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Y’all Qaeda Northwest: Ethan Nordean Provides Yet More Proof of the Proud Boys’ Sophistication and Resilience

The government and Ethan Nordean are having a dispute that is, at least procedurally, about whether by giving Nordean the Telegram text messages he demanded in prioritized fashion, the government committed a Brady violation. Nordean started this dispute on April 29 with a filing admitting that the texts he received before his detention hearing were the ones he asked for specifically but still complaining that he didn’t get all his texts at once.

Today, the government produced for the first time additional Telegram messages extracted from Nordean’s phone. The government provided no explanation as to why they were produced after the hearing on its third detention motion and not beforehand.1 Like the Telegram chats it used to support detention, today’s production was drawn from the same device (Nordean’s phone), the same app (Telegram), and only postdate by some days the chats the government used to detain Nordean. In reviewing the following chats, the Court may recall that because the Telegram messages are encrypted and, according to the government, “designed to evade law enforcement,” the government would have the Court believe the app users are speaking candidly in Telegram.

On March 25, Nordean requested that the government produce, at least by March 30, Telegram chats on Nordean’s phone sent and received between 1/4/21 and 1/8/21. Nordean did not say that no other chats should be produced, nor did he waive any right to Brady material of which the government was aware. On March 9, Nordean served a discovery letter on the government seeking all of the defendant’s statements and requesting that Brady material be produced according to the schedule in Rule 5.1.

The government response doesn’t point out that they gave Nordean precisely what Nordean asked for. It does describe how they provided Nordean’s Telegram chats in three waves, with the entire content of his phone provided by April 30.

On April 29, 2021, the government produced to defendant Nordean eleven (11) strings of text messages, totaling over 5,000 pages, that contained the terms “Ministry of Self-Defense” or “MOSD,” and that were recovered from defendant Nordean’s phone.

Thereafter, on April 30, 2021, a full copy of an extraction from defendant Nordean’s phone was produced to Nordean’s counsel. That production included approximately 1,172 Telegram message strings (totaling over 1.3 million messages). The extracted text of the Telegram messages in Nordean’s phone runs over 204,000 pages when printed in .pdf format, which does not include any of the images, audio, or video files that are associated with the message strings. In addition to the Telegram messages, the phone contains hundreds of other communications using other platforms, including other encrypted platforms such as Signal and WhatsApp. The government’s review of these message strings, hundreds of which contained communications between December 2020 and January 2021, is ongoing, and all of this information is in defendant Nordean’s possession.

Nordean’s reply doubles down on the accusations of misconduct, now claiming the government intentionally withheld substantiation of Nordean’s claim to have disavowed rallies.

Nordean had presented an audio recording of himself in a conversation with members of his group in which he rejected political rallying. The recording shows him annoyed with how often he had to “repeat himself” on the point. The clip was recorded in February, shortly before his arrest. It is not “self-serving,” as he was communicating with his in-group and through the medium that the government alleges was used “to evade detection.”1 The Court found that the clip “does suggest that, at some point, [Nordean] agreed that the Proud Boys should stop rallying.” Hr’g Trans., 4/19/21, p. 55:21. However, the Court also found that “without any further context there’s no indication that that was some kind of permanent decision.” Id., p. 55:22.

At the time of the hearing, there was “further context.” The government knew it and did not inform the defense or the Court. Shortly after that hearing, on April 29, the government produced late January chats in which Nordean repeatedly discussed “bans on rallies”; in which Nordean said, “fuck politics, build communities and local economy” (Cf. the Court: “politics has not [passed]”); where Nordean endorses the doubly capital notion “THE PROUD BOYS ARE NOT MARCHING ON CAPITAL BUILDINGS”; and in which Nordean reacts dismissively, in real time, to the conspiracy charge supposedly predicating his detention. On its own, the government’s late production of these chats is unequivocally a violation of the Due Process Protections Act and Local Criminal Rule 5.1. It is also a violation of Rule 3.8(e) of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct for prosecutors.2

2 “The prosecutor in a criminal case shall not . . . Intentionally fail to disclose to the defense, upon request and at a time when use by the defense is reasonably feasible, any evidence or information that the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigate the offense.” Rule 3.8(e) of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct.

In his reply Nordean asks a fair question — why the government didn’t just keep screen-capping texts that were a “two-second scroll” down Nordean’s phone from the chats the government had turned over in response to Nordean’s specific request. It seems the government has a reasonable answer: because it was responding to a specific request, though they have yet to say that specifically.

Nevertheless, neither side is treating this as a dispute over misconduct. The government notes that his original motion asks for no relief.

Defendant Nordean’s notice alleging a violation of those provisions (ECF 79) seeks no relief, and no relief or further action by the Court is necessary or appropriate.

Nordean’s reply asks for no relief either. It instead says that he is “developing evidence,” but once again asks for no relief.

The government concludes its response by saying Nordean’s “notice seeks no relief because defendant is entitled to no relief.” ECF No. 84, p. 12. The government is mistaken. The notice sought no relief because Nordean is developing further evidence of the government’s misconduct in filing a series of misleading claims in this matter and in withholding evidence so that it cannot be timely used.

And Nordean goes from that comment — stating that it is incorrect that he asks for no relief by once again asking for no relief — to instead make an argument about bail. (This series of exchanges is actually about preparing a record for Nordean’s detention challenge at the DC Circuit.)

Nordean points to this declaration from Daniel Aurellano stating that Ethan Nordean is no longer the President of Proud Boys Seattle Chapter, because he, Aurellano, was elected to replace him.

Nordean is also developing evidence showing that the premises for revoking his release order are factually mistaken. For example, although Nordean’s leadership role in the Proud Boys was cited to detain him, he is no longer a leader, in any sense of the word, in that organization, nor does he have any decision-making authority, as sworn statements indicate and will further indicate.

Aurellano says he was elected to replace Nordean “in February 2021,” but doesn’t say when that happened. Nor does Aurellano say when, in February 2021, the Proud Boys Northwest chose to dissociate from the national Proud Boys. He does, however, say Nordean stopped participating in Proud Boys Internet communications after his arrest in February 2021. Which suggests Aurellano got elected to replace Nordean at a meeting that Nordean called for while still the head of the chapter, on January 20, and at which Nordean planned to discuss “bugout bags” and “bulk armor deals” because they were “on the brink of absolute war.”

Nordean makes much of the fact that subsequent to this January 20 statement, and so also subsequent to Joe Biggs’ arrest on January 20, he made a series of comments forswearing rallies.

But that means one of the last things Nordean did while still in charge was call for and prepare for war — not to mention to call for bugout bags for which the old passport of one’s ex-wife, such as the one the government alleges (though the allegation is contested) was out on Nordean’s bedroom dresser when the FBI came to search his house — would be acutely valuable. And then everyone started getting arrested and the Proud Boys took steps to cover their tracks.

Amid this whole bail dispute pretending to be a misconduct dispute, however, Nordean has helped to lay out both that this is a remarkably organized militia, and it is adopting a tactic other terrorist groups have in the past: to splinter and rebrand as a way to attempt to evade prosecution, as if the Proud Boys Northwest had adopted the name Y’All Qaeda Northwest like African branches of the Islamic State did.

Thus far, filings in the Proud Boys Leadership conspiracy case have shown that:

  • The Proud Boys started preparing a compartmented cell structure in anticipation of the January 6 insurrection on December 29
  • Enrique Tarrio anticipated he would be arrested when he came to DC on January 4 and so provided for a succession plan
  • Charles Donohoe allegedly attempted to destroy evidence of past planning in the wake of Tarrio’s arrest, specifically in an attempt to avoid gang charges (whether he succeeded or not remains contested)
  • In the aftermath of January 6, the Proud Boys (and Nordean specifically) took steps to prepare for war
  • In Seattle, the Proud Boys responded to Nordean’s arrest by ensuring the continuity of the organization

Again, none of this is exculpatory for Nordean. It shows the Proud Boys operating like sophisticated terrorist groups have operated in the past, in an attempt to retain viability while under government scrutiny.

