“The transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden was halted, at the hands of these defendants,” Assistant US Attorney Jason BA McCullough told jurors.
Led by former Proud Boys president and lead defendant Enrique Tarrio, the prosecutor said: “These men came together and agreed to use any means necessary, including force, to prevent Congress from certifying the election, and on 6 January they aimed at the heart of our democracy”.
Defense lawyers criticized prosecutors’ efforts to find “scapegoats” for what they called an unplanned riot. Instead, they blamed President Donald Trump for inciting the mob and law enforcement leaders to fail to prepare for violence.
“President Trump told these people that the election was stolen. … He was the one who unleashed that crowd at the Capitol on January 6,” said Tarrio’s attorney, Sabino Jauregui.
It would be an “injustice” to hold Trump’s supporters accountable while finding it “too hard to blame Trump … too hard to put him on the witness stand with his army of lawyers,” Jauregui told jurors.
Although charges have been filed against more than 930 people in the Jan. 6 attack and a special counsel is investigating Trump, Thursday’s dueling opening statements in federal court blocks from the Capitol crystallized an important question still unanswered after two years: who should ultimately bear it. the greatest criminal responsibility for the events of that day?
Prosecutors have previously suggested that members of the Proud Boys played an outsized role in the violence. But for the first time in a 90-minute hearing punctuated by the words, videos and photographs of the defendants themselves recorded on social media and encrypted, the government asserted that the successful Capitol breach was not the product of ‘a spontaneous and misguided mob, but the result of a pre-planned assault by dedicated extremists.
The defendants, on the other hand, insisted they gathered in Washington to support Trump, just as they had done at previous DC rallies and had no other plans. They did not carry weapons, did not assault anyone and could not have anticipated that the Capitol Police would not be ready, their defense said.
“A plot to use force that didn’t involve weapons?” defense attorney Nicholas D. Smith asked rhetorically.
Instead, defense attorneys urged jurors to redirect their emotions about the historic attack on Trump. They’re not alone: The House select committee investigating the events of January 6 recently recommended charging the former president with crimes that include obstructing an official proceeding, one of the charges against Tarrio.
Tarrio and his co-defendants — Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Wash.; Joe Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Dominic Pezzola, of Rochester, NY; and Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia, have pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment. Two charges they face are punishable by up to 20 years in prison: conspiring to oppose by force federal authority or the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, and conspiring to obstruct a joint session of the congress
In court, Tarrio drank a glass of water and Pezzola stared ahead with a hand on her chin as McCullough presented the case against them to a jury of eight women and seven men.
According to McCullough, the Proud Boys the day after November 3, 2020, the election began “calling for war because their preferred candidate was not elected.” Trump falsely claimed the election was stolen, called protesters to Washington in November and December, and later that month announced a “wild” protest in DC on January 6 when Congress convened.
Prosecutors alleged that for that day’s special operations, Tarrio chose co-defendants Nordean, Biggs and Rehl to run an ironically named “Ministry of Self-Defense.”
Until then, the Proud Boys were best known for engaging in street fights with their perceived enemies in the left-wing antifa movement, before Trump refused to denounce the group during a presidential election debate in September 2020, and he urged them to “stand back and stand by.” .”
On January 6, as Tarrio monitored events from Baltimore, the trio marched on the Capitol with nearly 200 other men, joined the first wave to arrive on the Capitol grounds, and deployed opposing police lines, say the government There, they advanced until they entered, led by Pezzola, who was recorded using a stolen police riot shield to break the first window in the building to be broken, McCullough said.
“These gentlemen didn’t hang back, they didn’t hang around,” McCullough told jurors.
Instead, McCullough showed video clips of members of the Proud Boys at the forefront of attacks on police at the Capitol, where they had gathered that morning even before Trump spoke to supporters at an Ellipse rally in the white house
“Let’s storm the f—— Capitol,” yelled a member of the Proud Boys who later attacked police lines guarding a key staircase. “We don’t shout that,” Nordean warned in the video.
While the Proud Boys said their preparations for violence were only intended as self-defense in case they were attacked by anti-Trump activists, McCullough showed jurors a text from Tarrio to others on Dec. 27 that implied his true plans: “Whispers… 1776.”
“‘The whispers’ as this is a secret,” McCullough said. “‘1776’, as in revolution”.
The Proud Boys didn’t come to DC on Jan. 6 to confront antifa, he said: “They were coming to stop the certification of the election for Joe Biden.”
