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The Proud Boys led the Jan. 6 riot to keep Trump in office, the US says at trial

The Proud Boys led the Jan. 6 riot to keep Trump in office, the US says at trial

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Federal prosecutors for the first time claimed responsibility for the success of 6th of January2021, attack on the US Capitol on five leaders of the “Proud Boys” during their seditious conspiracy trial Thursday, accusing members of the extremist group of masterminding the violence that stalled Congressional confirmation of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden was stopped — at the hands of these defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason BA McCullough told jurors.

Led by former Proud Boys chairman and lead defendant Enrique Tario, the prosecutor said: “These men banded together and agreed to use any means necessary, including force, to prevent Congress from certifying, and on January 6 they targeted the election the heart of our democracy.”

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

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

It would be “unfair” to hold Trump’s followers responsible while it is believed to be “too hard to indict Trump … too hard to put him on the witness stand with his army of lawyers,” Jauregui told jurors.

Although more than 930 people have been indicted in the Jan. 6 attack and a special prosecutor is investigating Trump, Thursday’s dueling opening statements in a federal court blocked from Capitol Hill crystallized a central question still unanswered two years later: Who ended up should bear the greatest criminal responsibility for the events of that day?

Prosecutors have previously suggested that members of the Proud Boys played a huge role in the violence. But for the first time in a 90-minute argument punctuated by the defendants’ own recorded words, videos and photos on social and encrypted media, the government said the successful Capitol break-in was not the product of a spontaneous, misguided mob, but the result of a pre-planned attack by committed extremists.

The defendants, on the other hand, insisted they had gathered in Washington to support Trump, as they had done at previous rallies in D.C., and had no other plans. They did not bring weapons, did not attack anyone and could not have foreseen that the Capitol Police would be unprepared, their defense said.

“Conspiracy to use force without 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 special House committee investigating the events of January 6 recently recommended accusing the former president of crimes which include obstruction of official proceedings, one of accusations filed against Tario.

Tario and his co-defendants — Ethan Nordian, of Auburn, Wash.; Joe Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida; Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York; and Zachary Rell of Philadelphia – pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment. Two charges they face are punishable by up to 20 years in prison: conspiracy to oppose by force federal authorities or the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, and conspiracy to obstruct a joint session of Congress.

In court, Tario sipped from a glass of water and Pezzola stared ahead with a hand on her chin as McCullough laid out the case against them to a jury of eight women and seven men.

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

Prosecutors allege that for that day’s special operations, Tario chose co-defendants Nordean, Biggs and Rell to run the ironically named “Ministry of Self-Defense.”

Until then, the Proud Boys were best known for engaging in street battles with their perceived enemies in the left-wing antifa movement, before Trump refused to condemn the group during a September 2020 presidential debate, calling instead for them to “back off and stand aside.”

On Jan. 6, as Tario watched the events from Baltimore, the trio marched toward the Capitol with nearly 200 other men, joined the first wave to storm the Capitol grounds, and dispersed opposing police lines, the government said. There, they pressed forward until they forced their way inside, led by Pezzola, who was recorded using a stolen police riot shield to break the first window of the building to be broken through, McCullough said.

“These gentlemen did not stand back, they did not stand by,” McCullough told jurors.

Instead, McCullough showed videos of members of the Proud Boys at the forefront of attacks on police at the Capitol, where they had gathered that morning even before Trump spoke to supporters at a rally in the White House Oval.

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusive, and put it into a digital 3-D model of the building. (Video: The Washington Post)

“Let’s storm the goddamn Capitol,” yelled a member of the Proud Boys, who later charged into a line of police guarding a key stairwell. “Let’s not scream like that,” Nordean warned on the video.

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

“‘Whisper’ because it’s a secret,” McCullough said. “‘1776’ as Revolution.”

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

Even if we discard the preliminary yang. 6 conversations, their actions that day exposed their conspiracy, McCullough said.

“Make no mistake … we did this,” Tario wrote in an encrypted chat at 2:41 p.m., according to material shown in court.

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

“Jan. 6 will be a day of infamy,” Biggs wrote that evening, after Pezzola had earlier signed up with a “smoke of victory” at the Capitol.

“Shameful day,” McCullough repeated. “That’s how President Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor that sent us into World War II.” Victory smoke, he told jurors, “like you might see from a sports team after a big game.”

When it was their turn, defense attorneys accused the government of cherry-picking statements from their clients and urged the overwhelmingly Democratic jurors to “put aside politics” and prosecutors’ attempts to manipulate their emotions “so you hate them, you you hate the proud boys.

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

“What they share is an ideology. Proud boys think western civilization is the best. … Proud boys think America is the best,” Jauregui said. “They fight for it. It’s not a political thing, it’s not a racial thing. And they believe in freedom of speech. They believe you should say whatever you want.

Proud Boys leaders debated how to defend themselves because they believe D.C. police and federal prosecutors responded inadequately to stabbing of member Jeremy Bertino outside Harry’s Bar in downtown Washington after the December rally in support of Trump. Bertino pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government.

The FBI is investigating possible links between extremist groups behind the Capitol violence

Tario wasn’t even in Washington on January 6 because he was arrested two days earlier and expelled by a judge pending trial on charges that at the same rally he the stolen flag of a Black Lives Matter church is set on fire and returned to DC with an unregistered high capacity ammunition magazine. He later pleaded guilty to those charges and served four months in prison.

Jauregui and Smith said prosecutors twisted and twisted innocent, if sometimes “offensive,” chatter into a riotous conspiracy. Smith said the defendants will call as witnesses numerous government informants involved in the group, including those who said Nordean tried to stop the violence.

“You will not see any evidence at trial to support the government’s conspiracy claim that these defendants conspired prior to January 6th to do what the government alleges,” Smith said.

“Over and over and over,” Smith said, “the government has been told by witnesses that there is no plan for January 6. You’ll find that even the government’s cooperating witnesses have said that.”

Tario may have made it “easy” for investigators by celebrating that riot, but he and other members have largely come forward, 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 just for the cameras.”

Another informant texted his FBI supervisor at noon, as the initial barriers were breached, that “PB didn’t do it or inspire it,” instead blaming “herd mentality.”

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

Rell’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said Rell went to the Capitol expecting speeches. He entered only after the vote had been counted and that “not one message” of the 160,000 reviewed by the FBI indicated that he “intended or planned to … obstruct the proceedings.”

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

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

“A lot of proud guys who were angry about the election didn’t take part in the Jan. 6 mission,” McCullough said.

But they showed jurors the defendants’ own social media posts, including flashing the words “kill them” and clips of groups of men beating others in the streets at night. One December 2020 post by Tarrio featured Pezzola against a fiery background with the caption “Lords of War” and “#J6,” and another featured a promotional video posted by Rehl showing Trump attorney Sidney Powell saying he would ” free the Kraken’.

“This was the image these defendants wanted to promote in their fight to keep Donald Trump in office,” McCullough concluded. “These ‘Warlords’ Unite to Stop Presidential Transfer of Power.”

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