And along the way, Nordean and the government have been drawing an utterly convincing argument — with two attempts to access passports and an explicit call for bugout bags — that he would flee the country the first chance he got.

DOJ’s Curious Militia Math

The government has responded to Ethan Nordean’s claim that texts that confirmed he was a recognized leader in the Proud Boys were exculpatory. In a filing that lays out more of how the Proud Boys responded — first with glee, then with cover stories, then with plans to regroup — to the events of January 6, DOJ includes a curious paragraph describing Enrique Tarrio establishing a very hierarchical upper leadership of the militia.

On December 29, 2020, the Proud Boys Chairman announced the leadership and structure of the Ministry of Self-Defense. The leadership and structure included an “upper tier leadership” of six people, which included Proud Boys Chairman, Nordean, Biggs, and Rehl. Later that evening, Donohoe explained the structure with reference to the upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. Among other things, Donohoe explained that the MOSD was a “special chapter” within the organization. The “special chapter” was not to have any interaction with other Proud Boys attending the event.

Other Proud Boys attending the event were to coordinate with their own chapters and “do whatever you guys want.”1

The filing goes on to describe the statements of, “one member (“Person-1”) of the upper tier leadership” and “another member of MOSD leadership (Person-2).” In addition, it describes the comments of our old friend UCC-1, an unindicted co-conspirator, clearly distinguishing that person’s legal risk from the others.

When UCC-1 was first introduced in the indictment against the Proud Boys Leadership, it was implied that both he and Charles Donohoe were also in the leadership MOSD, and described the total membership as the four indicted defendants plus “a handful of additional members.”

39. On after Chairman’s January 4, 2021, shortly after Proud Boys Chairman’s arrest pursuant to a warrant issued by D.C. Superior Court, DONOHOE expressed concern that encrypted communications that involved Proud Boys Chairman would be compromised when law enforcement examined Proud Boys Chairmans’ phone. DONOHOE then created a new channel on the encrypted messaging application, entitled, “New MOSD,” and took steps to destroy or “nuke” the earlier channel. After its creation, the “New MOSD” channel included NORDEAN, BIGGS, REHL, DONOHOE, and a handful of additional members.

40. On January 2021, at 7:15 p.m., DONOHOE posted a message on various encrypted messaging channels, including New MOSD, which read, “Hey have been instructed and listen to me real good! There is no planning of any sorts. I need to be put into whatever new thing is created. Everything is compromised and we can be looking at Gang charges.” DONOHOE then wrote, “Stop everything immediately” and then “This comes from the top.”

41. On January 4, 2021, at 8:20 p.m., an unindicted co-conspirator (“UCC-1”) posted to New MOSD channel: “We had originally planned on breaking the guys into teams. Let’s start divying them up and getting baofeng channels picked out.”

Perhaps it’s because I’m what one of Nordean’s buddies calls a “purple haired faggot,” and so can’t understand Tarrio hierarchical logic. But by my math, these two filings suggest the MOSD leadership looks like this:

  1. Enrique Tarrio (who correctly anticipated he’d be arrested in advance of the insurrection)
  2. UCC-1
  3. Joe Biggs
  4. Ethan Nordean
  5. Zach Rehl
  6. Person 1
  7. Person 2

One-two-three-four-five-six-seven. Not six, seven. And that’s assuming Donohoe is not part of the group, though the indictment had suggested he was.

Whether UCC-1 is in or out of that leadership group is a key distinction. The government has a presumed informant who said some of the most inflammatory things in advance of the insurrection:

UCC-1: I want to see thousands of normies burn that city to ash today

UCC-1: The state is the enemy of the people

If this person was an active informant for the FBI going in — as an Aram Rostom story suggests — it means someone at the FBI lost control of their informant and rather than punishing the informant for participating in an insurrection and not informing the FBI about it, it is giving the person a pass. It would mean that because this person had made accusations to feed Billy Barr’s demand for dirt on Antifa, he is getting a pass on insurrection.

But if this informant provided the FBI some kind of warning, then it means the Bureau failed, badly, because the FBI has claimed that it had no warning of events of the day, not even with multiple Proud Boys in its informant ranks, including, possibly, one with top level access.

Not to mention the fact, if this guy had the access some of these filings suggest, it raises real questions about why the FBI still doesn’t know precisely how the operation rolled out.

David Headley and Tamerlan Tsarnaev demonstrate that one way to plan a terrorist attack without the FBI seeing it is to serve as an informant. And if the Proud Boys managed to carry out fairly complex planning for an insurrection because so many of them were trading information on Antifa, it would mean FBI’s handing of informants, plus DOJ’s commitment, from the very top, to prioritize Antifa at the expense of right wing militia, were key ingredients to the success of January 6.

Ethan Nordean’s Funny Idea of Exculpatory

In a filing overnight probably designed to feature in his appeal of his detention, Ethan Nordean accuses the government of sitting on exculpatory information.

Among the Telegram texts that Nordean posts is one showing that he remained in a leadership position — able to make a decision to ban Proud Boy rallies for three months — on January 21, over two weeks after the insurrection (the “owner” moniker may also suggest he ran the Proud Boy channel in question).

Another thing that Nordean thinks is exculpatory is another commenter claiming that “nothing could be further than the truth” than that the Proud Boys “led the Trump rally to the capitol.”

It’s a fair point from Captain Trump actually.

But that’s because the Proud Boys weren’t at the Trump rally. Instead, they were at the Capitol, with no excuse about coming to hear Trump.

Which makes Nordean’s citation to his own comment about Joe Biggs’ complaint pretty damning as well.

Biggs’ complaint, which was built entirely off public comments about Proud Boy planning, shows a picture of a large Proud Boys group already close to the Capitol by 12:15. It shows their use of radios (they would get details of the preplanned channel they used weeks later). It shows a group wearing pre-coordinated orange hats.

It also describes how Proud Boys started recruiting people to come to DC no later than December 29.

9. For example, on December 29, 2020, Tarrio posted a message on the social media site Parler1 about the demonstration planned for January 6, 2021. Among other things, Tarrio announced that the Proud Boys would “turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist… We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.” I believe the statement about dressing in “all BLACK” is a reference to dressing like the group known as “Antifa,” who the Proud Boys have identified as an enemy of their movement and are often depicted in the media wearing all black to demonstrations.

10. On or around the same day, BIGGS posted a similar message to his followers on Parler in which he stated, among other things, “we will not be attending DC in colors. We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us. You’ll even think we are you . . .We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.” I understand that BIGGS was directing these statements at “Antifa.”

11. Separately, BIGGS has described the Proud Boys’ efforts, in general, to plan for demonstrations and events attended by the Proud Boys. In an interview that was purportedly taped in December 2020 and posted online on or about January 3, 2021, BIGGS described how he, as an organizer of Proud Boys events, sets about planning them. BIGGS explained, in part:

When we set out to do an event, we go alright, what is or main objective? And that’s the first thing we discuss. We take three months to plan an event. And we go, what’s our main objective? And then we plan around that, to achieve that main objective, that goal that we want.

In other words, the complaint that Nordean complains (at a time when a number of people he interacted that day had already been arrested) shows pre-planning not to attend a Trump speech — which is what tens of thousands of people were planning on doing that day, but instead to not attend a Trump speech, and instead wait by the Capitol for key events to transpire.

In any case, Nordean explains one reason why these texts weren’t provided right away: because he asked just for five days of Telegram chats at first, not the later ones. These aren’t the texts that, Nordean believed, were going to be the most helpful.

On March 25, Nordean requested that the government produce, at least by March 30, Telegram chats on Nordean’s phone sent and received between 1/4/21 and 1/8/21. Nordean did not say that no other chats should be produced, nor did he waive any right to Brady material of which the government was aware. On March 9, Nordean served a discovery letter on the government seeking all of the defendant’s statements and requesting that Brady material be produced according to the schedule in Rule 5.1.

