WASHINGTON — On the second day of the seditious conspiracy trial of five members of the far-right Proud Boys group for their involvement in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, evidence presented by prosecutors to the jury appeared to show that police guarding the building reacted slowly and with shock to the assault launched by supporters of then-President Donald Trump to keep Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Radio transmissions presented in federal court Friday, before the proceedings adjourned for the holiday weekend, included a Capitol Police officer declaring, “They’re coming and we can’t stop them from breaching” as rioters surged toward a terrace on the Capitol’s lower west side.
On Thursday, during opening arguments in the trial, prosecutors presented testimony and video to the jury showing Capitol Police being overwhelmed by the rioters’ assault on the building. Assistant United States Attorney Jason McCullough told jurors that the five defendants, including Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, believed it was their mission to stop Biden from taking the presidential oath of office and to keep Trump in power despite his loss in the 2020 election.
The Proud Boys were the largest of three far-right militant groups who participated in the Jan. 6 riot, investigators said; other groups involved were the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, and several of their members have also been tried and convicted on multiple charges stemming from the attack.
Tarrio and his four co-defendants face multiple federal charges including three separate conspiracy counts, including seditious conspiracy, which prosecutors also filed against five accused Jan. 6 rioters affiliated with the Oath Keepers. In the Oath Keepers case, a jury found two group members, including leader Stewart Rhodes, guilty of the sedition-related charge but acquitted other Oath Keeper defendants of that charge.
In his opening argument to the Proud Boys jury, McCullough cited evidence that defendant Joseph Biggs filmed himself and co-defendant Ethan Nordean celebrating rioters’ takeover of the Capitol. “We just stormed the f***ing Capitol and took the motherf***ing place back,” Biggs said in a video, according to prosecutors.
McCullough told the jury that the defendants’ words and actions on Jan. 6, their repeated use of the phrase “storm the Capitol,” and their celebrations all constituted evidence of a “criminal agreement,” thereby justifying conspiracy charges.
Tarrio, who was arrested two days before the Capitol riot on charges related to his involvement in burning a Black Lives Matter banner torn down from an African American church in Washington, was under court order to stay out of D.C. and did not participate directly in the riot, though his defense team and prosecutors offered different accounts Thursday on whether he was involved in encouraging Jan. 6 violence. Among evidence cited in the Proud Boys indictment were midafternoon Jan. 6 messages in which Tarrio declares, “Proud Of My Boys and my country” and “Revolutionaries are now at the Rayburn Building,” which houses a large number of congressional offices.
On the morning of Jan. 6, McCullough told the jury, a large group of Proud Boys met at the Washington Monument shortly before Trump was scheduled to make a speech nearby. But McCullough said a leadership group of Proud Boys who called themselves the Ministry of Self Defense (MOSD) had no intention of attending the Trump speech and instead set off for the Capitol, where members of the group circulated with other protesters around the building and later made their way into it. The prosecutor said that at one point, Proud Boys fought with Capitol Police over control of a riot shield, which he said defendant Dominic Pezzola subsequently grabbed and used to break a window on the Capitol’s west side, through which he and other alleged rioters entered the building. Charges against Pezzola include stealing the police shield and breaking Capitol windows.
The defendants have denied all the charges pending against them, and in opening arguments to the jury, their defense lawyers presented both general sweeping arguments as to why the charges are unjustified and factual challenges to specific prosecution claims.
Tarrio defense lawyer Sabino Jauregui told the judge and jury that in the run-up to any event in which they were participating, the Proud Boy leader would always check in with local police and advise them of the organization’s plans. Tarrio had an intelligence officer with Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police on speed dial, Jauregui claimed.
Jauregui insisted that Tarrio wanted to avoid violent clashes with antifa and that despite claims by prosecutors, Tarrio never urged anyone to attack the Capitol. Jauregui said the government had painted a picture showing Tarrio celebrating Jan. 6, but insisted that prosecutors were mischaracterizing Tarrio’s messaging. “He was saying Trump supporters did it, not Proud Boys alone.”
Jauregui insisted that Tarrio did not say anything to anyone who was on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Roger Roots, Pezzola’s lawyer, insisted that photographic and video evidence showed that a “man in red,” not Pezzola, had smashed the Capitol window and that Pezzola did not enter the Capitol through the breach until five or six others had gone through the broken window first. Roots told the jury that Pezzola had been a member of the Proud Boys for only a month as of Jan. 6. He argued that the government had more informants in the case than the number of men on trial and that through these sources, the government knew about what was going on inside the Proud Boys, including internal disputes among leaders, almost as quickly as they happened.
The Proud Boys trial is expected to continue for several weeks. In the two years since the Jan. 6 riot, federal authorities have arrested around 950 people on riot-related charges, 284 of whom face charges of assaulting or impeding law enforcement.