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Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and his top lieutenants convicted in historic Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy case


Violent insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File). Insets, clockwise starting from top left: Enrique Tarrio (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File); Zachary Rehl (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File); Ethan Nordean (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File); Dominic Pezzola (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File); Joseph Biggs (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the right-wing extremist Proud Boys group, has been convicted of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Three of his co-defendants, including top lieutenants of the group, were also convicted, while one defendant was acquitted of the charge.

Tarrio and his four co-defendants faced a raft of other charges in addition to seditious conspiracy, widely considered to be the most serious charge to date against rioters who stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The mob, spurred on by then-President Donald Trump’s repeated false statements that fraud affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, overwhelmed police trying to beat back the crowd and violently breached the building as Congress had begun to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win. Lawmakers were forced to evacuate or shelter in place for several harrowing hours.

In a partial verdict announced Thursday morning, top Proud Boys lieutenants Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs were also convicted of seditious conspiracy, along with up-and-coming Proud Boys member Zachary Rehl, Politico reported. That afternoon, jurors acquitted Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member who was seen on video violently smashing a stolen riot shield into a window of the Capitol building, of the charge.

All five defendants were convicted of obstruction an official proceeding of Congress. Tarrio, Nordean, Biggs, and Rehl were also convicted of conspiracy to obstruct Congress, but jurors were unable to agree on whether to convict Pezzola, so U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly declared a mistrial as to that charge.

Jurors convicted all five men of conspiracy to prevent Congress or federal officers from discharging their duties; obstructing, impeding, or interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder; and destruction of government property as to a fence, Politico reported. Pezzola was convicted of destruction of government property as to a Senate window, but jurors deadlocked on the other four defendants as to this charge, and Kelly again declared a mistrial. A mistrial was also declared for all five defendants as to the charge of assaulting or impeding law enforcement as to a co-defendant who threw a water bottle.

Pezzola was convicted of robbery for stealing a riot shield from a U.S. Capitol Police officer, but all five men were acquitted of assaulting or impeding law enforcement as to Pezzola’s encounter with an officer with the riot shield.

Co-defendant Charles Donohoe — who had thrown the water bottle during the melee — had previously pleaded guilty to assaulting law enforcement on Jan. 6 and had agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

The verdict, coming after nearly four months of testimony and six days of jury deliberations, marks a significant win for the government, whose wide-ranging prosecution of Jan. 6 rioters has already resulted in multiple seditious conspiracy convictions, including four guilty pleas and six jury verdicts against leaders and members of the far-right antigovernment Oath Keepers militia group.

One of those guilty pleas came from high-ranking Proud Boys member Jeremy Bertino, who testified for the government at the trial. Bertino told jurors that members of the group had an understanding and an agreement that they would do whatever was necessary to keep Trump in power. Both Bertino and another Proud Boys member who pleaded guilty, Matthew Greene, testified that the Proud Boys were the “tip of the spear” at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The trial of the top leadership of the self-described “Western Chauvinist” group was a rocky road from the start, with nearly three weeks of contentious jury selection. Opening arguments from prosecutors reminded jurors of Trump’s “stand back and stand by” edict to the Proud Boys — issued during a September 2020 presidential debate — and said that the extremist group was prepared to engage in violence in order disrupt the peaceful transition of presidential power and keep Trump in office.

“These men did not stand back,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said in opening arguments. “They did not stand by. Instead, they mobilized.”

The government maintained that it was not necessary to show that the defendants had prepared a step-by-step guide to the alleged conspiracy.

Prosecutors had alleged that Tarrio created the group’s so-called “Ministry of Self Defense” (MOSD) chapter in order to plan for violence on Jan. 6 and used encrypted messaging to organize and coordinate the Proud Boys’ role in the attack. While Tarrio himself was not in Washington that day — having recently been ordered to leave the city after being arrested for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag in front of a historically Black D.C. church — he encouraged his followers to stay the course at the Capitol.

“Don’t f—— leave,” Tarrio posted to Parler at 2:38 p.m., according to prosecutors. “Proud of my boys and my country.”

“Make no mistake … we did this[,]” Tarrio also posted, some 30 minutes after Pezzola was seen smashing the window with the stolen riot shield.

Similarly, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack found that the Proud Boys “did lead the assault” on the Capitol building that day.

The defense teams, meanwhile, argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the defendants had all mutually agreed to carry out the attack. At least five police officers who engaged with the violent mob died after Jan. 6. Dozens more were injured.

Attorneys for the defendants also argued that Trump — who earlier that day told his supporters at the so-called “Stop the Steal rally” to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” — was the real culprit.

“It was Donald Trump’s words,” said Nayib Hassan, Tarrio’s lawyer, during closing arguments, according to Politico. “It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6th in your amazing and beautiful city.”

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