MACON — A former Wilkinson County deputy and U.S. Marine veteran arrested in a federal investigation into a white supremacist group will spend nearly four years in prison for possession of 11 illegal firearms, including a sawed-off shotgun and a machine gun he carried in his patrol car.
U.S. District Court Judge Tilman “Tripp” Self sentenced Cody Richard Griggers to 44 months in prison and a year of probation in a hearing Tuesday where the judge lamented the damage Griggers had caused to veterans and police officers.
Federal agents arrested Griggers, 28, last year as part of an investigation in to a group that called itself “Shadow Moses.” In a series of text messages sent to other members of the group, Griggers bragged of plans to commit racial violence and talked about a coming civil war in which he hoped to recruit members of the military and law enforcement.
Griggers pleaded guilty to one count of owning a prohibited firearm but prosecutors said the additional firearms seized were counted in his sentence. While the judge stressed he was being sentenced for that crime and not for his words, most of the hour-long hearing centered on his violent racist rhetoric in the text chain.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Keyes said the Department of Justice did not consider Griggers’ statements “mere bragging.”
“The fact that he was was in law enforcement makes it even more concerning,” Keyes said.
In some of the texts, Griggers talked of planting evidence and falsely charging Black people.
“Castrate, kill, remove voting rights,” Griggers wrote in an October 2019 message. “The only problem is you can’t expect to get them all that way.”
Before passing sentence, Self, a former Army officer and Trump appointee to the bench, lambasted Griggers for harming the reputation of police and the military and providing ammunition to people and groups “who are trying to tear this country apart.”
“Now you have helped some of the very people you thought you were against,” he said. “The stuff you said about planting evidence? That just plays into (their) hands.”
Self described Griggers as “a lonely kid with a hole in your heart” who said things to try to be accepted, but he said the texts were harmful.
“You gave people in this country who are trying to take weapons away a weapon to do it,” he said.
In court, Griggers wore a prison jumpsuit over his stocky frame. His cropped military haircut had given way to a mass of shaggy hair and beard. Through tears, he told the judge the texts were “jokes.”
“They were jokes, but it’s nothing to joke about. It has a real impact,” he said, adding that he had brought discredit on people around him.
Friends and family members spoke on Griggers’ behalf Tuesday in sometimes tearful remembrances of a joyful youth with a diverse group of friends.
“He had all kinds of friends. He had African-American friends, white friends, Hispanic friends, gay friends, straight friends. They were all welcome,” said his adoptive father, Forrest Jones. “Knowing this young man for 25 years, ... these words, these statements, these descriptions are not who he is.”
Tony Lemieux, a Georgia State University professor who studies political radicalization, said the justice system doesn’t prosecute people for hateful words, but Griggers’ stockpiling of weapons combined with a violent ideology is very concerning.
“What I think we see here is someone who was part of the white power space who was actively seeking these kinds of weapons,” he said. “He had the motive, the capacity and the training, and that’s what the white power movement is seeking.”
Lemieux said radicalization in law enforcement and the military is a big problem because cops and veterans are such attractive targets for violent extremist groups.
“If you want to look at the intention and motivations of the groups trying to find fertile ground, that’s clear as day. Has been for a long time. The extent of it we are uncovering bit by bit,” he said.
Wilkinson County Sheriff Richard Chatman said Griggers was a deputy for less than a year and there is no evidence he acted on his beliefs. But Keyes said Griggers “blended his beliefs into his position” in law enforcement by plotting to steal explosive charges and attack “from the inside.”
Prosecutors said investigators seized a machine gun from inside his patrol car that had the serial number obliterated and was etched with “Shadow Moses” on the stock.
Griggers’ closest associate in the group appears to be a San Diego plumber named Grey Zamudio, who is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in in California later this month on similar weapons charges. Prosecutors in that case have recommended Zamudio be sentenced to two years in prison and three years probation.
Once he completes his sentence, prosecutors have asked the court to forbid Zamudio from possessing extremist propaganda, associating with extremists and white supremacists, or wearing insignias of white supremacist groups while on probation. Prosecutors noted that Zamudio had a copy of an infamous white supremacist novel and marked his tools and weapons with Nazi symbols.