Proud Boys attacked ‘heart’ of democracy Jan. 6, prosecutor says – Orange County Register

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, LINDSAY WHITEHURST and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

WASHINGTON — Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants led a coordinated attack on “the heart of our democracy” in a desperate bid to keep Donald Trump in the White House, a federal prosecutor said Thursday at the start of their inflammatory conspiracy trial.

The jury heard more than two years after members of the far-right group joined a pro-Trump mob to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to hear opening statements from attorneys for the trial.

Assistant US Attorney Jason McCullough said the Proud Boys knew Trump’s hopes of a second term were quickly dwindling as January 6 approached. So the squad leaders assembled a “fighting force” to stop the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden, McCullough said. Tarrio saw a Biden presidency as a “threat to the existence of the Proud Boys,” the prosecutor said.

McCullough showed jurors a video clip of Trump infamously telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” during his first presidential debate with Biden in 2020, a moment that sparked an explosion of interest in the group.

“These men did not hold back. They didn’t stand aside. Instead, they mobilized,” said the prosecutor.

Proud Boys leaders recruited new members “to help them achieve their goals,” McCullough said. On January 6, they gathered at a prearranged location and began advancing toward the Capitol before Trump finished his speech.

“The time to act had come,” said the prosecutor.

The trial follows seditious conspiracy convictions against two leaders of the Oath Keepers, another far-right group.

The case against Tarrio and his four accomplices is one of the most momentous to emerge from the January 6 riots in the Capitol. The trial will take an in-depth look at a group that has become an influential force in mainstream Republican politics.

Defenders argue that the group’s notoriety has made Tarrio a target for authorities looking for a scapegoat for the uprising. His lawyer Sabino Jauregui accused prosecutors of deceptively stitching together offensive online messages and said Tarrio actually tried to keep his Proud Boys out of fights by speaking to police before rallies.

“They’re trying to build this conspiracy that doesn’t exist,” Jauregui said. He acknowledged that Tarrio and other self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists” shared “offensive” messages in the Proud Boys, but said it was Trump who unleashed the mob that attacked the Capitol.

“It’s too hard to blame Trump,” Jauregui said. “It’s easier to blame Enrique as the face of the Proud Boys.”

Defenders also say there was never a plan to go to the Capitol or stop Congress certifying Biden’s electoral vote.

“Over and over and over again the government was told by witnesses that there was no plan for January 6,” said Nicholas Smith, attorney for Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Auburn, Washington. Nordean went to the Capitol looking for friends and didn’t damage anything or hurt anyone there, he said.

The defense has also accused prosecutors of attempting to silence potential defense witnesses.

The other co-defendants are Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida, a self-proclaimed organizer of the Proud Boys; Zachary Rehl, who was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys of Rochester, New York.

The trial will uncover private communications between them, as well as their public statements, coordinated actions at the Capitol, and celebrations of the riots before they attempted to cover their tracks.

A message Tarrio posted to social media before Jan. 6 read “Lords of War” over a photo of Pezzola with the hashtags “#J6” and “#J20.”

“These warlords have banded together to stop the presidential transfer of power,” McCullough said.

Tarrio’s lieutenants were part of the first wave of rioters who entered the Capitol grounds and charged past police barricades towards the building, according to prosecutors.

The jury saw video of Pezzola using a stolen riot shield to smash a window, allowing rioters to pour into the Capitol. Pezzola videotaped himself taking a “victory smoke” on a cigar in the Capitol, prosecutors said. His attorney argued that another rioter broke the window first.

Tarrio, who is from Miami, was not in Washington on Jan. 6 because he was arrested two days before the riot and accused of destroying a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during a December 2020 protest. He was ordered to leave the capital, but prosecutors say he remained involved in the extremist group’s planning for Jan. 6.

Tarrio watched the riot from afar and posted a message urging the Proud Boys to remain in the Capitol.

“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “We did that.”

A day after the attack, Tarrio wrote a message that said, “God didn’t put me there for nothing.”

“We would still be there,” he added.

The Justice Department has indicted nearly 1,000 people across the United States in the deadly Jan. 6 riot, and its investigation continues to mount. Among them are Oath Keepers Chair Stewart Rhodes and Florida Chapter Chair Kelly Meggs, who have been convicted of conspiring to block the transfer of presidential power from Trump, a Republican, to Biden, a Democrat. Three other Oath Keepers were acquitted of the charges. However, they were convicted on other serious charges.

The Proud Boys trial is the first major trial to begin since the House committee investigating the riot asked the department to file criminal charges against Trump and his associates, who were behind his efforts to end his 2020 election loss cancel.

While the referral has no real legal basis, it is already increasing political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland and his appointed Special Counsel Jack Smith, who are conducting an investigation into January 6 and Trump’s actions.

Jury selection in the case took two weeks, as a number of potential jurors said they linked the Proud Boys to hate groups or white nationalism. The Capitol can be seen in the distance from parts of the courthouse, where a second group of Oath Keepers are also currently on trial for seditious conspiracy, which could carry up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.

Tensions simmered at times as jury selection slowed to a crawl and defense attorneys complained that too many potential jurors were biased against the Proud Boys. Defense attorneys challenged jurors who expressed support for causes like Black Lives Matter, saying it could indicate prejudice against the Proud Boys.

Lawyers and the judge clashed during sometimes chaotic pre-trial litigation, to the point where two defense attorneys threatened to withdraw from the case. US District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump-appointed judge, lashed out after defense attorneys repeatedly interrupted and talked about him on Wednesday, warning he would snub them if things continued like this.

Richer reported from Boston.

https://www.ocregister.com/2023/01/12/prosecutor-proud-boys-attacked-heart-of-democracy-on-1-6/ Proud Boys attacked ‘heart’ of democracy Jan. 6, prosecutor says – Orange County Register

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