Even discounting the defendants’ pre-gen. 6 conversation, his actions that day revealed his conspiracy, McCullough said.
“Make no mistake … we did it,” Tarrio wrote to others in an encrypted chat at 2:41 p.m., according to material shown in court.
“These are his words, his thoughts, just minutes after Congress was forced to adjourn,” McCullough said.
“Jan. 6 will be a day of infamy,” Biggs wrote that night, after Pezzola was earlier recorded with “a smoke of victory” at the Capitol.
“A day in infamy,” McCullough repeated. “This is how President Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor that sent us into World War II.” A victory fume, he told jurors, “like a sports team might see after a big game.”
When it was their turn, defense attorneys accused the government of taking statements out of context from their clients and urged jurors in the mostly Democratic precinct to “put aside politics” and prosecutors’ attempts to manipulate his emotions “because you hate them, you hate proud boys.”
Jauregui, a lawyer for the Afro-Cuban Tarrio, described the Proud Boys primarily as a “drinking group” that included all races and sexual preferences, although civil rights monitors say the group increasingly targets gay people and transgender and that has been used by white nationalists. to recruit followers.
“What they share is an ideology. The Proud Boys think that Western civilization is the best. … The Proud Boys think America is the best,” said Jauregui. “That’s why they fight. It’s not a political thing, it’s not a racial thing. And they believe in freedom of expression. They think you should say whatever you want.”
Proud Boys leaders spoke out to protect themselves because they believe D.C. police and federal prosecutors responded inadequately to the stabbing of member Jeremy Bertino outside Harry’s Bar in downtown Washington after the pro-Trump rally of December Bertino has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the government.
The FBI is investigating possible connections between extremist groups at the center of the Capitol violence
Tarrio wasn’t even in Washington on January 6 because he was arrested two days earlier and thrown out by a judge pending trial on charges that during that same rally he set fire to a flag stolen from a “Black Lives Matter” and returned to DC with an unregistered cache of high-capacity ammunition. He later pleaded guilty to those charges and served four months in prison.
Jauregui and Smith said prosecutors had twisted and twisted innocent, if sometimes “offensive,” chatter into an insurrectionary plot. Smith said the defendants would call as witnesses several government informants embedded in the group, including those who said Nordean tried to stop the violence.
“You will not see at trial any evidence to support the government’s conspiracy claim that these defendants conspired prior to January 6th to do what the government alleges,” Smith said.
“Time and time again,” Smith said, “witnesses have told the government there was no plan for January 6th. You’ll see even cooperating government witnesses say that.”
Tarrio may have “made it easy” for investigators by celebrating that riot, but he and other members were posing for good measure, his lawyers said. The group was followed that day by a documentary filmmaker, and Smith said the informants “would testify that the march to the Capitol was just for the cameras.”
Another informant texted his FBI handler midday when the initial barriers were being breached that “PB didn’t do it or inspire it,” instead blaming “herd mentality.”
Pezzola’s attorney, Roger Roots, said his client was smoking only to celebrate the takeover of the Capitol, not the filibuster of Congress. Roots accused police and prosecutors of overreacting by firing tear gas and projectiles into the crowd and criminalizing “a six-hour delay of Congress.”
Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said Rehl went to the Capitol expecting speeches. He didn’t come in until the electoral vote count had stopped, and that “not a single message” out of 160,000 reviewed by the FBI showed he “intended or planned … to disrupt the proceedings.”
As they looked on in court, the five defendants sat calmly, well-groomed and wearing dark suits, ties and white shirts (four wore dark-rimmed glasses), in contrast to their agitated expressions as shown in government videos.
Prosecutors acknowledged to jurors that the Proud Boys organization as a whole “is not on trial today.”
“A lot of proud guys who were angry about the election, they didn’t participate in the mission on Jan. 6,” McCullough said.
But they showed the jury the defendants’ social media posts, including flashing the words “kill them” and clips of groups of men beating others in the streets at night. A December 2020 post by Tarrio showed Pezzola against a backdrop of fire labeled “Lords of War” and “#J6,” and another included a promotional video posted by Rehl showing Trump attorney Sidney Powell saying he would “release the Kraken”.
“This was the image these defendants sought to promote in their fight to keep Donald Trump in office,” McCullough said in conclusion. “These ‘War Lords’ Unite to Stop Presidential Transfer of Power.”