Four Proud Boys convicted of sedition over January 6 Capitol attack

A jury found the president of the militia, Enrique Tarrio, and three of his lieutenants guilty of the crime, which carries sentences of up to 20 years

Proud Boys
Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys (left) and Joe Biggs (right), during a demonstration in Washington on December 12, 2020.STEPHANIE KEITH (AFP)

A jury convicted four members of the Proud Boys, including their former president, Enrique Tarrio, of seditious conspiracy for their participation in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Prosecutor Connor Mulroe told the jury that the members of the far-right extremist group viewed themselves as “Trump’s army.” And as defenders of the former president’s “lies” they attempted to prevent his ouster from the White House after his defeat in the November 2020 elections, won by Democrat Joe Biden. They were prepared for an “all-out war,” added the prosecutor, which they waged along with a mob of Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s legitimate win in the last presidential election.

The trial kicked off in January at the U.S. District Court in Washington — located in the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse — where all the proceedings (with more than a thousand defendants) stemming from the January 6 insurrection are unfolding, as part of a far-reaching probe that Attorney General Merrick Garland described as “the most important investigation that the Justice Department has ever entered into.” Thursday’s verdict is a triumph for the Department, which has thrown all its resources into proving the link between the Proud Boys and Trump. Crucial to this was the video in which Trump gave an order to the Proud Boys during an election debate with Biden. “Stand back and stand by,” he told them.

In addition to Tarrio, the jury also convicted Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joe Biggs —who tweeted “this is war” after learning of Biden’s election victory—, and Nic Pezzola, who is remembered for images showing him at 2:12 p.m. on January 6 breaking one of the windows of the Capitol with a shield snatched from a policeman. After the attack on the Capitol, Nordean wrote on his social networks: “Fuck you, Trump, you left us on the battlefield bloody and alone.”

Besides the recording of Trump, the government also relied on a set of messages the Proud Boys exchanged privately in encrypted chats — or posted on social media — before, during and after the January 6 attack. The messages show them celebrating Trump’s message during the debate with Biden. “If Biden steals this election, (the Proud Boys) will be political prisoners,” Tarrio published on social media on November 16, 2020. “We won’t go quietly [...] I promise.”

Seditious conspiracy is a crime that is not used lightly in the United States. It was designed during the Civil War, to prosecute Confederate insurgents. Difficult to prove, it carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison. The Proud Boys also faced other serious charges.

The defense tried to prove that there was no conspiracy, no plan behind the Proud Boys’ attack on the Capitol. Nicholas Smith, attorney for defendant Ethan Nordean, claimed during his closing arguments that prosecutors built the case on “misdirection and innuendo.” And that the playback over and over in court of Trump’s famous videotape only sought to manipulate jurors. “Does that prove some conspiracy by the men here?” Smith asked, not waiting for an answer. “We all know it doesn’t.”

This is not the first time that participants in the January 6 events have been convicted of seditious conspiracy. Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia, was found guilty of the crime in November. Seven months after the verdict, he is still awaiting his sentence: he could serve up to 60 years in prison. His case is, however, exceptional: the average sentence of the trials stemming from the Capitol attack that have so far resulted in prison sentences is 60 days.

Rhodes, like Tarrio, was not in Washington during the most fateful day of contemporary American democracy. He followed the attack on television from a Baltimore hotel: police had barred him from setting foot in Washington that day, following a previous arrest in the city for burning a church’s anti-racist Black Lives Matter flag. Both ringleaders, who are accused of orchestrating the attack from afar, met on January 5 in a parking lot near the Capitol.

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