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The FBI’s Proud Boy Informant Showed Up Late

The Proud Boys charged with the most serious assaults on January 6 — including (at a minimum) Dan “Milkshake” Scott and Christopher Worrell — are not charged with conspiracy, though both could easily have been included as co-conspirators. Nor is Ryan Samsel, who is not known to be a Proud Boy but spoke to Joe Biggs just before he kicked off the entire riot by allegedly knocking over a cop and giving her a concussion (this may change, especially since, after a long delay, DOJ charged Samsel individually in an indictment that, either via the assignment wheel or because it was identified as a case related to the Proud Boys leadership indictment, got assigned to Judge Tim Kelly). While Dominic Pezzola is charged with assault for stealing the riot shield he used to break into the Capitol and Billy Chrestman is charged with threatening to assault a cop, their co-defendants are not implicated in those assaults, except insofar as they are overt acts in a conspiracy.

That’s why I find this detail from NYT’s blockbuster report on what a Proud Boy informant who showed up late to the January 6 riot and then entered the Capitol has told the FBI about the investigation rather interesting.

At the same time, the new information is likely to complicate the government’s efforts to prove the high-profile conspiracy charges it has brought against several members of the Proud Boys.

On Jan. 6, and for months after, the records show, the informant, who was affiliated with a Midwest chapter of the Proud Boys, denied that the group intended to use violence that day.

[snip]

On the eve of the attack, the records show, the informant said that the group had no plans to engage in violence the next day except to defend itself from potential assaults from leftist activists — a narrative the Proud Boys have often used to excuse their own violent behavior.

The government has never accused the Proud Boy conspirators of planning to use violence themselves, though there is evidence they knew their incitement could spark violence among “normies.” There’s even evidence that Ethan Nordean tried to rein in one attack (though only after he had presumably witnessed other assaults on cops).

That is, that claim is utterly irrelevant to the government’s conspiracy cases against the Proud Boys.

And yet the NYT offered it as one reason this informant’s report might, “complicate the government’s efforts to prove the high-profile conspiracy charges it has brought against several members of the Proud Boys.”

To be sure, there is one way this informant might undermine the existing conspiracy charges.

The informant’s interview reports affirmatively claim that he knew of no plans to storm the Capitol, nor did he hear any talk of the electoral college certification in his travels that day.

In lengthy interviews, the records say, he also denied that the extremist organization planned in advance to storm the Capitol.

[snip]

But statements from the informant appear to counter the government’s assertion that the Proud Boys organized for an offensive assault on the Capitol intended to stop the peaceful transition from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden.

On the eve of the attack, the records show, the informant said that the group had no plans to engage in violence the next day except to defend itself from potential assaults from leftist activists — a narrative the Proud Boys have often used to excuse their own violent behavior.

Then, during an interview in April, the informant again told his handlers that Proud Boys leaders gave explicit orders to maintain a defensive posture on Jan. 6. At another point in the interview, he said that he never heard any discussion that day about stopping the Electoral College process.

The records show that, after driving to Washington and checking into an Airbnb in Virginia on Jan. 5, the informant spent most of Jan. 6 with other Proud Boys, including some who have been charged in the attack. While the informant mentioned seeing Proud Boys leaders that day, like Ethan Nordean, who has also been charged, there is no indication that he was directly involved with any Proud Boys in leadership positions.

In a detailed account of his activities contained in the records, the informant, who was part of a group chat of other Proud Boys, described meeting up with scores of men from chapters around the country at 10 a.m. on Jan. 6 at the Washington Monument and eventually marching to the Capitol. He said that when he arrived, throngs of people were already streaming past the first barrier outside the building, which, he later learned, was taken down by one of his Proud Boy acquaintances and a young woman with him. [my emphasis]

This guy’s testimony absolutely poses a challenge to prosecutors prosecuting the Proud Boys this guy was actually interacting with.

That said, the NYT does not say whether he was interacting with those charged with conspiracy or even obstruction (still-active Proud Boys, like Jeremy Grace, have been charged only with trespassing). Even if he was interacting with people charged with conspiracy, the fact that he showed up late and (claimed that he) did not know that some of his own acquaintances were going to breach the barriers until after the fact would, at most, show that he wasn’t privy to the plans of lower level cells.

