Pittsburgh Current Senior Contributor
Kenneth Grayson, a fifty-one year old white man from Bridgeville, went to DC “to fight, not hang around,” according to messages obtained by the FBI.
He grabbed his Gadsen flag (‘Don’t Tread on Me’) and headed to the January 6th rally. Using Facebook Messenger, he sent a photo to family members a few hours before the rioting and violence: standing near the Washington monument, he’s holding the flag, wearing a Pirates ball cap and black jacket similar to a high school letter jacket, this one was emblazoned with a large ‘Q,’ presumably for QAnon.
When the rally grew into a violent and deadly insurrection, Grayson was one of many who breached the building. The FBI had no trouble spotting him in photos from the security cameras inside. He’s easy to pick out in the area known as the Crypt — still carrying the Gadsen flag, still in the Q jacket. (The jacket, like the Pirates cap, is black with a gold logo.)
Witnesses who reached out to the FBI said that Grayson was an ardent conspiracy theorist. They said his FB account was a hagiography of sprawling QAnon prophecies, sham election fraud claims and MAGA talking points. FB photos from a Bridgeville group (now taken down) showed that his home had been adorned with large Trump flags and banners, including one popular with the most ardent loyalists of the ex-president — the one with Donald Trump’s head photoshopped onto a Rambo-like body.
At Grayson’s detention hearing on January 28th in the Federal Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in front of Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan, FBI Agent Mark Brundage testified that, in addition to searching Grayson’s FB account, the agency recovered text messages on Grayson’s cell phone to the effect that he felt the need to kill people, including then President-Elect Joe Biden. Brundage also said that, following his arrest, Grayson told agents he had no regrets for entering the Capitol and would do it again.
Despite that testimony, Grayson was released from custody and is under house arrest pending trial. He must wear a monitoring device and check in with the US Pretrial services regularly and his movement is restricted. But, he is home, as are many of the Pennsylvanians charged for their part in the Capitol insurrection. However, two of the accused men in Western Pennsylvania remain in custody due to their criminal records.
How did Grayson manage to be released?
The Current searched federal and state court dockets, as well as relevant police records from multiple municipalities, in order to get an accurate picture of Kenneth Grayson before he drove down to DC for the insurrection. The Current discovered that he has crossed paths with law enforcement and the judicial system numerous times, has a lengthy criminal record and a history of violence.
What follows is a description of some of his activities which have left a trail of public records. There are accounts from a Protection from Abuse Order, FBI filings, arrests filed in Magisterial Courts and the Court of Common Pleas, and police incident reports from different departments, one of which describes a brutal beating.
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In January of 2006, a temporary Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) was filed against him by his ex-girlfriend. They have a child together (the child was six years old at that time.) In her petition signed by Court of Common Pleas Judge, the victim stated:
“He [Grayson] is in the ACJ. He called me on 1-7-06 and threatened to kill my boyfriend. This scared me because he has threatened to kill me several times. He has a very violent temper and has beaten up many people in the past. I feel that the threat to my boyfriend also included me. He fights with me in front of our child. I was so frightened by his last call, that I obtained an EPFA. I fear for the safety of my child and myself.”
She also stated in her petition that he had been physically violent and abusive to her in the past when they were still involved: “I’ve had to call the police several times for physical fights that we have gotten into — Where he left bruises on my body and blacked my eye. I had to be treated at St. Clair Hospital for bruised ribs.”
A consent agreement was later filed which set forth the allowable parameters for contact: that he “shall not abuse, stalk, harass, or threaten” his ex-girlfriend, that he was excluded from her residence, and that he should not contact her except through a designated third party (his parents). Furthermore, he could contact her only to discuss their minor child.
Domestic abuse can be an indicator that even more intense and far-reaching violence is possible. In June 2020, Bloomberg News published an analysis of 749 mass shootings which had taken place between 2014 and 2019. They found that about 60% of those attacks were committed by men with histories of domestic violence, or were themselves domestic violence attacks.
