Proud Boys leader, members convicted of seditious conspiracy in U.S. Capitol attack
Convictions carry up to 20 years in prison, follow similar Oath Keeper verdicts
Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was convicted on Thursday of orchestrating a plot for members of his far-right extremist group to attack the U.S. Capitol in a desperate bid to keep Donald Trump in power after the Republican lost the 2020 presidential election.
A jury in Washington found Tarrio and three others guilty of seditious conspiracy after hearing from dozens of witnesses over more than three months in one of the most serious cases brought in the stunning attack that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, as the world watched on live TV.
Those other defendants were Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl. Jurors cleared a fifth defendant — Dominic Pezzola — of the sedition charge, though he was convicted of other serious felonies.
The judge excused the jury without delivering a verdict on some counts — including another conspiracy charge for Pezzola — after jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision.
Tarrio, Nordean, Biggs and Rehl were also convicted of obstructing Congress's certification of Biden's electoral victory and obstructing law enforcement as well as two other conspiracy charges. The four were cleared of an assault charge stemming from the theft of an officer's riot shield.
Rehl's attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said her client "continues to maintain his innocence." Lawyers for Biggs and Pezzola declined to comment. An attorney for Tarrio declined to comment.
'Do what must be done'
It's a significant milestone for the Justice Department, which has now secured seditious conspiracy convictions against the leaders of two major extremist groups prosecutors say were intent on keeping Democrat Joe Biden out of the White House at all costs.
The Justice Department hadn't tried a seditious conspiracy case in a decade before a jury convicted another extremist group leader, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, of the Civil War-era charge last year.
The charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Tarrio wasn't in Washington on Jan. 6, because he had been arrested two days earlier in a separate case and ordered out of the capital city. But prosecutors said he organized and directed the attack by Proud Boys who stormed the Capitol that day.
Defence lawyers said there was no plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress's certification of Biden's win. A lawyer for Tarrio sought to push the blame onto Trump, arguing the former president incited the pro-Trump mob's attack when he urged the crowd near the White House to "fight like hell."
"It was Donald Trump's words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6th in your beautiful and amazing city," attorney Nayib Hassan said in his final appeal to jurors. "It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power."
The Proud Boys were "lined up behind Donald Trump and willing to commit violence on his behalf," prosecutor Conor Mulroe said in his closing argument.
The backbone of the government's case was hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys in the days leading up to Jan. 6 that show the far-right extremist group peddling Trump's false claims of a stolen election and trading fears over what would happen when Biden took office.
As Proud Boys swarmed the Capitol, Tarrio cheered them on from afar, writing on social media: "Do what must be done." In a Proud Boys encrypted group chat later that day, someone asked what they should do next. Tarrio responded: "Do it again."
"Make no mistake," Tarrio wrote in another message. "We did this."
Oath Keepers to be sentenced soon
The origins of the Proud Boys stretch back about a decade, with Canadian Gavin McInnes a founder.
Tarrio, a Miami resident, led the neo-fascist group — known for street fights with left-wing activists — when Trump infamously told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during his first 2020 presidential debate with Biden.
Nordean, of Auburn, Wash., was a Proud Boys chapter leader. Rehl led a group chapter in Philadelphia. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Fla., was a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Pezzola was a group member from Rochester, N.Y.
With respect to the Oath Keepers, Rhodes and five other members were convicted over two separate trials of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to forcibly halt the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden. Three defendants were acquitted of the sedition charge, but convicted of obstructing Congress's certification of Biden's electoral victory.
The Justice Department has yet to disclose how much prison time it will seek when the Oath Keepers are sentenced next month.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol siege, including about 20 law enforcement officers, according to multiple U.S. media reports.
A former FBI supervisory agent was arrested Monday on charges that he joined a mob storming the U.S. Capitol, where he cheered on rioters attacking police officers, federal authorities said.
Jared Wise, 50, worked as a special agent or supervisory special agent for the FBI from 2004 through 2017, according to an affidavit.
Meanwhile, special counsel Jack Smith was encharged by the Justice Department to probe alleged political machinations to overturn the 2020 result.
In recent weeks, Smith has sought the testimony of many people close to Trump, including former vice-president Mike Pence, who testified before a grand jury last week.