But the way in which DOJ has charged the Proud Boy side of the conspiracies is with one leadership conspiracy, and four subconspiracies that are effectively cells that allegedly worked together to achieve smaller objectives: to breach the West door, to breach the North door, and to keep the Visitor Center gates open (the NYT misses one of the charged Proud Boy conspiracies, against the Klein brothers, for opening a North door to the building, which has acquired more tactical import with the charging of Ben Martin).

Two main things matter to the viability of the larger Proud Boys conspiracy: First, whether the four charged in the leadership conspiracy did have an advance plan. And second, whether their conspiracy interlocks with the Dominic Pezzola conspiracy that ended up breaching the front door of the Capitol and with it exposed Pezzola, his co-conspirators, and by association, the Proud Boy leaders to terrorism enhancements.

The second point is one that the Proud Boy leaders are contesting aggressively. We have yet to see evidence proving a tie between those two conspiracies. But we also have yet to see any evidence from the December rally at which the ties to Pezzola appear to have been forged. Meanwhile, William Pepe is disclaiming knowing the others, suggesting a possible weakness in that conspiracy charge.

As to the first, what we’ve seen in public evidence is that, in the wake of the Enrique Tarrio arrest on January 4, the four leaders attempted to regroup, and then, on the night before the riot, Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean met with unnamed people and finalized a plan in seeming coordination with Tarrio, and avoided speaking of it even on their limited leadership Telegram chat.

On January 4, when Tarrio arrived in DC for the riot, he was arrested for his attack on the Black Church in December, whereupon he was found with weapons that are unlawful in DC. In the wake of Tarrio’s arrest, Ethan Nordean was supposed to be in charge of the operation. But around 9:08PM the day before the riot (these texts reflect Nordean’s Washington state time zone, so add three hours), someone said he had not heard from Nordean in hours.

Minutes later, Biggs explained that “we just had a meeting w[i]th a lot of guys” and “info should be coming out.” While redacted in these texts, the superseding indictment describes that he also notes he had just spoken with Tarrio.

He further explained that he was with Nordean and “we have a plan.”

Biggs then says he gave Tarrio a plan.

Ethan Nordean may have been in charge on January 6. But Biggs seems to have been the one working most closely with Tarrio, through whom at least some of the inter-militia coordination worked.

There’s little question they had a plan to do something (and that that plan did not include attending the Trump rally which was the primary innocent reason for Trump supporters to show up to DC that day). The question is what kind of evidence DOJ has substantiating that plan, especially after claimed efforts to flip Zach Rehl collapsed. (Nordean has also said he’ll move to suppress these texts because his spouse consented to the breach of his phone, which led FBI to obtain them, but it’s likely the FBI has a second set of the texts in any case.)

But it also is likely the case that the place to look for that evidence is not with a low-level Proud Boy who showed up late to insurrection, but with the others with whom Nordean and Biggs were meeting the night before the riot. And there’s no indication that these people were all Proud Boys, and in fact good reason to suspect they weren’t.

In the weeks before the riot, Kelly Meggs repeatedly talked about a Florida-based intra-militia alliance.

In the days after both the DC even[t] and an event involving Stone in Florida, Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs claimed he organized a Florida-based “alliance” between the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and 3%ers.

On Christmas Eve, Meggs specifically tied protection at the January rally, probably of Stone, and coordination with a Proud Boy, almost certainly Tarrio, in the same text.

And in the days after, the Southern California 3%ers laid out a Stop the Steal affiliated plan to surround the Capitol.

Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. The Plan right now is to meet up at two occasions and locations: 1. Jan 5th 2pm at the Supreme Court steps for a rally. (Myself, Alan, [and others] will be speaking) 2. Jan 6th early 7am meet in front of the Kimpton George Hotel…we will leave at 7:30am sharp and March (15 mins) to the Capital [sic] to meet up with the stop the steal organization and surround the capital. [sic] There will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the “Wild Rally” that Trump has asked us all to be part of. [my emphasis]

Not only is this what happened on January 6, but Joe Biggs seemed to know that key Stop the Steal figures, including his former employer Alex Jones, would open up a second front of this attack and arrived to take part in it, entering the Capitol a second time virtually in tandem with the Meggs-led Stack.

This is one reason I keep presenting all these conspiracies together: because there’s good reason the Proud Boy conspiracies don’t just intersect with each other, but that the Proud Boy conspiracies intersect, in the person of Joe Biggs and others, with each other.

