HIGH POINT — A Thomasville woman charged with being part of a self-styled militia that organized members to storm the Capitol Jan. 6 is a former High Point Police Department officer.
Laura Steele, 52, and five other individuals who authorities say are associated with a group called the Oath Keepers, which includes many former military and law enforcement members, were arrested and charged last week for their roles in the insurrection. Among the others charged is Steele’s brother, Graydon Young, 54, of Florida, who encouraged her to join Oath Keepers in the days before going to Washington, according to the indictment.
Although a total of only nine Oath Keepers have been charged so far, the indictment indicates that more than 40 came to Washington just on one bus from North Carolina.
The 21-page federal court indictment says that members of the Oath Keepers organized to go to Washington with weapons and participated in the storming of the Capitol last month to try to prevent Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote that made Joe Biden president over former President Donald Trump.
The indictment says that one member of the group, Jessica Watkins, 38, of Ohio, told an Oath Keepers recruit in November that if Biden became president, “our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”
On Jan. 6 Steele and the others “prepared themselves for battle before heading to the Capitol by equipping themselves with communication devices and donning reinforced vests, helmets, and goggles,” the indictment said.
The indictment says the group stormed up the east side of the Capitol and entered the building and eventually ended up in the Capitol Rotunda.
While they were in the Rotunda, someone told Watkins via an app that turns a cellphone into a walkie talkie, "You are executing citizen's arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud."
Steele and the others are charged with conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, destruction of government property and aiding and abetting, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and tampering with documents or proceedings.
Police Lt. Matt Truitt told The High Point Enterprise that Steele hasn’t been with the department in about two decades.
“I started at HPPD in 2004, and Laura Steele was not employed with us then,” Truitt said.
She is married to retired High Point Police Department Assistant Chief Kenneth Steele.
Kenneth Steele retired effective Jan. 1 but worked only a few days into December, Truitt told The Enterprise.
When she worked with the High Point Police Department, Steele served as a school resource officer 20 years ago.
She was involved in two pepper spray incidents with students arrested on a disorderly conduct charge in February 2001, one with a 16-year-old student at Southwest Guilford High School and another with an 11-year-old student at Southwest Guilford Middle School. A police investigation cleared Steele in both incidents, The Enterprise reported at the time.
Steele received praise from the police and community for her role in a campaign to deter drunken driving by students, including holding large outdoor student assemblies with mock accident scenes to dramatize the dangers of driving while intoxicated or impaired.
Steele later served in the police patrol bureau.
In the indictment, Steele is charged with being part of storming the Capitol with the intent of insurrection, according to federal authorities.
“The Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias,” according to the indictment. “Some members of the Oath Keepers believe that the federal government has been co-opted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights. Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel.”
The indictment accuses Steele and the other Oath Keepers of attending or scheduling training events to teach and learn paramilitary combat tactics for the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
The indictment says that Steele on Jan. 3 emailed the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers with a membership application with the intent of taking part in events at the Capitol Jan. 6. Steele left for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5.