The former leader of the far-right gang the Proud Boys and three of its members were found guilty of treason-related charges in connection with violent riots to upend an American election on January 6.
Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the neo-fascist group, and three lieutenants who stormed the halls of Congress on 6 January, 2021, were convicted of seditious conspiracy on 4 May for their roles in the attack. A jury did not reach a verdict for a fifth member of the group who was on trial.
The verdict against Tarrio on 4 May marks the first successful seditious conspiracy charge against a January 6 defendant who wasn’t at the Capitol that day. Ten others connected to the January 6 attack, including the leader of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, have either been convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty on charges of seditious conspiracy in the aftermath of the riots.
The verdict in Washington DC follows six days of deliberation after a more than four-month trial, hearing evidence and testimony from federal prosecutors and other members of the group that the men on trial – Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola – conspired to forcefully oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power.
Prosecutors presented hundreds of messages among members of the group in the days leading up to the January 6 attack, in which they amplified Donald Trump’s baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
Defense attorneys argued that there was no conspiracy to join the attack, which they characterised as a spontaneous act of rage fuelled by then-President Trump’s demands.
“It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation,” attorney Nayib Hassan told jurors in closing arguments. “It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald J Trump and those in power.”
But federal prosecutors successfully argued that the Proud Boys were not merely obedient followers to the former president’s commands but had prepared for “all-out war” as the foot soldiers in his attempts to undermine millions of Americans’ votes and upend a democratic election to preserve his presidency.
“These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump’s army, fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it,” Conor Mulroe, a trial attorney for the US Department of Justice, told jurors in closing arguments.
The jury’s partial verdict did not include a conviction of seditious conspiracy against Pezzola.
All five men were also found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.
Two days before January 6, when members of Congress convened to certify the results of the 2020 election, Tarrio was arrested in Washington DC moments after stepping off a plane from Miami.
He was wanted by police after he admitted to tearing down and burning a Black Lives Matter flag outside a historically Black church in the nation’s capital during December riots connected to a protest supporting Donald Trump’s bogus claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
On 6 January, 2021, Tarrio watched the insurrection unfold from a hotel in Baltimore. Two years later, Tarrio was in custody, and was among five members of his self-described “Western chauvinist” gang facing treason-related charges in connection with the mob’s assault.
Before jurors delivered a verdict, Tarrio raged against the case in a Twitter Spaces event hosted by far-right website The Gateway Pundit, arguing that federal prosecutors made the case against the Proud Boys based on their “locker room” talk.
“What they are trying to do is manipulate how we talk to each other in the locker room,” he said, speaking from jail on a cell phone borrowed from another person in custody.
“It’s not fair, it really isn’t,” he added. “It’s just not right. It’s not the justice system that we grew up in civics class learning about.”
He claimed the Justice Department has been “weaponized” against defendants charged in connection with January 6 and alleged that prosecutors are “overcharging” cases.
More than 1,000 people have been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the attack.
The Proud Boys were initially conceived in 2016 by Vice co-founder turned far-right commentator Gavin McInness, inspiring a group that used an ironic or self-aware veneer of a masculine drinking club to launder white nationalist, antisemitic and anti-LGBT+ campaigns, relying on street violence in concert with far-right media and public officials.
Across his platforms, Mr McInnes “carved out an ideological space for frustrated young men to rally around” by arguing for the superiority of white western culture and against white liberal “guilt”, feminism, Islam and LGBT+ people, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Members participated in “Stop the Steal” rallies across the US following Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, including a rally on 12 December, 2020 in Washington DC, where members of the gang were filmed tearing down and burning Black Lives Matter banners at historically Black churches. Members have recently smeared LGBT+ people as pedophiles in protests outside drag queen storytelling events at public libraries.
Tarrio allegedly possessed a document called “1776 Returns” with plans to occupy “crucial buildings” in Washington, including House and Senate office buildings, on January 6.
“We need many people as possible inside these buildings,” the document states. “These are OUR buildings, they are just renting space. We must show our politicians We the People are in charge.”
On 29 December, 2020, Tarrio wrote in a public message that his group will “turn out in record numbers” on January 6 “but this time with a twist,” noting that the members would ditch their signature black-and-yellow outfits and “be incognito.”
One Proud Boys member, Jeremy Bertino, who separately pleaded guilty to a charge of seditious conspiracy last year, agreed to testify in the trial against other members as part of a plea deal.
He told jurors that the group believed it “had to do anything that was necessary to save the country.”
After pushing through barricades and police officers on Capitol grounds on January 6, Pezzola seized a riot shield from an officer and used it to break a window at about 2.13pm.
“The first members of the mob entered the Capitol through this broken window,” according to the federal indictment. He later celebrated with a cigar.