Another likely reason is that a protective order has not been signed in this case yet, as compared to a slew of other ones, meaning prosecutors are still going to focus on the evidence backing the indictment (and so the texts from before the insurrection, not after).

The charges already allege that Charles Donohoe encouraged everyone to write exculpatory things in their Telegram chats starting on January 5, in the wake of the Enrique Tarrio arrest. And here, Nordean managed to still provide evidence of a claim he has earlier contested: that he had a leadership role in this militia group.

In Adding Matthew Greene to a Conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola, DOJ Formally Alleges the Proud Boys Committed a Crime of Terrorism

At a detention hearing for Charles Donohoe yesterday, Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey asked a long series of questions, including what a “normie” is, what Telegram is (it is stunning that a DC Magistrate doesn’t know that, but that’s a testament they won’t accept US legal process), and whether “Milkshake,” who had been described saying a lot of really damning things in an organizational channel, was part of the conspiracy. AUSA Jason McCullough said that DOJ is still assessing Milkshake’s — whose real name is Daniel Lyons Scott — criminal liability, but since he was filmed fighting with some cops, I’d be arranging legal representation if I were him.

Along the way, however, the questions led McCullough to provide several new details on the Proud Boy conspiracy. One question he didn’t answer is whether the government knows that Donohoe succeeding in “nuking” some texts describing organizational efforts, as he described wanting to do after Enrique Tarrio got arrested.

McCullough also revealed something that was not yet public: the government had rounded up another Proud Boy, Matthew Greene, and indicted him in what I call the Proud Boy “Front Door” conspiracy along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe. In doing so, they did something more important for their larger case. First, they changed the purpose of the conspiracy from what it was originally charged to match all the other militia conspiracies (from busting through the first door to obstructing the vote count). Here’s what the militia conspiracies currently look like as a result:

It was probably fairly urgent for DOJ to do this (and Greene’s inclusion may have been just a convenient rationale). Here’s how the indictment changed from the original Indictment to the Superseding one (S1):

In general, the government is charging Pepe and now Greene with more than they originally charged Pepe with based on a theory that they abetted Pezzola’s alleged crimes. But the critical change is highlighted. Originally (marked in pink), just Pezzola was charged for breaking the window through which the initial breach of the Capitol happened. But in this indictment (marked in yellow), DOJ charges Pepe and Greene for abetting Pezzola in breaking that window.

The reason they did this is because 18 USC 1361 is the crime for which DOJ is arguing that all key Proud Boy defendants can be detained pre-trial, not just Pezzola, but also Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zach Rehl, and Charles Donohoe. In detention hearings, the government has argued that it counts not just as a crime of violence that allows the government to argue that a defendant is eligible for detention, but also that, because it was done to coerce the conduct of government, it triggers a terrorism designation for detention purposes.

This is how the argument looks in detention memos:

As it did before, the United States moves for detention pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(C), which provides a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention for an enumerated list of crimes, including Destruction of Property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361. The United States also seeks detention pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(A), because Destruction of Property, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361, is a crime of violence. Moreover, when Destruction of Property is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion,” it also qualifies as a federal crime of terrorism. See 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B).

This was an issue in the Monday detention hearing before Judge Tim Kelly for Biggs and Nordean. After the hearing, he required the government to submit a picture of Pezzola breaking that window.

And it will likely become an issue when Joe Biggs, at least, appeals his detention, as he noticed he would do yesterday (it would be a still bigger issue in Nordean or Donohoe’s case).

In fact, the government has been making this argument for some time.

But it wasn’t until this supserseding indictment that the government formally aligned Pezzola’s actions — including spectacularly breaking that first window with a riot shield — with the rest of the Proud Boy indictments, in fact making them (as the government has already argued) the same conspiracy, a conspiracy involving terrorism.

Days after an Oath Keeper Event with Roger Stone, Kelly Meggs Described Having “Organized an Alliance” with the Proud Boys

I had been waiting for the moment when DOJ would unveil some of the Facebook content that Graydon Young attempted to delete when he shut down Facebook on January 7. I had similarly been waiting to see how DOJ rolled out Roger Stone as a key pivot between the Florida Oath Keepers (which Kelly Meggs led, and which Stone bodyguards Roberta Minuta and Joshua James were part of) and the Proud Boys (whose key leaders Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs live in Florida).

Overnight, in its response to Meggs’ attempt to get bail, the government did both. Ostensibly, they did so to show that Meggs’ interview with the FBI had not been entirely truthful about (among other things) being in DC to protect the cops and vetting Oath Keeper members.

On the first point, yes, Defendant Meggs made a statement to the FBI in the hours following his arrest. But that fact was known at the time of Defendant Meggs’s first detention hearing, and, regardless, simply speaking with law enforcement does not mean that a person is not a danger. This is especially so when some of the statements Defendant Meggs made to the FBI appear to be in conflict with the evidence.

[snip]

This sentiment appears in conflict with Defendant Meggs’s allegation in his motion (and what he stated to the FBI upon his arrest) that he was at the Capitol to help “protect” police officers. (ECF 82 at ¶ 15.)

[snip]

On the evening of January 3, 2021, co-defendant Steele sent an email to Defendant Meggs’s email account at Proton Mail,8 copying co-defendant Young. Steele attached her application and vetting form, and wrote: “My brother, Graydon Young told me to send the application to you so I can be verified for the Events this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.” Defendant Meggs appears to have provided instructions to co-defendant Steele, because the following day (January 4), Steele again sent her application and vetting form to another Oath Keepers email address at Proton Mail. On her email, she copied Defendant Meggs. In contrast to this evidence, Defendant Meggs inexplicably told the FBI that “the only person I’ve ever vetted” was a man six months earlier. Interview Tr. at 28-29.

In a filing that revealed details of Meggs’ Facebook, Signal, ProtonMail, and GoToMeeting use, it described Meggs writing on December 19 — five days after his wife and Young did “security” for Roger Stone at a Stop the Steal rally, evidence of which the government presented (the picture below) in their response to Meggs’ wife’s bid for bond — that he had “organized an alliance between the Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers, and Proud Boys” to “shut this shit down.”

On December 26, Meggs called this insurrection (albeit in response to Trump’s order) explicitly.

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

DOJ included some (not all though: there was one called ““florida dc op planning chat” they don’t seem to have included) of the planning meetings on GoToMeeting.

A week ago, DOJ was content to prove that Connie Meggs’ claims that she didn’t know any of these people by introducing the picture where she and Graydon Young posed with Stone on December 14.

And Defendant Meggs obviously was acquainted with other members of the Oath Keepers group who stormed the Capitol with her on January 6; the photo below, which was shared on Facebook on December 15, 2020, shows Defendant Meggs (red oval) posing at a book signing with several other individuals, including co-defendant Graydon Young (green oval):

Yesterday, prosecutors in this case had to get chewed out because former Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin blabbed his mouth (completely inappropriately) on 60 Minutes, discussing what at that point had been merely a suggestion, that DOJ’s conspiracy case would integrate three different militia groups.

And the bulk of those cases are federal criminal charges, and significant federal felony charges. Five, 10, 20-year penalties. Of those 400 cases, the majority of those, 80, 85%, maybe even 90, you have individuals, both inside and outside the Capitol, that breached the Capitol, trespassed. You also have individuals, roughly over 100, that we’ve charged with assaulting federal officers and local police officers. The 10% of the cases,  I’ll call the more complex conspiracy cases where we do have evidence, it’s in the public record where individual militia groups from different facets: Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, did have a plan. We don’t know what the full plan is, to come to D.C., organize, and breach the Capitol in some manner.

