Proud Boys led January 6 riot to keep Trump in office, US says at trial

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Federal prosecutors for the first time held accountable for the success of the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol against five Proud Boys leaders in their seditious conspiracy trial on Thursday, accusing members of the extremist group of leading the violence that disrupted the Congressional confirmation of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden has been disrupted – in the hands of these defendants,” Assistant District Attorney Jason BA McCullough told jurors.

Led by former Proud Boys president and lead defendant Enrique Tarrio, the prosecutor said, “These men banded together and agreed to use all necessary means, including force, to prevent Congress from certifying the election and, on Jan. , they aimed at the heart of our democracy”.

Defense attorneys criticized prosecutors’ effort to find “scapegoats” for what they called an unplanned riot. Instead, they blamed President Donald Trump for inciting the mob and police leaders for failing to prepare for violence.

“President Trump told these people that the election was stolen. … He was the one who unleashed that mob on the Capitol on January 6,” said Tarrio’s lawyer, Sabino Jauregui.

It would be “unfair” to hold Trump’s supporters accountable while finding it “very hard to blame Trump… very hard to put him on the witness stand with his army of lawyers,” Jauregui told jurors.

While charges were brought against more than 930 individuals in the Jan. 6 attack and a special prosecutor is investigating Trump, opening statements from Thursday’s bout in a federal courthouse blocks from the Capitol crystallized an important question still unanswered after two-year period: who should bear the greater criminal responsibility for the events of that day?

Prosecutors suggested that members of the Proud Boys played an outsize role in the violence. But for the first time, in a 90-minute discussion punctuated by the defendants’ own words, videos and recorded photographs on social and encrypted media, the government asserted that the successful breach of the Capitol was not the product of a spontaneous and misguided mob, but the result of a pre-planned attack by dedicated extremists.

Defendants, on the other hand, insisted they had gathered in Washington to support Trump, as they had at previous DC rallies, and had no other plans. They didn’t bring weapons, they didn’t assault anyone, and they couldn’t have predicted that Capitol Police would be unprepared, his defense said.

“A conspiracy to use force that didn’t involve weapons?” defense attorney Nicholas D. Smith asked rhetorically.

Instead, defense attorneys urged jurors to redirect their emotions about the historic attack on Trump. They are not alone — the House select committee investigating the January 6 events recently recommended charging the former president with crimes including obstructing official process, one of the charges brought against Tarrio.

Tarrio and his co-defendants – Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington; Joe Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida; Dominic Pezzola, of Rochester, NY; and Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia – pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment. Two charges they face are punishable by up to 20 years in prison: conspiring to forcibly oppose federal authority or Joe Biden’s inauguration as president and conspiring to obstruct the joint session of Congress.

In court, Tarrio took a sip of water and Pezzola looked ahead with a hand on his chin as McCullough presented the case against them to a jury of eight women and seven men.

According to McCullough, the Proud Boys, the day after November 3, 2020, the election began “by calling for war because their favored candidate was not elected”. Trump falsely claimed the election was stolen, called protesters to Washington in November and December, and later that month announced a “wild” protest in DC on January 6 when Congress convened.

Prosecutors alleged that, for that day’s special operations, Tarrio chose co-defendants Nordean, Biggs and Rehl to lead an ironically named “Ministry of Self-Defense”.

Until then, the Proud Boys were best known for engaging in street fights with their alleged enemies in the leftist antifa movement, before Trump refused to denounce the group during a presidential election debate in September 2020, urging them to ” back off and wait.” .”

On Jan. 6, as Tarrio monitored events from Baltimore, the trio marched into the Capitol with nearly 200 other men, joined the first wave that surged onto Capitol grounds and spread against police lines, the government said. There, they advanced until they entered, led by Pezzola, who was recorded breaking with a stolen police shield the first window of the building to be breached, McCullough said.

“These gentlemen didn’t stay behind, they didn’t stay put,” McCullough told jurors.

Instead, McCullough showed video clips of members of the Proud Boys at the forefront of attacks on police on Capitol Hill, where they had gathered that morning even before Trump spoke to supporters at an Ellipse White House rally.

The Post took hours of footage, some exclusively, and fed it into a digital 3-D model of the building. (Video: Washington Post)

“We’re going to storm the fucking Capitol,” shouted a member of the Proud Boys who later stormed the police lines guarding an important stairwell. “Let’s not scream it,” Nordean warned on video.

While the Proud Boys said their preparations for violence were just self-defense if they were attacked by anti-Trump activists, McCullough showed jurors a text from Tarrio to others on Dec. 27, hinting at his true plans: “Whispers… 1776. ”

“’Whispers,’ because that’s a secret,” McCullough said. “’1776′, as in revolution.”