Grayson isn’t the only one of the Western Pennsylvanians charged in the insurrection who has been abusive to at least one woman in his life. Peter Schwartz, also charged in the Capitol breach cases originally filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, made verbal threats against his (then) girlfriend and her son. Schwartz was thereafter convicted in Kentucky of third-degree terroristic threats and possessions of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In Pennsylvania, PFAs are filed in family court, rather than criminal court, meaning they sometimes go undetected. Pennsylvania now has a unified web portal for searching criminal magisterial dockets on-line, but anybody looking there for a record or history of intimate, partner violence would not find a PFA.
Nicole Molinaro, the president and CEO of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, says that going through the process of getting a PFA can be really difficult.
“You’re going to court and it’s a public process. It’s really a very difficult process emotionally to get a PFA. If somebody has never had to get a PFA before, they are saying, ‘I realize that I am in such danger for my life that I need for the courts to help stop this person.’ Emotionally, it’s a really challenging thing,” Molinaro said.
She also said that locating these orders within family divisions rather than criminal divisions gives them the feel of something with not as much gravity; we’re just not willing to take seriously the things that happen within a family, even though the trauma is very real.
“The whole system re-victimizes victims again and again — they are the ones who have to go get the protection, they have to get it served and they oftentimes have to adjust how they’re living until they’re safe,” she said.
For many victims, this might be the first time they have interacted at all with the courts. If you don’t know your way around, it can be a lot to navigate. You might need to go to the Courthouse, or the City-County Building, or the Family Courts Building; just finding your way to the right spot can be an anxiety minefield. Added to this, bureaucracies may be disorienting to people who are not skilled at operating within them and this step comes at a time when victims can be at their most vulnerable.
“We see victims and survivors who are absolutely scared to death,” according to Molinaro. “You have to represent yourself well. You have to figure out where to go, figure out what to do. There is help from legal advocates, but it’s very intimidating.”
But getting these orders is critical. They can save lives.
“We know that they are pieces of paper. They can’t actually stop somebody from hurting you, but what they can do is help to encourage a faster police response, a more serious police response,” according to Molinaro.
Respecting the privacy of Grayson’s ex-girlfriend, and understanding that she might not want to revisit such a difficult time, the Current did not reach out to her for comment, but did reach out to the attorney who represented Grayson during these proceedings and the related child support/custody matter; he has not responded to a request for comment.
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Eight months later, on an August night in 2006, Grayson reportedly beat up a man outside the Five Fools Bar in the North Hills. Witnesses told police varying stories about what happened that night, but what does seem clear is that Grayson and the victim quarreled inside the bar and then reached some sort of detente. Later, when the victim exited the bar, he was beaten badly by Grayson. The man later told the police that the first blow to his head felt like it was made with something far too hard to be a fist, but he was jumped so he did not see it coming and could not say exactly what it was.
According to the investigation filed by the McCandless Township Police, one witness told officers that he saw Grayson strike the victim with his fist. Another said that, while Grayson was beating the man, the man hit his head on something. Another man who was inside the bar when the two men were arguing earlier, told the police that it seemed to him the victim tried to diffuse the situation and “was not looking for a fight.” He also told the police he knew Grayson and that, “in his opinion, Grayson tends to look for a fight.” He didn’t see the actual incident outside the bar.
The police reported that several bones in the man’s skull were broken and he required surgery at Allegheny General Hospital; the procedure lasted four and one-half hours and a 1.2 mm titanium plate was inserted and attached to repair the man’s broken orbital bone.
Grayson was charged with both simple assault and aggravated assault in October, 2006. According to an Order entered in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division on October 4 of 2007, he pleaded out, served one year of probation and paid restitution of $14,806 to the victim.
For Grayson, the combativeness didn’t end in 2006. In April of 2008, his landlord sued him for vandalizing the property he rented from her, with damages estimated at a cost of $14,304.87 (plus three months of unpaid rent.)
In January 2010, in an incident in McDonald Borough, he was charged and pleaded guilty to simple assault, disorderly conduct/creating a hazardous/physically offensive condition, and harassment/subjecting others to physical contact.
Early in January 2017, Grayson was charged and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct/creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition in Pittsburgh. About a week later, he was again charged and again pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct engaging in fighting, this time in North Strabane Township, Washington County.
In February 2018, he was involved in another alcohol fueled fight at the Franklin Inn. This time, nobody ended up at the hospital, but the bartender said she had stopped serving Grayson prior to the incident because he was drunk, according to the report filed by the Franklin Park Police Department.
