Washington — Enrique Tarrio, the founder of the right-wing Proud Boys, and several of his lieutenants are to stand trial on Monday for conspiring to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power on Jan. 6, 2021.
Before members of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers — some now convicted of seditious conspiracy – made their way to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, federal prosecutors allege members of the Proud Boys were violently provoking police and spearheading the charge to break into the building.
According to an indictment describing the government’s case against the leaders of the Proud Boys, some of the defendants gathered with more than 100 members of the group near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6 around the time that former President Donald Trump was speaking at the White House Ellipse. They allegedly marched to the Capitol grounds and communicated with radios before a member of the mob who is not charged in the case broke the police line and pushed forward, setting off the rioting that would soon engulf Capitol Hill.
Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joseph Biggs, and Dominic Pezzola — charged with numerous felonies including seditious conspiracy — are accused of being the leaders of that mob and among the first individuals to storm past police that day. Some allegedly tore down fencing, while others advanced further toward the building where Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
“We’ve taken the Capitol,” Biggs said on the Capitol’s west front, according to court documents, as Pezzola allegedly grabbed a law enforcement riot shield and used it to break a window on the Senate side of the building.
Tarrio is charged along with his lieutenants Nordean, Rehl, Biggs and Pezzola and although he was not in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, he is accused of devising the group’s efforts that day and cheering them on.
They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include obstructing Congress’ work and impeding law enforcement,, and have vigorously fought to move the trial out of Washington, D.C., delay the proceedings and dismiss the case.
“Mr. Tarrio is looking forward to the start of the trial,” his attorney, Nayib Hassan, said in a statement, “We look forward to making our presentation of the evidence and acquitting Mr. Tarrio of the governments allegations.”
Soon after the 2020 presidential election, investigators allege Tarrio began posting on social media and messaging groups about a “civil war,” later writing, “No Trump…No peace. No Quarter.” Some of the other defendants are accused of joining Tarrio in the calls to action.
A month later, prosecutors say Tarrio — who is from Florida — and other Proud Boys traveled to the nation’s capital for a Trump rally. Tarrio stole and burned a Black Lives Matter flag from a local church, an offense to which he pleaded guilty, accepted some responsibility, and served jail time.
But it was not until Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020 tweet announcing his rally on Jan. 6 that prosecutors allege the defendants sprung into action. A day later, charging documents say Tarrio, Nordean, who is considered a Proud Boys elder, Biggs and Rehl began planning.
They allegedly formed a Ministry of Self-Defense (MOSD) structure with Tarrio at the top, commanding a group of leaders who would strategize their presence at Trump’s rally. And in the ensuing days, the defendants communicated in encrypted group messages, allegedly discussing funding for equipment. Tarrio informed other members that the MOSD would consist of “upper-tier” leadership with Rehl — said to be the president of a Pennsylvania chapter — near the top.
It was around this time that investigators say Tarrio was sent a memo titled “1776 Returns” that had plans to occupy congressional office buildings to protest the counting of the Electoral College votes from the election.
The memo, filed in court as part of a motion made by a Tarrio co-defendant, outlined a goal to “maintain control over as select few, but crucial buildings in the DC area for a set period of time, presenting our demands in unity.”
In January, Tarrio allegedly discussed “revolutions” and “storming” the Capitol, but was arrested upon entry into Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, 2021, for burning the flag a month earlier and violating weapons laws.
His subsequent absence from the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 did not deter prosecutors from charging him with the same crimes levied against his codefendants who were there that day, a fact his defense is sure to raise before the jury.
Jury selection is set to begin on Monday, and the weeks-long trial is scheduled to begin in January.
Prosecutors face the daunting task of working to convince an entire jury that the actions of the Proud Boys members leading up to and during the Capitol attack warrant a conviction on the most severe count so far charged in the Justice Department’s investigation.
Defense attorneys have argued the charges are vague and overbroad, while others contested the fairness of a jury that will consider alleged crimes committed at the heart of the capital city.
Rehl’s attorneys have urged presiding Judge Timothy Kelly to prevent the government from using some of the defendant’s incendiary language at trial. “Such statements are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and may not be used against him in this fashion,” the defense argued.
Nordean’s legal team has also accused government investigators of trying to coerce a witness into testifying against the Proud Boys or risk being prosecuted. Prosecutors denied the allegations and said Nordean’s legal team “failed to establish any government misconduct.”
Notably, defense attorneys, with the exception of Tarrio’s legal team, in July successfully convinced Kelly to delay the trial, due to ongoing hearings by the House Jan. 6 select committee investigating the Capitol attack.
Biggs’ legal team told CBS News in a statement, “The Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from making extrajudicial pretrial comments on the eve of trial. We wish the same applied to Congress,” arguing the impending release of the Jan. 6 Committee’s report could prejudice potential jurors in the case. “Shame on Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney,” they added.
Attorneys for Rehl, Pezzola, and Nordean did not respond to a request for comment.
Even so, the defense has suffered setbacks ahead of trial, including the guilty pleas of two senior Proud Boys members close to Tarrio. Charles Donahoe and Jeremy Bertino pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and seditious conspiracy respectively, both admitting to joining the MOSD in the weeks before the riot.
As jury selection gets underway Monday, the Proud Boys defendants will not be the only group on trial for the serious seditious conspiracy charge. At the same time, another jury is hearing testimony in the trial of the second set of Oath Keepers members. The Justice Department earlier this month convicted two of five Oath Keeper members of the charge.