DOJ charges Proud Boys leaders with seditious conspiracy over Jan. 6 attack

DOJ charges Proud Boys leaders with seditious conspiracy over Jan. 6 attack

The Justice Department has charged leaders of the Proud Boys — the pro-Trump extremist group that played a central role in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack — with conspiring to use force to oppose the presidential transfer of power.

The seditious conspiracy charges, announced in a grand jury indictment returned Monday, escalate the case against the Proud Boys and their leader Enrique Tarrio, who now face some of the most severe charges related to the attack on the Capitol. The Justice Department unveiled similar seditious conspiracy charges against an anti-government militia group, the Oath Keepers and their leader Stewart Rhodes, in January 2022.

The new indictment also included a second charge against the group: conspiracy to prevent the police and Congress from discharging their official duties. The indictment underscores DOJ’s contention that the Proud Boys played a central role in stoking and amplifying the violence on Jan. 6. Prosecutors say the group “directed” and “mobilized” the crowd and helped move people toward the foot of the Capitol by removing barriers.

The group’s leaders, who were joined by dozens of other members of the Proud Boys, also timed their arrival at the Capitol to precede the end of Former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse, ensuring they were among the first to arrive at the barricades, according to DOJ and video footage of the group’s march.

One of those members, Dominic Pezzola of New York, became the first to breach the Capitol shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, using a stolen police riot shield to smash a window, video shows. That breach prompted a rush into the building, forcing Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety and delaying the counting of electoral votes required to facilitate the transition of power to President Joe Biden.

In a new piece of evidence included in the indictment, prosecutors described a text message exchange Tarrio had with an unnamed associate on the evening of Jan. 6, in which they were celebrating the breach of the Capitol. In one reply, Tarrio simply wrote “The Winter Palace.”

That phrase, referring to a crucial event during the Russian Revolution in 1917, also appears in a document prosecutors contend Tarrio received a week before the storming of the Capitol. That document, titled “1776 Returns,” described a plan to occupy various federal buildings in Washington on Jan. 6, according to the Justice Department.

In the same text exchange, Tarrio’s associate erroneously suggested that if the Jan. 6 session of Congress were delayed into the next day, it would render the process “invalid.” Despite the inaccuracy, prosecutors may see that as an indication of the group’s intent. When asked by his associate whether the Proud Boys had “just influence[d] history,” Tarrio replied “Let’s first see how this plays out.”

Trump famously exhorted the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate in October 2020, a response to a question about his message to extremist groups. The Proud Boys interpreted that language as a call to action.

The new, high-profile seditious conspiracy charges for the Proud Boys come just four days before a House committee is set to hold the first of many hearings detailing the findings of a months-long investigation into the events leading up to and on Jan. 6. The hearings are expected to increase Democratic pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to criminally charge members of Trump’s inner circle or the former president himself for the events that day.

Thus far, the Justice Department has charged two former aides to Trump, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, with defying subpoenas from the House panel probing Jan. 6. Both men are fighting the misdemeanor charges and have not been accused of any crime directly related to the insurrection.

Tarrio testified to the Jan. 6 select committee in February, a month before he was initially charged for his role in the Proud Boys’ efforts, but he spent most of the interview asserting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

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Author: By Kyle Cheney, Josh Gerstein and Nicholas Wu