By the end of the day (having had their secret blown), DOJ showed that not only had the guy in charge of the Stack been thinking in terms of “insurrection” for over a week, but was also thinking about coordinated action among the different militia.

There’s still a problem with this conspiracy, as constructed. The Oath Keepers had a plan — which DOJ has now presented evidence they coordinated with two other militia groups. But the plan wasn’t limited to preventing vote certification (in part, because when they traveled to DC, they still believed that Trump or Mike Pence might make such an action unnecessary). The plan was insurrection.

But that only makes it more likely DOJ will be forced to charge it as such.

The Three Key Details the Proud Boy Unindicted Co-Conspirator Likely Revealed to Prosecutors

By March 1, the government had three pieces of evidence that form a key part of a conspiracy indictment accusing Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe of conspiring to breach the Capitol and by doing so, delaying the certification of the vote:

  • The Proud Boys used Baofeng radios set to a specific channel (which channel prosecutors knew)
  • After Enrique Tarrio’s arrest, Ethan Nordean got put in charge of the January 6 operation
  • The gang had a plan to split up to optimize the chances of success

A detention motion for Nordean submitted on that day included all three of these details. It described how the Proud Boys distributed Baofeng radios to use in the operation.

Arrangements were made to program and distribute multiple Baofeng radios5 for use by Proud Boys members to communicate during the event. Baofeng is a Chinese communications equipment manufacturer. Baofeng radios can be programmed to communicate on more than 1,000 different frequencies, making them far more difficult to monitor or overhear than common “walkie talkie” type radios. Specific radio frequencies were communicated to the Proud Boys.

5 Law enforcement recovered a Baofeng radio from Defendant’s home during the execution of a search warrant—the Baofeng radio recovered from Defendant’s home was still tuned to frequency that had been communicated to the group.

[snip]

The group led by Defendant arrived at the east side of the Capitol before noon. Several of the men in the group were holding Baofeng radios. Others had them clipped to their belts or jackets.

It described how Nordean was put in charge after Tarrio’s arrest.

Moreover, following the arrest of the Proud Boys’ Chairman on January 4, 2021, Defendant was nominated from within to have “war powers” and to take ultimate leadership of the Proud Boys’ activities on January 6, 2021.

[snip]

On January 4, 2021, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the self-proclaimed “Chairman” of the Proud Boys was arrested shortly after arriving in Washington, D.C., pursuant to a warrant issued by D.C. Superior Court. In communications between Proud Boys members following Tarrio’s arrest, it was acknowledged that Defendant would be among those that led the Proud Boys on the ground on January 6, 2021.

And it described a decision to split people up in an effort to increase the likelihood of actually shutting down the certification of the vote.

As noted more fully below, Defendant—dressed all in black, wearing a tactical vest—led the Proud Boys through the use of encrypted communications and military-style equipment, and he led them with the specific plans to: split up into groups, attempt to break into the Capitol building from as many different points as possible, and prevent the Joint Session of Congress from Certifying the Electoral College results.

[snip]

In order to increase the odds that their plan would succeed, Defendant and those Proud Boys following him dressed “incognito” and spread out to many different locations from which they could force entry into the Capitol. Defendant and others responsible for the January 6 Proud Boys event likely knew from experience that their typical tactic of marching in “uniform,” and in unison, would draw a concentrated law enforcement response to their location. By blending in and spreading out, Defendant and those following him on January 6 made it more likely that either a Proud Boy—or a suitably-inspired “normie”—would be able to storm the Capitol and its ground in such a way that would interrupt the Certification of the Electoral College vote

Even after prosecutors shared these damning claims, their bid to keep Nordean in jail failed. Nordean’s wife filed a declaration stating in part that Nordean obtained the radio on January 7 and, to her knowledge, he did not possess such a radio before that date.

An indictment against Nordean obtained on March 3 to comply with the Speedy Trial Act (but not released publicly until after the detention hearing) mentioned none of that.

And at the March 3 detention hearing before Beryl Howell, according to Zoe Tillman, the government withdrew the claim that Nordean had the Proud Boys split into groups as a factor for that detention hearing. In what the WaPo described as, “a remarkable stumble for prosecutors,”Judge Howell released Nordean to home detention, saying there was little evidence that Nordean played that leadership role.

Nordean “was a leader of a march to the Capitol. But once he got there it is not clear what leadership role this individual took at all for the people who went inside,” Howell said. “Evidence that he directed other defendants to break into or enter the Capitol is weak, to say the least.”

Nordean’s release marked a stumble for prosecutors, who have cast him as a key figure based on what Howell agreed were “ominous” communications before Jan. 6 that they said indicated he and other Proud Boys were planning “violent action” to overwhelm police and force entry to the Capitol. The judge’s decision sets back for now the government’s efforts to establish that there was a wider plot to that end.

[snip]

“The government has backed down from saying that he directly told them to split into groups and that they had this strategic plan,” Howell remarked.

Howell said that although Nordean’s release was a “close call,” she agreed with the defense that “there’s no allegation that the defendant caused injury to any person, or that he even personally caused damage to any particular property.”

Prosecutors claimed they had this evidence on March 1. But after failing to present it at that March 3 hearing, Nordean got released.

On March 15, the judge assigned to the case after Nordean got indicted, Timothy Kelly, issued an order delaying the arraignment scheduled for the next day. He offered no explanation.

What didn’t become clear until this week is that, on March 10, the government obtained the superseding indictment against Nordean and others. And then, on March 12, the government asked Judge Kelly to delay Nordean’s arraignment on his original indictment because of the superseding indictment. Prosecutors explained that revealing the indictment ahead of time would risk alerting Rehl and Donohoe before they could be arrested and their houses searched.

On March 10, 2021, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a Superseding Indictment charging Defendant, and three co-defendants (two of whom were not previously charged), with Conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371; Obstruction of an Agency Proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(c)(2), and 2; Obstructing Law Enforcement During a Civil Disorder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 231(a)(3), and 2; 18 U.S.C. §§ 1361, and 2; Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1); and Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building or Grounds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(2).

The Superseding Indictment is under seal, pending the arrest of newly charged defendants and the execution of search warrants. Law Enforcement anticipates executing the arrests and search warrants of the new defendants in a coordinated operation on Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Once the arrests are executed, the Superseding Indictment will be unsealed.

The evidence the superseding indictment provides to substantiate claims first made on March 1 may explain an even bigger reason why prosecutors didn’t provide their evidence for those three claims in time to keep Nordean in custody: They had an unindicted co-conspirator (presumably someone cooperating with prosecutors) who was, along with the four conspiracy defendants, on an encrypted channel created after Enrique Tarrio’s arrest on January 4 that Proud Boy leaders used to continue planning for January 6. That unindicted co-conspirator was personally involved in all three details included in that detention memo against Nordean. He helped divvy up the Proud Boys to be spread out during the January 6 operation.

39. On after Chairman’s January 4, 2021, shortly after Proud Boys Chairman’s arrest pursuant to a warrant issued by D.C. Superior Court, DONOHOE expressed concern that encrypted communications that involved Proud Boys Chairman would be compromised when law enforcement examined Proud Boys Chairmans’ phone. DONOHOE then created a new channel on the encrypted messaging application, entitled, “New MOSD,” and took steps to destroy or “nuke” the earlier channel. After its creation, the “New MOSD” channel included NORDEAN, BIGGS, REHL, DONOHOE, and a handful of additional members.

40. On January 2021, at 7:15 p.m., DONOHOE posted a message on various encrypted messaging channels, including New MOSD, which read, “Hey have been instructed and listen to me real good! There is no planning of any sorts. I need to be put into whatever new thing is created. Everything is compromised and we can be looking at Gang charges.” DONOHOE then wrote, “Stop everything immediately” and then “This comes from the top.”

41. On January 4, 2021, at 8:20 p.m., an unindicted co-conspirator (“UCC-1”) posted to New MOSD channel: “We had originally planned on breaking the guys into teams. Let’s start divying them up and getting baofeng channels picked out.”