There are many reasons that the report of an FBI handler not understanding that his or her Proud Boy informant was describing the breach of the Capitol as it happened is important.

After meeting his fellow Proud Boys at the Washington Monument that morning, the informant described his path to the Capitol grounds where he saw barriers knocked down and Trump supporters streaming into the building, the records show. At one point, his handler appeared not to grasp that the building had been breached, the records show, and asked the informant to keep him in the loop — especially if there was any violence.

But, except to limited degree to which his testimony affects the case against the Proud Boys with whom he actually interacted, this report primarily provides yet more proof that the FBI, trained by Billy Barr not to investigate any subjects Trump claimed as his own tribe, had no conception of what they were looking at on January 6, not even as the Proud Boys led an attack on the Capitol.

The government has not yet publicly shown all of its evidence that the Proud Boy leaders, alone or in concert with other militias and Stop the Steal organizers, had a plan to attack the Capitol on January 6. Unless something disrupts the case, we won’t see that until next summer.

But one thing we know from the available evidence is that low-level Proud Boys who showed up late to insurrection are not the place to look for that plan.

Reuters Doesn’t Mention Terrorism When Claiming DOJ Won’t Charge Serious Offenses in the January 6 Investigation

Reuters has a story claiming to report that, “FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated,” that has elicited a lot of consternation. I’d like to look at what it does and does not say. Most of it is true — and not news — but somewhere along the way someone (either the reporters or the sources) misunderstood parts of what they’re looking at.

Reuters or its sources don’t understand how DOJ is charging this

One detail shows this to be true.

The Reuters piece makes much of the fact that DOJ is not charging what it calls “serious” charges.

Prosecutors have filed conspiracy charges against 40 of those defendants, alleging that they engaged in some degree of planning before the attack.

They alleged that one Proud Boy leader recruited members and urged them to stockpile bulletproof vests and other military-style equipment in the weeks before the attack and on Jan. 6 sent members forward with a plan to split into groups and make multiple entries to the Capitol.

But so far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

[snip]

More than 170 people have been charged so far with assaulting or impeding a police officer, according to the Justice Department. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

But one source said there has been little, if any, recent discussion by senior Justice Department officials of filing charges such as “seditious conspiracy” to accuse defendants of trying to overthrow the government. They have also opted not to bring racketeering charges, often used against organized criminal gangs.

Not once does the story mention obstruction, which also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. If you don’t mention obstruction — and your sources don’t explain that obstruction will get you to precisely where you’d get with a sedition charge, but with a lot more flexibility to distinguish between defendants and a far lower bar of proof (unless and until judges decide it has been misapplied) — then your sources are not describing what is going on with the investigation.

Furthermore, Reuters purports to rule out “more serious, politically-loaded charges,” but it never mentions terrorism.

One reason it wouldn’t, though, is because for domestic terrorists, you don’t charge terrorism, you charge crimes of terrorism or you argue for an enhancement under U.S.S.G. §3A1.4 at sentencing. And that has and will continue to happen. For example, both the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys  conspiracies include 18 USC 1361 charges (damage to a government building exceeding $1,000, a charge that is a bit of a stretch for the Oath Keepers) that constitutes a crime of terrorism, and the government has raised that and noted it is a crime of terrorism in a number of bail disputes. Effectively, DOJ has already called the leaders of the militia conspiracies terrorists. But Reuters doesn’t think that’s worth noting.

Similarly, for both the assault pleas DOJ has obtained thus far, the government has reserved the right to invoke a terrorism enhancement at sentencing. In the case of Scott Fairlamb, who also pled guilty to obstruction, which effectively amounts to pleading guilty to having a political purpose for his assault, I suspect such an enhancement is likely.

Somehow this entire story got written without mentioning what DOJ is using instead of seditious conspiracy: obstruction (which has been charged against over 200 defendants) and terrorism enhancements; civil disorder is likewise not mentioned, but has been charged against around 150 defendants. DOJ isn’t using seditious conspiracy because it doesn’t need it (again, unless and until the courts reject this use of obstruction).

Reuters mis-describes the Proud Boys’ role in the riot

Much of the rest of the story includes details that are true, and public, but arguably misleading.

A “former senior law enforcement official” (most former senior people who had visibility on the investigation have been gone for some time) claims that 90 to 95% of these cases are “one-off” cases, seemingly distinguishing between the 40 people Reuters describes to have been charged in conspiracy from the 540 or so who have not been charged with a conspiracy.

“Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.”

On paper, that’s true, and in key places a really important detail. But in other places it doesn’t mean what Reuters suggests it says.

For example, consider the nine men charged in the assault of Daniel Hodges. None of them knew each other before they started beating the shit out of some cops in the Tunnel of the Capitol. But several of the men charged nevertheless managed to orchestrate the assault (indeed, that’s most of what David Mehaffie did do — make other assailants more effective) and so, even while these individuals did not conspire to beat the shit out of cops, they worked in concert when they did so. The same is true for the men jointly accused of assaulting Michael Fanone (though Daniel Rodriguez has not been charged with the other men involved, many people believe because he’ll be charged in a conspiracy with others from Southern California).

Plus, the number cited to Reuters is probably wrong. Ten percent of the 580 people charged would be around 60. There were that many people on the Proud Boys’ organizational Telegram channel that day (though not all those people were present). There are a bunch of Proud Boys already charged individually, including some (like Dan Scott) who could easily be added to existing conspiracy indictments, others charged as groups (like the five Floridians on the Arthur Jackman indictment), and a father-son pair Jeffrey and Jeremy Grace who just got a terrorism prosecutor added. There are five Oath Keepers not included in that conspiracy (four cooperating against the others). And DOJ is only beginning to unwind the 3%er networks involved. So even just considering militias, the number is likely closer to 80.

And there are other important affiliations represented at the riot — with QAnon and anti-maskers being two of the most important — that actually created networks that were in some ways more effective than the militias. The QAnoners didn’t conspire with each other but they sure as hell were directed from the same place. And anti-mask protests were actually one place where a goodly number of rioters were radicalized, and those localized networks manifested as cells of cooperation in some key incidents in the riot.

More importantly, this claim can only have come from people who misunderstand what the investigation has shown:

Prosecutors have also not brought any charges alleging that any individual or group played a central role in organizing or leading the riot. Law-enforcement sources told Reuters no such charges appeared to be pending.

Conspiracy charges that have been filed allege that defendants discussed their plans in the weeks before the attack and worked together on the day itself. But prosecutors have not alleged that this activity was part of a broader plot.

It’s true that the Proud Boys are not known to have had a detailed plan describing who would move where in the Capitol. But it’s also true that both before and after the riot, the Proud Boys discussed mobilizing the “normies,” because normies have no adrenalin control. And the Proud Boys’ success at doing this is what made the initial assault on the West side of the Capitol work (and therefore the attack generally). The Proud Boys weren’t ordering the 1,000 rioters what to do at each step (though probably 100 people at the riot had some interaction with the Proud Boys), but they did give the riot a kind of structure that was crucial to its success.

Maybe Roger Stone isn’t involved?

Because of the other problems with this article, I don’t know what to make of the single piece of news in it. As noted above, a former senior law enforcement official claims that, “there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” That makes sense with respect to Alex Jones; his videographer was arrested long ago and remains charged only with trespass.

But Stone has continued to appear in Oath Keeper filings long after the time that someone very senior would have left. And the two cooperators who might confirm or deny Stone’s involvement — Graydon Young (who did an Oath Keeper event with Stone in Florida) and Mark Grods (who was present with the Oath Keepers who were with Stone the day of the attack) — only pled guilty at the end of June, meaning if they confirmed Stone wasn’t involved (even in the planning for the attack known to have taken place in December, in Florida), it wouldn’t have happened all that long ago.

Particularly given the mention of kidnapping — which was a real question at the beginning of the investigation because of the zip ties that Larry Brock and Eric Munchel picked up inside the Capitol — this seems like a denial of a very dated misunderstanding of what happened.

I don’t think this story is meant maliciously. For example, I’m unimpressed with concerns raised about Tass’ ownership; this is Mark Hosenball and he’ll do the same reporting regardless of who signs his paycheck. Nor am I all that concerned by the anonymity of the sources; I’m more interested in how dated some of this information might be and which corners of the sprawling investigation those who actually worked on it were personally involved with.

It reads like the end result of a game of telephone asking questions that were raised in January, not a report about the investigation as public filings reveal it to be in August.

Update: DOJ just charged InfoWars host Owen Shroyer. The initial charges are just trespassing (leveraging a prior charge and Deferred Prosecution Agreement he entered), but he’s likely to be charged with obstruction based on stuff in his arrest affidavit.