Proud Boys charged with sedition in Capitol attack

Enrique Tarrio, the former president of the Proud Boys, and four other members of the far-right group were charged on Monday with seditious conspiracy for their role in the seizure of the Capitol on January 6 of last year, among the most serious. Criminal charges will be brought as part of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the assault.

The sedition charges were the subject of an amended indictment that was unsealed in federal court for the District of Washington. The men had previously been charged in an earlier indictment filed in March with conspiring to obstruct the certification of the 2020 presidential election, which took place during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.

The new indictment marked the second time a far-right group has been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6 attack. In January Stewart Rhodes, the leader and founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was arrested and charged with 10 others with the same crime.

The seditious conspiracy charge – which can be difficult to prove and carries particular legal weight as well as political overtones – requires prosecutors to show that at least two people agreed to use force to overthrow government authority or delay the enforcement of any US law. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

It was not immediately clear what evidence led to the new charges, but the indictment underscored the central role played by the Proud Boys in efforts to prevent the defeat of President Donald J. Trump and “oppose the legal transfer of presidential power by force” by storming the Capitol.

The group and its actions around the Capitol will be central to the narrative pieced together by the House committee investigating the attack and Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, two people familiar with the election said Monday. committee plans.

When the committee holds the first of a series of public hearings scheduled for this month on Thursday evening, the two people said, it intends to feature live testimony from Nick Quested, a British documentary filmmaker who filmed the group with his permission during the riot, and of Caroline Edwards, a Capitol Police officer who was injured, according to videotape of the incident, by a rioter who had had a conversation moments earlier with one of the Proud Boys charged with sedition.

Mr. Quested spent much of the post-election period filming members of the Proud Boys, including Mr. Tarrio, and is considered by the committee to be a likely witness to their conversations about January 6 planning. Mr. Quested had accompanied the Proud Boys to pro-Trump rallies in Washington in November and December 2020, and was on the ground with members of the group on January 6 when several played a crucial role in the Capitol breach.

Mr. Quested was also present with a camera crew the day before the attack, when Mr. Tarrio met in an underground parking lot near the Capitol with a small group of pro-Trump activists, including Mr. Rhodes of the Oath Keepers. Late on January 6, Mr. Quested and his team were with Mr. Tarrio in Baltimore, filming him as he responded to news of the riot in real time.

Ms. Edwards, a well-respected Capitol police officer, is believed to be the first officer injured in the attack and suffered a concussion in the assault.

Other officers around the building recall hearing Officer Edwards on the radio calling for help – one of the first signs that day that mob violence was beginning to overwhelm police. Months after the attack, Officer Edwards continued to have blackouts believed to be related to his injuries.

Ms Edwards did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. In an email to The New York Times in December, she said “Capitol Police have had an extremely difficult year, but I’ve seen more resilience within the department than I ever thought possible.”

The updated indictment offered few new facts, largely retelling earlier accounts contained in earlier charging documents. Among these was one about how Joseph Biggs, one of the defendants charged with seditious conspiracy, had a brief exchange in the moments before violence broke out with a man in the crowd, who then walked alone to a barricade outside the Capitol and confronted the police. .

That man, Ryan Samsel, has been charged with attacking officers at the barricade in what is widely believed to be the tipping point of the riot, with videotape showing him attacking Officer Edwards. Mr. Biggs denied inciting Mr. Samsel.

In the weeks following Mr. Tarrio’s arrest and final indictment against him and his co-defendants – Mr. Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola – there were several developments that could have allowed the investigators to better understand the preparations of the Proud Boys on January 6 and their movements on the ground that day.

Another Proud Boy lieutenant originally charged in the same case as the men, Charles Donohoe, pleaded guilty in April and is cooperating with the government’s investigation into the group.

At the time of Mr. Tarrio’s arrest, federal investigators also searched the homes – and seized the phones – of three other high-ranking Proud Boys identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. But none of the men – Jeremy Bertino, Aaron Wolkind and John C. Stewart – have been charged.

When Mr Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and 10 of his subordinates were charged in January with seditious conspiracy, prosecutors said they took part in a plot to forcibly prevent the legal transition of presidential power in sending men to the Capitol on January 1. 6 and establishing a heavily armed “quick reaction force” outside Washington that was ready to rush to the aid of their compatriots in the building.

A seditious conspiracy charge requires prosecutors to prove that force was used either to overthrow the government or obstruct federal law enforcement.

Unlike Mr. Rhodes, however, Mr. Tarrio was not in Washington on January 6. A local judge had ordered him out of town two days earlier after he was accused of burning a Black Lives Matter banner in a church during a party. of violence that followed another pro-Trump rally in December.

Federal prosecutors said that while Mr. Tarrio was not charged with “physically participating in the Capitol breach,” he nevertheless “led the pre-planning and stayed in contact with other members of the Proud Boys” during the storming of the Capitol. building.

Prosecutors claimed, for example, that Mr. Tarrio had ordered members of the group before the attack to leave behind their traditional black and yellow polo shirts and remain “incognito” when they arrived in Washington on Jan. 6. Mr. Tarrio also helped create a “command and control structure” on a private Telegram group chat calling itself the Ministry of Self-Defense, according to prosecutors.

As the Capitol riot unfolded, Mr. Tarrio appeared to take the Proud Boys’ role in what was happening. “We did this,” he wrote at one point on the Telegram group chat.

Lawyers for Mr. Tarrio and the other men have repeatedly claimed there is no evidence they conspired in advance to storm the Capitol. By setting up the group chat and taking other measures like acquiring protective gear, the Proud Boys were simply trying to protect themselves from the left-wing activists they had scuffled with at previous events. in Washington, the lawyers said.

Yet prosecutors said a week before the Capitol attack, one of Mr. Tarrio’s girlfriends gave him a document titled “1776 Returns,” containing a detailed plan to surveil and storm the buildings. government buildings near the Capitol on January 6 – but not the Capitol itself. People familiar with the document said the girlfriend had texted Mr Tarrio comparing the document’s plans to the storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, which helped spark the Russian Revolution in 1917.

In the latest indictment, prosecutors cited what appears to be a recently uncovered text exchange on the evening of Jan. 6, after the attack on the Capitol ended, between Mr. Tarrio and Mr. Bertino. Mr. Bertino, a prominent Proud Boy member from North Carolina, had been stabbed at a previous pro-Trump rally in December, and since Mr. Tarrio was not in Washington on January 6.

At one point, Mr. Bertino made reference to “1776”, prompting Mr. Tarrio to respond a few minutes later, “The Winter Palace”.

“Dude,” Mr. Bertino wrote then, “did we just influence history?”

Mr. Tarrio replied: “Let’s see how it goes first.”

Mr. Bertino replied, “They MUST certify today! Or it’s invalid.

About Bradley J. Bridges

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