When police arrived, Grayson had a cut under his eye and told police that he was jumped after a discussion in the bar about politics. Witnesses say that he was throwing limes at somebody and verbally taunting one patron in particular — and that he was yelling racial and LGBT slurs.
Things got physical outside, though no witnesses gave an account of what the fight itself looked like. According to the incident report, one witness found a pistol on the ground near Grayson; the man turned it over to the police when they arrived. It was a semi-auto 380 pistol — it was loaded and there was a round in the chamber.
Three weeks later, Grayson pleaded guilty to the charges of disorderly conduct/engaging in fighting.
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The FBI said that January 6th wasn’t Grayson’s first time in our nation’s capital for tinderbox rallies that turned ugly in the waning days of the Trump administration. According to records provided by Facebook to the FBI, it appears he went to DC in mid-November 2020. On November 14, 2020, during the Million MAGA March in support of Donald Trump, the Proud Boys gathered and clashed violently with police.
According to filings by the US Attorney’s office, on November 16th, Grayson sent several private messages regarding his actions there: “We were smashing bro..went to the van I rented and geared up..had to leave at 7pm though, it wasn’t really bad yet..I was beating commies with a flag pole I picked up and looked like it wasn’t going to be that bad Proud Boys were everywhere..cops weren’t doing a fukin thing watching old people get fucked with it was sickening.”
He sent a second message about his activities: “I left one unconscious so I did my little part and got the fuck out before I got arrested”
Within days of the January 6th riot, a witness contacted the FBI and provided screenshots from Grayson’s FB account, one of which was a screengrab from his livestream inside the Capitol Building that afternoon. Records indicate that he ‘was live’ starting at 2:22 that afternoon. He live-streamed twice inside the Capitol, each time for a short period of time and each time he was filming what was happening with the camera facing away from him. [The FB account was disabled, but it should be noted that the account was disabled by FB, not Grayson, after US Magistrate Judge Harvey authorized a search warrant of the account.]
In the affidavit attached to the Complaint filed by the USA against Grayson, the FBI added to the evidence that he was inside the building by reproducing communications with several family members and friends which stated his intention to travel to Washington to attend the pro-Trump rally on January 6, 2021.
On December 23, 2020, he sent this message regarding his plans to go to the rally: “… Ok well we have room for the road trip..I’m sick of these fukin posers on FB big tough guys always talking about their guns and tempers and ooo scary guy shit! FUCK U !! I’m on the front line every time mother fuckers! This shit isn’t a fukin game to me , or some social media ****** (anti-gay slur) story time !! I’m there for the greatest celebration of all time after Pence leads the Senate flip!! OR IM THERE IF TRUMP TELLS US TO STORM THE FUKIN CAPITAL IMA DO THAT THEN! We don’t want any trouble but they are not going to steal this election that I guarantee bro!!”
The FBI also submitted as evidence several private messages sent from friends and family to Grayson which would further confirm his presence inside the Capitol Building that day as follows:
- “Kenny get the hell out of there. Its a federal offence to be in there.” (sent at 3:06 pm)
- “Did you hear shots fired in there? That is what the news is claiming.” (sent at 3:18 pm)
- “Kenny they’re in the Senate Chamber! Can you get in anywhere? TAKE PHOTOS!!! TAKE DOCUMENTS!!” (sent at 3:50 pm)
- “Bro they took your live videos down. WFT? Nice fucking work today.” (sent at 5:55)
- “Did I just see you climbing the wall at the capital lol.” (sent at 6:34)
When deciding whether or not to grant bail, a judge takes into account many factors and past criminal record is of significant consequence; it is a large part of why fellow Capitol Insurrectionists Jorden Mink and Peter Schwartz are being held without bail.
Also a factor in whether or not to detain an accused person is the severity of the crime he or she is charged with. Christopher West, a local Black Lives Matter protester is nearing a year in jail without bail. His charge: kicking a police car.
The indictment has not yet been handed down in the Kenneth Grayson case, but he is accused of unlawfully entering the Capitol Building and taking part in aimed at obstructing or impeding Congress. He is home awaiting trial.
This is part of the Current’s ongoing coverage of the January 6th Capitol Breach.