Note: If “New MOSD” was a channel of State leaders of the Proud Boys, it would likely have included Nicholas Ochs, who heads the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys. Ochs was the first senior Proud Boy to be arrested, on January 7, at the airport when he arrived back in Hawaii (and therefore carrying anything he had with him at the insurrection, potentially including his cell phone and any radios he kept). Kathryn Rakoczy, who has since moved onto the team prosecuting the Oath Keepers, was the original prosecutor on Ochs’ case. But now Christopher Berridge, who is on all the other Proud Boy cases but not the Nordean and Biggs one, is prosecuting Ochs. Ochs is charged in a parallel conspiracy indictment, with the very same goal and many of the same means as the Nordean and Biggs one, but which for some reason was not identified as a related case to the other three Proud Boy ones and so was not assigned to Judge Kelly; Judge Howell is presiding over Ochs’ case. Ochs has a superb defense attorney, Edward McMahon. Many of these details, which make the curious treatment of the Ochs-DeCarlo conspiracy indictment clear, are in this post or this expanded table.

Whoever the unindicted co-conspirator is, he’s the one who set the channel of the Baofeng radios the night before the insurrection. And he’s the one who stated that Nordean was in charge.

46. At 9:03 p.m., REHL notified NORDEAN, BIGGS, DONOHOE and others that he had arrived in Washington, D.C. DONOHOE responded by requesting one of the radios that REHL had brought.

47.  At 9:09 p.m., UCC-1 broadcast a message to MOSD and Boots on the Ground channels that read: “Stand by for the shared baofeng channel and shared zello channel, no Colors, be decentralized and use good judgement until further orders” UCC-1 also wrote, Rufio is in charge, cops are the primary threat, don’t get caught by them or BLM, don’t get drunk until off the street.” UCC-1 then provided a specific radio frequency of 477.985.

It is highly likely that prosecutors learned the three details included in that detention motion — that Nordean had been put in charge, that the Proud Boys were using Baofeng radios set to frequency 477.985, and that part of the plan was to disperse the men to increase chances of success — from the unindicted co-conspirator and or devices seized from him when he was first arrested.

And it took them less than two months to learn those details of the plot.

Update: The government has moved to detain both Nordean and Biggs now. Those motions cite from the Telegram chats the Proud Boys used to organize the day before the attack, including (I’ve combined them from both motions):

On January 5, between 9:30 – 9:32am [Biggs] stated “What are the teams. I keep hearing team [sic] are picked already.” A few minutes later, [Biggs] stated “Who are we going to be with. I have guys with me in other chats saying teams are being put together.”

On January 5, at 9:32am, a member of a Proud Boys Telegram group stated “It seems like our plan has totally broken down and rufio has taken control as a singke [sic] point of contact.”

On January 5, between 5:22 – 5:25pm, [Biggs] stated “Woth [sic] [coconspirator Ethan Nordean] trying to get numbers so we can make a plan.” Defendant then stated “Just trying to get our numbers. So we can plan accordingly for tonight and go over tomorrow’s plan.”

On January 5, at 5:52pm, [Biggs] stated “We are trying to avoid getting into any shit tonight. Tomorrow’s the day” and “I’m here with [co-conspirator Nordean] and a good group[.]”

On January 5, at 9:07pm, co-conspirator Charles Donohoe asked “Hey who’s boots on ground with a plan RN [ … ] Guys are asking.” A participant in the encrypted chat stated “Supposed to be Rufio.”

Within minutes, an unindicted co-conspirator broadcast a message to those in the group chat, “Rufio is in charge, cops are the primary threat, don’t get caught by them or BLM, don’t get drunk until off the street.”

On January 5, between 9:17 and 9:20pm, [Biggs] stated “We just had a meeting woth [sic] a lot of guys. Info should be coming out” and then “I was able to rally everyone here together who came where I said” and then, “We have a plan. I’m with [co-conspirator Nordean].”

On January 5, at 9:34pm [Biggs] told co-conspirator Charles Donohoe to communicate to Proud Boys members a message stating that the group in Washington, D.C. would meet at the Washington Monument at 10am on January 6.

On the morning of January 6, Donohoe stated that he was on his way to the Washington Monument, and “I have the keys until Rufio and [co-conspirator Zachary Rehl] show up.”

Update: As I note in a footnote to this post, Nicholas Ochs can’t be the unindicted co-conspirator. That’s true for two reasons. First, because DOJ does not believe UCC-1 was at the Capitol on January 6 (though doesn’t say where he was). DOJ knows Ochs was inside the Capitol. Also, DOJ has now started treating all the Proud Boy conspiracies as the same conspiracy. So Ochs could not, then, be considered un-indicted in that conspiracy.

FBI Had an Open Investigation into a QAnon Cultist Predicting World War 3 before January 6

As I noted in this post, partly due to the way Krysten Sinema restated Assistant FBI Director Jill Sanborn’s response, the woman in charge of FBI’s counterterrorism efforts mistakenly claimed that the Bureau cannot monitor public social media communications. The reality — as confirmed by NBC — is that they can’t persistently target a person’s communications, but they can monitor open source postings.

In a statement to NBC News, the FBI acknowledged that it can and does look at public social media information. An FBI official said Sanborn understood Sinema’s question to be referring to “whether the FBI persistently and passively examines internet traffic and social media conversations, to include direct messages between two users.” In fact, her question referred to comments made on public-facing social media services.

“The FBI may observe and collect information from open sources as long as the FBI activities are done for a valid law enforcement or national security purpose and in a manner that does not unduly infringe upon the speaker or author’s ability to deliver his or her message,” an FBI official said. “The authorized purpose must specifically be tied to federal criminal or national security purposes, usually to further an FBI assessment or … investigation.”

Given that the FBI can monitor open source communications, it makes this earlier exchange, between Sanborn and Maggie Hassan, more significant. Senator Hassan asked Sanborn how many of the people already arrested in the January 6 insurrection had been under investigation before it.

Maggie Hassan: Of the individuals charged to day in relation to the attacks of January 6, how many were already under investigation by the Bureau.

Jill Sanborn: Ma’am, I’d have to get you the specific number, but I can only recall, from my memory, one, of the individuals that was under investigation prior.

While Sanborn was speaking from memory and promised to get an exact number, Sanborn could only remember one open investigation among the people arrested so far.

FBI appears to have done an assessment on at least three people arrested so far (assuming that the MPD arrest of Enrique Tarrio for targeting a Black Church in December is not the one Sanborn was thinking of).

For example, in December, an associate of Kevin Strong contacted the FBI to alert them that the FAA employee had started stock-piling goods, warned someone else that World War 3 was going to start on January 6, and was pushing Parler as a legitimate source of information. That led the FBI to open an investigation on Strong on December 30.

On December 30, 2020, the FBI initiated an investigation of STRONG based on reporting from Witness #1 (“W-1”). W-1 is familiar with STRONG and his previous residence. W-1 told the FBI that STRONG had been showing signs of behavioral changes over the last few months including stock-piling items and telling others to get ready for Marshal Law, rioting, and protesting. Specifically, W-1 was aware that STRONG had sent messages to another individual claiming World War 3 is going to occur on January 6, 2021, and that the military was coming in and getting involved. W-1 was aware that STRONG hung a flag with the logo “WW1WGA” on his house. W-1 told the FBI that he/she looked it up on the Internet and found that that “WWG1WGA” was a QAnon slogan standing for “Where We Go One, We Go All.” STRONG was known to declare that he had “Q clearance” and believed he was part of a “movement” that was greater than himself. He had recently purchased a new truck and believed that QAnon would cover the debt. STRONG had also been promoting the “Parler” application as a place to get information.

