Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and three lieutenants were found guilty Thursday of entering a seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. A fifth Proud Boy was acquitted of the charge.
Prosecutors painted Tarrio as the leader of the plot, despite not physically being in Washington that day. His arrest on Jan. 4, 2021, on unrelated charges and the stabbing of several Proud Boys at a protest in December 2020 turned members of the group against District of Columbia law enforcement and served as motivators to try to stop certification of the 2020 presidential election, the government claimed.
But Tarrio’s attorneys argued that the Miami Proud Boy is the government’s scapegoat for the Capitol attack. The true culprit of Jan. 6, they said, was former President Donald Trump, who inflamed a mob of supporters and directed them toward the Capitol.
“It was Donald Trump’s words, it was his motivation, it was his anger that caused what occurred on Jan. 6,” Tarrio attorney Nayib Hassan said in his closing remarks. “They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald Trump and those in power.”
Defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl also were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. The jury decided later Thursday that defendant Dominic Pezzola, who is well known for using a police riot shield to break open a window of the Capitol, is not guilty of the charge.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who is overseeing the case, instructed the jury that they could return a partial verdict on any charges at any time. Kelly declared the jury hung on whether Pezzola conspired to obstruct the certification of the 2020 election and a second count of assaulting, resisting and impeding an officer. He also declared the jury hung on two charges for defendants Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Tarrio.
All defendants were convicted of obstructing the certification of the 2020 presidential election, and all but Pezzola were convicted of conspiring to obstruct it. The defendants also were all convicted of conspiring to prevent an officer from discharging their duties, obstructing law enforcement and at least one count of destruction of government property. Pezzola was found guilty of a second count.
Attorney General Merrick Garland Thursday lauded the work of federal prosecutors, FBI agents and analysts.
“Our work will continue,” Garland said, adding that the verdicts were an example of the government’s “steadfast commitment to defend the American people and American democracy.”
Garland said the evidence presented at trial demonstrated the “central role” members of the extremist Proud Boys played in the effort to block the transfer of power.
In the jury trial’s 15 weeks, heated legal disputes, regular bickering between attorneys and plain bad luck caused extensive delays to the proceeding that was once projected to last just six weeks. Kelly, the judge, thanked the jury for its diligence and patience before dismissing them.
Soon after the election, investigators alleged Tarrio began posting on social media and in message groups about a “civil war,” later threatening, “No Trump…No peace. No Quarter.”
Proud Boys leaders saw themselves as “a fighting force” that was “ready to commit violence” on Trump’s behalf, the government alleged.
According to charging papers, Nordean, Rehl, Biggs and Pezzola gathered with over 100 Proud Boys near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6, 2021, around the time that Trump was speaking at the White House Ellipse. They allegedly marched to the Capitol grounds and communicated by radio.
Prosecutors said the defendants were among the first wave of rioters to breach Capitol grounds over police barricades and lead the mob toward the building.
Some defendants – like Pezzola – were accused of breaking windows at the Capitol, while others roused the mob and pushed through metal barricades and police lines to enter the Capitol.
Tarrio wasn’t in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 because he had been arrested for unrelated charges a day earlier. Still, the Justice Department alleged his planning before the attack, support for the rioters during the assault and comments afterward were sufficient to charge him with seditious conspiracy.
“Make no mistake, we did this,” Tarrio wrote on social media during the riot.
“The spirit of 1776 has been resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys. And we will not be extinguished,” Nordean allegedly wrote in Nov. 2020. “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people,” Rehl posted.
Prosecutors said Tarrio exhorted protesters to violence, posting before Jan. 6, “Let’s bring this new year in with one word in mind: revolt.” In text messages, he later compared Proud Boys’ actions that day to those of George Washington, Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
“Did Enrique Tarrio make comments that were egregious? Absolutely,” Tarrio’s attorney rhetorically asked the jury in closing arguments last week. “You may not like what he said, but it is First Amendment-protected speech.”
The trial, which began on Jan. 12, dragged from winter into spring with dozens of witnesses called by both sides and thousands of exhibits. Witnesses included a documentary filmmaker who followed Tarrio around after the 2020 presidential election, numerous FBI agents who investigated the case, Secret Service employees, and former Proud Boys.
Only two of the five defendants — Rehl and Pezzola — testified in their own defense. Rehl said he knew of no plans for violence and encouraged no one to engage with police.
Prosecutors showed video of Pezzola using a stolen police shield to smash a window and smoking a “victory cigar” inside the Capitol. He said he acted alone and testified he was not part of any criminal enterprise. Pezzola’s attorney, Steve Metcalf, called the government’s case a “fairy dust conspiracy,”
Matthew Greene — a former Proud Boys member — testified as a government witness and told the jury he first joined the group to defend against ANTIFA.
He testified there had been no explicit call to violently resist Joe Biden’s presidency, but a “collective expectation” that they were to respond if provoked.
“I can’t say it was overtly encouraged, but it was never discouraged,” Greene said of violence, “And when it happened, it was celebrated.”
Greene, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, was pressed by the defense about whether the violence on Jan. 6 was planned. He said the crowd was angry, but the violence seemed “spontaneous.” However, he testified the mob’s actions were “either implicitly or overtly accepted and encouraged by the Proud Boys” on Jan. 6.
Another cooperating witness at trial, 43-year-old Jeremy Bertino, was considered to be Tarrio’s top lieutenant and pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last year. Like Tarrio, Bertino wasn’t at the Capitol during the attack.
Bertino told the jury the Proud Boys nearly unanimously believed the 2020 election results were stolen from Trump as part of a broad “conspiracy.” He testified that the Proud Boys saw themselves as the footsoldiers of the right, calling themselves the “tip of the spear” in the fight.
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