stack” formation to storm up the Capitol steps and into the congressional building on Jan. 6, 2021, photographs in court filings show.
On Monday, a Washington, D.C., jury convicted Steele and three co-defendants of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, a federal crime that carries up to 20 years in prison, multiple media outlets reported.
Steele, along with Sandra Parker, Connie Meggs and William Isaacs, was also found guilty of a host of lesser charges, including destruction of government property and conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties by certifying the results of the 2020 election.
The verdict is the government’s latest blow against the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group with strong N.C. ties that is accused of taking a leading role in planning and executing the Capitol attack.
The unprecedented violence, which was unleashed by a mob of Donald Trump supporters enraged by the former president’s baseless claims of a stolen election, has been tied to five deaths and injuries to some 140 police officers.
More than 1,000 arrests have been made in the two-year investigation of the riot.
Steele is one of least 28 North Carolina defendants, several with police and military ties.
Jonathan Lewis, a research fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told The Charlotte Observer that Steele is among 29 accused or convicted riot participants with law enforcement backgrounds.
According to legal filings in her case, Steele was a late addition to the cause. She applied to join the Oath Keepers days before the riot, then drove to Washington with her brother Graydon Young of Florida, already a member of the group.
Young later accepted a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge.
In a separate trial last year against Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes and other top lieutenants in the group, Young broke down on the witness stand and apologized for his actions, according to Politico.
He testified that at one point during the riot he and Steele began to worry about the group’s plans for possible gun violence and their own legal liability. They left for North Carolina and burned their gear in Steele’s backyard that night.
“My sister and I were solidly in freakout mode and scared,” he testified, “That’s when the embarrassment about the whole thing kicked in … I’m going to have to tell my mom.”
In her Jan. 3 application to join the group, Steele said she had 13 years of law enforcement experience as a K-9 officer and a SWAT team member, and was working at the time for a private armed security firm, according to an FBI affidavit filed in her case.
The Winston-Salem Journal also reported that Steele served as a school resource officer. Her LinkedIn page, which appears to have been deleted, listed her as a public safety officer for Novant Health, the paper reported.
She is married to High Point Assistant Police Chief Kenneth Steele.
NC home to Oath Keepers, Proud Boys
The Oath Keepers actively recruit former police and military. The group takes its name from the oath of office, namely, “to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
The Oath Keepers and The Proud Boys, a separate militia group, have been singled out as major organizers of the Capitol attack. Both groups have a heavy North Carolina presence.
In fact, the state’s role as a recruiting, training and planning ground for the Jan. 6 riot is largely unmatched, Lewis says.
“Other than maybe Florida, North Carolina has played one of the most significant roles in connection to Jan. 6, not only in the terms of individuals involved but specifically individuals who held authority in these extremist organizations and who played key roles in the mobilization of these groups to the U.S. Capitol,” Lewis told the Observer in December.
Steele was arrested on Feb. 17, 2021, setting off a two-year legal fight that ended with her conviction.
Shortly before her trial began, Steele petitioned U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta to give her a bench trial, meaning that the judge would decide her guilt or innocence, not a jury. Steele’s attorney argued that his client would not get a fair trial by her peers in Washington, D.C.
Mehta refused. The judge will sentence Steele and her co-defendants at a later date.