STRONG is currently employed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in San Bernardino, California. On January 7, 2021, an employee in the Internal Investigations Branch of the FAA contacted the FBI and reported STRONG was observed at the United States Capitol building during the unlawful entry that took place on January 6, 2021. According to the FAA employee, STRONG was seen on a news broadcast.1 The employee provided a screengrab from the news broadcast to law enforcement.

Strong was charged with the two misdemeanor trespassing crimes virtually everyone who entered the Capitol was charged with but not, as those who posted conspiracies about the election in advance of January 6 generally were, with obstruction of the vote count.

Even though they had an investigation into Strong, it still took a tip from the FAA to alert the FBI that Strong had entered the Capitol on January 6, to which he readily confessed when he was interviewed on January 16.

Then there’s Bryan Betancur. While out on probation after serving time for burglary, Betancur was explicitly talking about following the lead of James Field, the Neo-Nazi who murdered Heather Heyer.

BETANCUR is a self-professed white supremacist who has made statements to law enforcement officers that he is a member of several white supremacy organizations. BETANCUR has voiced homicidal ideations, made comments about conducting a school shooting, and has researched mass shootings. BETANCUR voiced support for James Fields, the individual convicted for killing an individual with his car during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. BETANCUR has stated he wanted to run people over with a vehicle and kill people in a church. BETANCUR subsequently stated that he had changed his mind about hurting people.

After being released following a conviction for fourth degree burglary, BETANCUR continued to engage racially motivated violent extremist groups on the internet. BETANCUR also made increased verbalizations about his desire to be a “lone wolf killer.” BETANCUR has repeatedly violated the terms of his parole and probation.

Betancur’s arrest affidavit describes a Task Force officer interviewing Betancur repeatedly during what it calls an investigation of him.

A FBI Task Force Officer who has interviewed BETANCUR multiple times throughout the FBI’s investigation of BETANCUR also believes the individual on the left side of the image to be BETANCUR.

Betancur lied to his probation officer — claiming he was going to hand out Bibles in DC — to get permission to go to DC that day. And he showed up wearing a Proud Boys shirt and flashing white supremacist symbols and (in another picture) waving a Confederate flag.

In spite of the fact that this guy was aspiring to replicate Field’s attack and the apparent fact he was under investigation, the FBI affidavit suggests they needed a cooperating witness to ID Betancourt’s social media accounts.

Your affiant has also reviewed screenshots of accounts believed to belong to BETANCUR, provided by a cooperating witness (hereafter “CW1”). CW1 submitted an image to the tip-line established in the aftermath of the events of January 6, 2021. CW1 provided comments with this image stating that the individual in the screenshot had participated in the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and posted numerous images using social media accounts with the names Bryan Clooney and Maximo Clooney. In the image CW1 submitted to the tip-line, a social media user with the user name “bryan_patriot_1776” appears to stand on scaffolding erected on the western side of the U.S. Capitol Building holding the corner of a confederate battle flag.

Like Strong, Betancur was charged with just misdemeanor trespassing charges, though he’s back in trouble in Maryland for violating probation.

A third defendant the FBI investigated before the insurrection is perhaps the most damning for what it says about the social media activity the FBI will notice.

The FBI is coy about two details in the arrest affidavit for Rasha Abual-Ragheb: One is when the Newark Office obtained Abual-Ragheb’s Facebook data, before or after January 6.

In addition, FBI Newark Division (FBI Newark) recently obtained, through legal process, records associated with the Facebook account with the display name Rasha Abu. The Facebook records link the Rasha Abu account to the same phone number that Rasha Abual-Ragheb provided the interviewing agents in November of 2020. FBI Newark also recently obtained, through legal process, records associated with the phone number provided by Rasha Abual-Ragheb, which confirmed Rasha Abual-Ragheb was in fact the subscriber.

And given that so many people have written affidavits in this investigation, it’s unclear whether the two people identified as “Confidential Human Sources” reporting back to the Philadelphia FBI Office in Abual-Ragheb’s arrest warrant are, as the name would normally suggest, FBI informants, or whether they’re just concerned citizens calling in tips as happened with the vast majority of tips on January 6 defendants.

On January 7, 2021, CHS 1 reported to the FBI Philadelphia Division (FBI Philadelphia) that he/she observed Rasha Abual-Ragheb’s Facebook page (display name Rasha Abu) showing Rasha Abual-Ragheb at the protest in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 (attachment 1). A post made by Rasha Abual-Ragheb on the Facebook page revealed she checked into the Kimpton George Hotel (attachment 2). In another Facebook post (attachment 3), Rasha Abual-Ragheb posted the following: “Just left Dc… I got tear gas, paper spray!!! But I was part of the history. We the people won’t take it anymore. Antifa were between us, i and other MAGA people told Dc police, get that Antifa they didn’t do anything. He had black metal chair… The police would order to use full force on us from the beginning when we start marching to the capital, the use teargas and pepper spray and rubber bullet, they shot the woman that was standing peacefully without a a weapon, they hit women’s kids. They hit people with the pat metal one.”

On January 6, 2021, Confidential Human Source #2 (CHS 2) advised the FBI Philadelphia that on the night of January 6, 2021, CHS 2 encountered a woman on the sidewalk of the Kimpton George Hotel in Washington D.C. dressed in distinct clothing and making a scene (attachment 4, which was photo taken by CHS). The woman on the sidewalk identified herself as “Rasha,” admitted to being in the U.S. Capitol, and showed CHS 2 a picture of herself in the building (attachment 5). CHS 2 further reported Rasha Abual-Ragheb said she was in the U.S. Capitol and saw a woman get shot.

Still, what is clear is that, back in November, the FBI responded to Abual-Ragheb making inflammatory comments and repeating Donald Trump’s “Stand By” comment on social media by conducting — at a minimum — an Assessment against her, including an FBI interview.

In November 2020, a Facebook account with display name Rasha Abu participated in Facebook and Telegram group chats involving the New Jersey chapter of the American Patriot 3%. In the Facebook chat, user Rasha Abu advised the revolution will start not by standing by but by standing up. In addition, she advised civil war is coming and they need to show support, and rise up and fight for our Constitution. Open Source research identified an individual named Rasha Abual-Ragheb, residing at a specific address in New Jersey, as the possible user of the Facebook account. As part of the FBI’s assessment of Rasha Abual-Ragheb, she was interviewed. During the interview, she advised she was a Trump supporter, attended Trump rallies, and was blocked from making posts on Facebook and Twitter for pro-Trump postings. Additionally, Rasha AbualRagheb advised she was born in Lebanon and fled to Jordan when she was a child due to the civil war there. She further advised that she has lived in the United States for 21 years and she provided the interviewing agents with her telephone number.

Like Strong and Betancur, Abual-Ragheb was charged with just the two misdemeanor charges.

While her attorney, Elia Amato, could provide no clarity on whether the investigation into Abual-Ragheb continued from November through January 6 — possibly up to and including arranging for informants to track her movements on the day of the attack — Amato did emphasize that, “What ever prior investigative concerns law enforcement may have had appear to have been quashed.”

Still, it’s clear that, almost alone among 300 people charged so far, the FBI had noticed Abual-Ragheb’s public comments on social media and taken further investigative steps.

Jill Sanborn excused FBI’s failure to see the insurrection in advance based off obfuscation about the Bureau’s ability to observe and react to comments in public. But the Bureau did identify a potential threat and conduct an assessment in Abual-Ragheb’s case.

That also means they did that — almost uniquely — with an immigrant who has a Middle Eastern name, while ignoring others, many with criminal records, who made far more substantive or inflammatory comments.

The FBI didn’t respond to Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio’s plans for January 6 in plain sight, even though he had committed a racially motivated attack the last time he had been in DC.

They didn’t see and respond to Facebook posts from Three Percenter Michael Lopatic, the former Marine who spent the months after the election naming his hunting kill after Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler, and Adam Schiff, posted a “Call to Arms,” in advance of January 6, and is accused of assaulting at least two cops at the insurrection.

They did see the woman on Three Percenter sites with an Arab name.