The Proud Boys didn’t come to DC on Jan. 6 to take on antifa, he said, “They were coming to stop the election certification for Joe Biden.”

Even excluding pre-Jan. 6 conversation, his actions that day revealed his conspiracy, McCullough said.

“Make no mistake… we did it,” Tarrio wrote to others in an encrypted chat at 2:41 pm, according to material shown in court.

“These are his words, his thoughts, just minutes after Congress was forced to halt its work,” McCullough said.

“January 6th will be a day of infamy,” Biggs wrote that night, after Pezzola previously registered with “a smoke of victory” on Capitol Hill.

“A day of infamy,” McCullough repeated. “This is how President Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought us into World War II.” A smoke of victory, he told the judges, “like you can see on a sports team after a big game.”

When it was their turn, defense attorneys accused the administration of picking out of context statements from their clients and urged jurors in the predominantly Democratic area to “put politics aside” and prosecutors’ attempts to manipulate their emotions “so that you hate them, you hate the Proud Boys.

Jauregui, a lawyer for Afro-Cuban Tarrio, called the Proud Boys primarily a “drinking group” that included all races and sexual preferences, although civil rights monitors say the group increasingly targets gay and transgender people and has been used by white nationalists to recruit followers.

“What they share is an ideology. The Proud Boys think Western civilization is the best. … The Proud Boys think America is the best,” said Jauregui. “That’s why they fight. It’s not a political thing, it’s not a racial thing. And they believe in free speech. They believe you should say whatever you want.”

Proud Boys leaders discussed how to protect themselves because they believed DC police and federal prosecutors responded inappropriately to the stabbing of member Jeremy Bertino outside Harry’s Bar in downtown Washington after the December pro-Trump rally. Bertino pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government.

FBI investigates possible connections between extremist groups at center of Capitol violence

Tarrio wasn’t even in Washington on Jan. 6 because he was arrested two days earlier and thrown out by a judge awaiting trial on charges that, during the same rally, he set fire to the stolen flag of a “Black Lives Matter” church and returned to DC. with an unregistered high-capacity ammunition magazine. He later pleaded guilty to these charges and served four months in prison.

Jauregui and Smith said prosecutors twisted and twisted innocent, if sometimes “offensive” conversations into an insurrectionary plot. Smith said the defendants would call as witnesses several government informants embedded in the group, including those who said Nordean tried to stop the violence.

“You will see at trial no evidence to support the government’s conspiracy claim that these defendants conspired prior to Jan. 6 to do what the government alleges,” Smith said.

“Several times,” said Smith, “the government was told by witnesses that there was no plan for January 6th. You will find that even the government’s own cooperating witnesses have said so.”

Tarrio may have “made things easier” for investigators by celebrating that riot, but he and other members were posing, their lawyers said. The group was followed that day by a documentary filmmaker, and Smith said the informants would “testify that the march to the Capitol was for the cameras only.”

Another informant texted his FBI agent at noon, as initial barriers were being broken down, saying that “PB neither made nor inspired”, instead blaming the “herd mentality”.

Pezzola’s attorney, Roger Roots, said his client only smoked to celebrate the Capitol takeover, not the obstruction of Congress. Roots accused police and prosecutors of overreacting by firing tear gas and projectiles into the crowd and criminalizing “a six-hour delay of Congress.”

Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said Rehl went to the Capitol expecting speeches. He did not enter until the electoral vote counting had stopped, and that “not a single message” out of 160,000 reviewed by the FBI showed that he “intends or plans to… stop the process.”

As they looked on in the courtroom, the five defendants sat calmly, well-groomed and wearing dark suits, ties and white shirts – four wore dark-rimmed glasses – in contrast to their agitated expressions as depicted in government videos.

Prosecutors acknowledged to jurors that the Proud Boys organization as a whole “is not on trial today”.

“Many Proud Boys who were angry about the election did not participate in the January 6th mission,” McCullough said.

But they showed the jury the defendants’ own social media posts, including the words “kill them” and videos of groups of men beating each other in the streets at night. A December 2020 post by Tarrio featured Pezzola in a fiery setting labeled “Lords of War” and “#J6″, and another included a sensationalized video posted by Rehl showing Trump attorney Sidney Powell saying that she ” would release the Kraken.”

“That was the image these defendants sought to promote in their fight to keep Donald Trump in office,” McCullough said in conclusion. “These ‘warlords’ banded together to prevent the transfer of presidential power.”

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