By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press
Federal prosecutors on Monday rested their seditious conspiracy case against former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants charged with plotting to stop the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.
Jurors will hear testimony from defense witnesses before deliberating in one of the most serious cases to come out of the Justice Department’s massive investigation of the violent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.
Defense attorneys have argued there is no evidence the Proud Boys plotted to attack the Capitol and stop Congress from certifying Biden’s electoral victory. Norm Pattis, an attorney for former Proud Boys leader Joseph Biggs, said the group Boys had no plan, “no understanding” and no “implicit conspiracy” for Jan. 6.
“They did not come to your home to cause a riot,” Pattis told jurors on Monday.
The jury in Washington’s federal court has heard more than 30 days of testimony over more than two months by more than 20 prosecution witnesses, including two former Proud Boys members who are cooperating with the government in hopes of lighter sentences.
Tarrio, a Miami resident who served as national chairman of the group, and the other Proud Boys could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy.
The case comes on the heels of the seditious conspiracy convictions of Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and a Florida leader of the antigovernment group. Four other Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy in January. Rhodes and other Oath Keepers are scheduled to be sentenced in May.
Also on trial with Tarrio and Biggs are Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola.
Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter leader. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia. Pezzola was a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York.
Nordean’s attorney called the first defense witnesses, including former Proud Boys member Travis Nugent, of Vancouver, Washington. Nugent, who hasn’t been charged with any riot-related crimes, testified that he was shocked to see rioters breach police barricades near the Capitol.
“It definitely felt spontaneous to me,” Nugent said. “I didn’t know it was going to happen.”
“You had every reason to expect violence, didn’t you?” prosecutor Conor Mulroe asked Nugent during his cross-examination.
“No,” Nugent replied.
Most of the defendants aren’t accused of engaging in violence themselves. Tarrio wasn’t even at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Police arrested him in Washington, D.C., on separate charges two days before the riot, and he heeded a judge’s order to leave the nation’s capital.
“It’s too hard to blame Trump,” Sabino Jauregui, one of Tarrio’s lawyers, said during the trial’s opening statements. “It’s easier to blame Enrique as the face of the Proud Boys.”
Prosecutors have employed an unusual theory that Proud Boys leaders mobilized a handpicked group of foot soldiers — or “tools” — to supply the force necessary to carry out their plot by overwhelming police and breaching barricades. Defense attorneys have dismissed the government’s “tools” theory as a novel, flawed concept with no legal foundation.
Jurors have seen hundreds of messages that Tarrio and other Proud Boys privately exchanged on the Telegram platform and publicly on social media before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack. The messages show the Proud Boys becoming increasingly agitated as Trump’s legal challenges fail in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6. The messages also show the Proud Boys celebrating the attack on the Capitol and their role in it.
In one exchange shown to jurors, Tarrio urged his fellow extremists to stay at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “We did this.”
That evening, Rehl’s mom asked if he was OK.
“I’m ok!” Rehl replied. “Seems like our raid of the capital set off a chain reaction of events throughout the country. i’m so (expletive) proud.”
The Proud Boys trial has lasted significantly longer than the judge and attorneys expected when jury selection began in December. The proceedings have been bogged down by bickering. Defense lawyers have routinely sparred with U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly during breaks in testimony and repeatedly asked for him to declare a mistrial.
Two onetime Proud Boys members, Matthew Greene and Jeremy Bertino, were among the key witnesses for prosecutors.
Greene testified in January that Proud Boys members were expecting a “civil war” after the 2020 election. Bertino testified last month that the Proud Boys saw themselves as “the tip of the spear” and plotted to keep Biden out of the White House because they wanted to “save the country” from what they feared would be a tyrannical government.
Greene and Bertino said they didn’t know of any specific plan to storm the Capitol. Greene said group leaders celebrated the attack on Jan. 6 but didn’t explicitly encourage members to use force.
“My expectation was, if there was violence started, you should not back down,” Greene testified.
Bertino, of North Carolina, is the only Proud Boys member who has pleaded guilty to a seditious conspiracy charge. Greene, of Syracuse, New York, pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress certifying the Electoral College vote.