Meanwhile, by dint of opening an investigation into Kevin Strong, the FBI had evidence that delusional QAnon followers believed there would be Martial law and World War 3 on January 6, a description of January 6 as “war” in the FBI’s hands a week before the January 5 Norfolk report.

But that didn’t raise a wider alarm, either.

Now that the FBI has conceded that it had the authority to look at any of the social media discussions that led others to anticipate that January 6 would be something different, it has more some explaining to do — not least why one of the only January 6 participants it discovered in advance was virtually the only one with an Arab name.

Federal Protective Services Looking for Terrorists on Facebook, Not TheDonald or Parler

Federal Protective Services released 81 of 95 pages it had pertaining to January 6 to BuzzFeed and other news outlets. Mostly consisting of emails, the release shows that FPS knew several of the things to look for. They knew that anticipated attendees at the Trump rally had been raised from 5,000 to 30,000 but expected even more attendees. They knew which hotels were sold out and which one the Proud Boys initially planned on staying at. They were tracking the Proud Boy contingent that was moving on the Capitol in advance of Trump’s speech.

But the most telling thing about the release is its sourcing. The information on event expectations was sourced to how many people signed up on Facebook.

One of the sources for the Proud Boys’ movement was a journalist’s tweet. And FPS sourced its awareness that the Proud Boys were not going to wear typical Proud Boy colors during the events to Business Insider, not directly to Enrique Tarrio’s Parler post announcing the plan.

While there are a few sources redacted under a law enforcement sources and methods redaction and (as noted above) 14 pages either withheld entirely or referred to another agency, there are no unredacted references to Parler or TheDonald (the latter of which is where someone predicted war), where some of Trump’s most ardent supporters organized their trips to DC.

There was a discussion during yesterday’s hearing on January 6 about what, legally, DHS and FBI are permitted to access (FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Jill Sanborn suggested FBI can’t refer to social media, though in other forums, that has been described as a limitation on including social media posts in finished intelligence). But, obviously, FPS was using social media — Facebook — to prepare for these events.

You’re not going to find potential terrorists in posts by official organizers on Facebook, and aspiring terrorists are unlikely to register their attendance plans on that site either. These people were planning in plain sight.

Just not on official Facebook pages.

Enrique Tarrio Really Doesn’t Want the FBI to Search His Laptop

While there has been a close focus on the federal charges against the terrorists who mobbed the Capitol on January 6, there has been less focus on the lawfare Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio has been waging in his DC case.

Tarrio likely avoided federal charges like those filed against Proud Boy leaders Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean by getting arrested two days earlier on charges associated with vandalizing a Black church and possession of a firearm. But Tarrio is complaining that his bail conditions — which prohibit him from entering DC except for reasons related to his prosecution — violate his First Amendment.

Thus, undersigned counsel invites the government to explain, at a hearing before the Court, what reasonable and credible justification it can offer for barring from the District of Columbia a person who is accused of a possessory felony offense (that does not even involve possession of bullets or a gun) and misdemeanor destruction of a Black Lives Matter flag.

[snip

This ban is especially harsh in Mr. Tarrio’s case, as: (1) he is an activist who needs to be in the District from time to time to organize and protest; (2) many American citizens are concerned about the policies of the Biden administration and thus have a right to redress by appearing at protests in the District; and (3) trials are extremely delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the “temporary” ban from the District will likely, in effect, result in a long-term ban if this Court does not modify it.

More interesting still, Tarrio moved to require the court to have a hearing before granting a warrant to search the phone or laptop that were seized from Tarrio when he was arrested (and he’s particularly interested in getting his laptop returned to him if and when the DC cops image it in response to a warrant).

Given the privacy interests at stake and the important legal issues at play, Mr. Tarrio requests that any execution, or issuance, of a warrant be temporarily halted to provide undersigned counsel the opportunity to respond. Further, defense counsel should be notified of, and be allowed to attend, any government/police request/application for a search warrant of Mr. Tarrio’s electronic devices (including his cell phone and laptop computer), online accounts, or any other item in which Mr. Tarrio has a privacy interest.

The DC Superior court rejected both requests (Tarrio is appealing the bail motion). In the latter case, Judge Robert Okun did so because the court has not issued a warrant, and Tarrio has no right to make a pre-emptive challenge in any case.

If I understand the posture of the request, however, nothing happening in the DC Superior court would prevent the DC US Attorney’s office from asking the DC District Court for a warrant to serve on the DC police — which is where they’d go if they were seeking the contents of the laptop as part of its January 6 investigation.

When Tarrio assaulted the Asbury United Methodist Church in December, he did so knowing it would create a cause among the far right. The same may be true of his decision to bring two magazines to DC — it may have been deliberate provocation in an attempt to bring a Second Amendment challenge.

So that may be all that’s going on here — an attempt to play the victim.

That said, given first the WaPo and now a NYT report that the DC US Attorney’s office is considering opening an investigation into the role that Tarrio’s buddy Roger Stone played in the insurrection — conveniently timed leaks that will ensure this comes up in Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing tomorrow — I wonder whether Tarrio was stupid enough to bring a laptop to his insurrection with something genuinely sensitive on it.

Dominic Pezzola Suspects the FBI’s Cooperating Witness Is the Guy Who Recruited Him into the Proud Boys

A number of people are pointing to this motion to modify bond by Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, the guy who helped kick off an insurrection by breaking the window of the Capitol with a stolen police shield, reporting either that Pezzola is bidding to plead out or that that the Proud Boys are turning on themselves.

Both may be true.

But buried within the filing is a far more inflammatory allegation. Pezzola, the guy who kicked off the entire assault on the Capitol on January 6 in coordination with other Proud Boys, is suggesting that someone who came to serve as an FBI cooperating witness less than a week after an attack that purportedly took the FBI entirely by surprise, was actually the guy who recruited him into the Proud Boys and set him up with a thumb drive loaded up — unbeknownst to him, he maintains — with the Anarchist’s Handbook, including its bomb-making plans.

Pezzola makes the allegation by rebutting the claim he is dangerous, the basis by which Magistrate Robin Meriweather. came to deny him bail.

As Pezzola notes, Meriweather denied him bail not because of a presumption of detention or a concern he would flee. It was because he posed a danger to the public. Meriweather framed that presumed danger as arising from a thumb drive loaded with the Anarchist’s Handbook found at his home and the testimony of a witness.

In determining that Pezzola’s release presented “danger” to the community the Court cited 2 factors from the prosecution’s proffer: (1) the claim that Pezzola participated in a group conversation when others expressed an intention to return to DC with weapons to commit acts of violence; (2) recovery of a thumb drive with plans for making, bombs, poisons, etc.

Per Pezzola’s arrest affidavit, the witness was someone whom the FBI interviewed at least twice before obtaining an arrest warrant against Pezzola on January 13, just a week after the insurrection. The description of witnesses in the total universe of January 6 affidavits are totally inconsistent (in part because so many different FBI Agents wrote them), meaning we can’t conclude anything by the description an agent uses. Nevertheless, this one was always among the only ones that seemed to be an insider. The witness is someone who described Pezzola as “Spaz” right away (though elsewhere he is called Spazzo), described Pezzola as bragging about breaking into the Capitol, and he described the group — the Proud Boys — as capable of killing Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence, and planning more actions.

The FBI has spoken to an individual your affiant will refer to as “W-1” for purposes of this affidavit. W-1 stated that W-1 was in Washington, D.C., during the protests that occurred on January 6, 2021.

W-1 stated that after the events at the Capitol as described above, he or she spoke to an individual he or she knows as “Spaz,” along with other individuals. W-1 stated that during that conversation, “Spaz” bragged about breaking the windows to the Capitol and entering the building. In a subsequent interview W-1 clarified that “Spaz” said that he used a Capitol Police shield to break the window. W-1 said that “Spaz” can be seen on the cover of many newspapers and recognizes him from those photographs. W-1 stated that other members of the group talked about things they had done during the day, and they said that anyone they got their hands on they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi. W-1 further stated that members of this group, which included “Spaz,” said that they would have killed [Vice President] Mike Pence if given the chance.

