Prosecutor: Proud Boys attacked the ‘heart’ of democracy on 1/6

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants led a coordinated attack on the “heart of our democracy” in a desperate attempt to keep Donald Trump in the White House, a federal prosecutor said Thursday. , at the start of his seditious conspiracy trial.

Jurors heard opening statements from lawyers for the trial more than two years after members of the far-right extremist group joined a pro-Trump crowd. upon storming the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said the Proud Boys knew that Trump’s hopes for a second term were rapidly fading as Jan. 6 approached. So the group’s leaders assembled a “fighting force” to prevent the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden, McCullough said. Tarrio saw Biden’s presidency as a “threat to the Proud Boys’ existence,” the prosecutor said.

McCullough showed jurors a video clip of Trump telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and wait” during his first presidential debate with Biden in 2020, a moment that led to an explosion of interest in the group.

“These men did not back down. They didn’t stand still. Instead, they mobilized,” said the prosecutor.

Defense attorneys said there is no evidence that the Proud Boys conspired to attack the Capitol and prevent Congress from certifying the January 6 Electoral College vote.

“They are trying to build this conspiracy that doesn’t exist,” said one of Tarrio’s lawyers, Sabino Jauregui.

Jurors are expected to hear the testimony of the prosecutors’ first witness on Friday.

The trial follows the seditious conspiracy convictions. of two leaders of the Oath Keepers, another far-right extremist group.

The case against Tarrio and his four associates is one of the most important to emerge from the January 6 riot on the Capitol.. The trial will provide an in-depth look at a group that has become an influential force in mainstream Republican politics.

Tarrio’s lawyer said authorities used the former national president of the Proud Boys as a scapegoat. Jauregui accused prosecutors of misleadingly stitching together offensive online messages and said Tarrio really tried to keep his Proud Boys out of fights by talking to the police. before rallies.

Jauregui acknowledged that Tarrio and other self-described “Western chauvinists” in the Proud Boys shared “offensive” messages, but said it was Trump who triggered the mob that attacked the Capitol.

“It’s very hard to blame Trump,” Jauregui said. “It’s easier to blame Enrique as the face of the Proud Boys.”

Nicholas Smith, attorney for Ethan Nordean, president of the Proud Boys chapter of Auburn, Wash., said other members had repeatedly told federal authorities that the group did not have a plan for Jan. 6.

“Even the government’s own cooperating witnesses said so,” added Smith.

The other co-defendants are Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida, a self-described organizer of the Proud Boys; Zachary Rehl, who was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys from Rochester, New York.

McCullough, the promoter, said the Proud Boys’ leaders had recruited new members “to help them achieve their goals”. On January 6, they gathered at a pre-arranged location and began to advance on Capitol Hill before Trump finished his speech.

“The time has come to act,” said the prosecutor.

Rehl’s attorney said he came to Washington with other members of the Proud Boys to exercise his First Amendment free speech rights, not to rebel.

The trial will feature private communications between the defendants, their public statements, their coordinated actions on Capitol Hill and their riot celebrations before they attempt to cover their tracks.

A message Tarrio posted on social media before January 6 read: “Lords of War” with the hashtag “#J6” and a photo of Pezzola.

“These warlords banded together to prevent the transfer of presidential power,” McCullough said.

Tarrio’s lieutenants were part of the first wave of protesters to invade the Capitol grounds and pass through police barricades towards the building, according to prosecutors.

Jurors were shown video of Pezzola using a stolen riot shield to smash a window, allowing protesters to storm the Capitol. His lawyer argued that another troublemaker broke the window first.

Tarrio, who is from Miami, was not in Washington on Jan. 6 because he was arrested two days before the riot. and accused of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a protest in December 2020. He was ordered to leave the capital, but prosecutors say he remained involved in the extremist group’s planning for January 6.

Monitoring the riot from afar, Tarrio posted a message asking the Proud Boys to remain in the Capitol.

“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “We did that.”

The day after the attack, Tarrio wrote a message that said, “God didn’t put me there for a reason.”

“We would still be there,” he added.

The Justice Department has charged nearly 1,000 people across the United States for the deadly January 6 insurrection, and its investigation continues to grow.. Among them are Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, who were convicted of conspiring to block the transfer of presidential power from Trump, a Republican, to Biden, a Democrat. Three other Oath Keepers were acquitted of the charge. They were, however, convicted of other serious charges.

The Proud Boys trial is the first major trial since the House committee investigated the insurrection. urged the department to bring criminal charges against Trump and associates who were behind his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

While the criminal appointment lacks legal standing, it does increase political pressure already on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the special counsel he appointed, Jack Smith.which is conducting an investigation into January 6 and Trump’s actions.

Jury selection in the case took two weeks, as several potential jurors said they associated the Proud Boys with hate groups or white nationalism. The Capitol can be seen in the distance from parts of the courthouse, where a second group of Oath Keepers is also on trial for seditious conspiracy, which could lead to up to 20 years behind bars. through condemnation.

Tensions bubbled over at times, as jury selection slowed and defense attorneys complained that many potential jurors were biased against the Proud Boys. Defense attorneys challenged jurors who expressed support for causes like Black Lives Matter, saying it could indicate prejudice against the Proud Boys.

The lawyers and the judge clashed during the sometimes chaotic pre-trial legal disputes, to the point where two defense lawyers threatened to withdraw from the case. Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly lashed out after defense attorneys repeatedly interrupted and spoke to him on Wednesday, warning he would hold them in contempt if he continued.

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Richer reported from Boston.

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For full AP coverage of the Capitol riot, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

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