I had thought this witness would be one of numerous Proud Boy hangers on who was hanging around in DC after the attack, but as we’ll see, Pezzola believes it’s the guy he commuted to insurrection with.

The witness first told the FBI that the Proud Boys were preparing an event on January 20th (which is consistent with other reports).

According to W-1, the group said it would be returning on the “20th,” which your affiant takes to mean the Presidential Inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2021, and that they plan to kill every single “m-fer” they can.1 W-1 stated the men said they all had firearms or access to firearms.

Then, in a later interview (again, remember that this is before January 13), the witness said maybe the next event wasn’t inauguration, but soon after. Whenever it was, it’d involve guns.

In a later interview, W-1 stated that the group had no definitive date for a return to Washington, D.C, but W-1 re-iterated that the others agreed there would be guns and that they would be back soon and they would bring guns.

The witness also misidentified Doug Jensen, the QAnon adherent who chased officer Goodman up the Capitol stairs, as someone else, presumably a member of the Proud Boys, only to clarify later that someone else was the individual in question.

In W-1’s initial interview with law enforcement, W-1 initially incorrectly the individual in the black knit hat in the foreground of this photograph as someone I will refer to as “Individual A.” W-1 later clarified that the person in the knit hat is not in fact Individual A and identified a different person in a separate photograph as Individual A.

Thus far, this witness sounds like he’s telling the FBI what he expects they most want to hear, something you often hear from informants trying to maximize their own value. By misidentifying Jensen, he may have falsely suggested the Proud Boys chose where to go in the Capitol. And by promising there would be more events, featuring violence (again, which is consistent with what public chatter was at the time), he heightened the urgency of case against the Proud Boys.

As Pezzola describes in his motion for bail, he suspects the person who said the Proud Boys had ongoing plans is a guy he drove home to New York with from DC.

Pezzola maintains no recollection of the referenced conversation but suspects if the conversation did occur in his presence it could have only occurred in the car on the return trip from Washington when Pezzola was asleep in the car. Upon information and belief, the CW is not detained. Rather he has reached an agreement where he is making allegations against others in order to avoid his detention for what is actually his greater involvement in the underlying events.

That would explain why William Pepe, also from NY, was named Pezzola’s co-conspirator: presumably both were in the same car speaking to the same guy, which is how the government had confidence that Pepe’s actions were coordinated with Pezzola’s and not, for example, the two other people charged with kicking off the attack on the Capitol, Robert Gieswein and Ryan Samsel.

As Pezzola describes, “it is alleged” that he’s just a recent recruit to the Proud Boys (something I don’t necessarily buy, but it seems to reflect Pezzola parroting back what he’s seen in discovery so far).

Pezzola’s alleged contact with the “Proud Boys” was minimal and short lived. It is alleged he had no contact prior to late November 2020. Upon information and belief, the prosecution alleges his first contacts occurred around that time. They principally amounted to meeting for drinks in a bar. Prior to January 6, 2020, there is no allegation that Pezzola took any action with the “Proud Boys” that was in anyway criminal or violent. His only event prior to January 6, 2021, was that he attended a MAGA rally in support of Donald Trump in December 2020. There is no allegation he was involved in any criminal or violent activity there.

He claims that the cooperating witness is actually far more involved in the Proud Boys.

Addressing these in turn: There is a claim as the prosecution pointed out that a “cooperating witness” claimed that Pezzola was present in a group when someone professed an intention to return on January 20, 2021, Inauguration day to instigate more violence. However, there is no claim Pezzola made those statements nor that he expressed a similar intent1 nor any intention to participate in any acts of violence, let alone murder. Although the defense cannot be certain it is believed the “cooperating witness” (CW) who has made these claims is actually someone who was a much more active participant in the “Proud Boys” than Pezzola, having been with the organization for a much longer time than Pezzola’s alleged association and much more active.

And Pezzola claims that the thumb drive showing possession of bomb making instructions was actually given to him by the guy he suspects of being the cooperating witness.

What was unknown at the time of the prior hearing is that the thumb drive at issue was given to Pezzola, probably by the Prosecution’s CW5 when that person was making efforts to introduce Pezzola into the “Proud Boys.”

Finally, Pezzola further alleges that the guy he suspects of being the cooperating witness confessed to spraying cops with pepper spray, an assault that has not been charged (only Giswein and Samsel were charged with outright assaults on cops).

Although it is impossible to know with certainty at this point, if the defense supposition about the CW is correct, that person admitted to spraying law enforcement with a chemical agent, likely “OC or Pepper” spray during the January 6 event.

It is true that Pezzola nods to making a plea deal in this filing.

Although the Court can play no role in disposition negotiations, via counsel Pezzola has indicated his desire to begin disposition negotiations and acceptance of responsibility for his actions. He seeks to make amends.

But there’s little chance DOJ can offer him a deal that will help him rebuild his life. Even in this filing, he admits he was attempting to stop the vote count, the goal of every overriding conspiracy charge thus far, which would be a key part of any seditious conspiracy case. He doesn’t deny he broke into the Capitol; he instead disingenuously downplays the import of being the first to do so, noting that numerous doors and windows were breached over the course of the day. His claim he has never used his Marine training since his service is inconsistent with the way he walked through the Capitol with much greater operational awareness than many of the other rioters. Plus, even in his first bail hearing, Pezzola insisted he was not a leader of the attack, which — if he was a recent recruit, makes total sense (and is consistent with Felicia Konold, someone else who played a key role, but who was just a recruit-in-progress). So he wouldn’t necessarily have that much information on anyone except those who gave him directions and the guy in the car, not necessarily enough to trade as the guy who kicked off the insurrection, even if he was acting on orders.

He’s likely fucked one way or another, not least because he’d be far less useful as a cooperator if everyone knew he had a plea deal.

But Pezzola’s allegation is troubling for several more reasons.

As noted, the FBI interviewed this cooperating witness at least twice before January 13, suggesting at the very least that the FBI reached out to him right away (or vice versa), rather than collecting more information on the person’s own role. And in spite of two variations in his story — misidentifying Jensen and equivocating about when the next operations were planned — his testimony was deemed credible enough to implicate someone he may have recruited and provided other the other damning evidence on.

The FBI knew that Enrique Tarrio and the rest of the Proud Boys were coming to DC for the January 6 events, which is how they were prepared to arrest him on entry in DC. They knew that during the Proud Boys’ previous visit, the group had targeted two Black churches. DOJ had investigated threats four members of the Proud Boys had made against a sitting judge in 2019.

And yet, not only didn’t FBI prevent the January 6 attack kicked off by the Proud Boys, they didn’t even issue an intelligence warning about possible violence.

It’s possible this witness genuinely did just reach out to the FBI and try to pre-empt any investigation into himself. It’s possible that as the FBI has done more review (including of video outside the Capitol, where a pepper spray attack on cops likely would have occurred), they’ve come to grow more skeptical of this witness.

But it’s also possible that the FBI has ties with witnesses — possibly this guy, and very likely Rudy Giuliani interlocutor James Sullivan, who said he was in contact with the FBI — who have more information on those who set up this insurrection, rather than just busting down the window. Particularly given the unsurprising news that investigators are scrutinizing the role that Roger Stone and Alex Jones might have played (Rudy is not mentioned, but not excluded either), it seems critical that the FBI not adhere to its counterproductive use of informants targeting a group (no matter how reprehensible) rather than action.

The FBI has a lot to answer for in its utterly inconceivable failure to offer warnings about this event. If their informant practices blinded them — or if they’re making stupid choices now out of desperation to mitigate that initial failure — it will do little to mitigate the threat of the Proud Boys.