Posts

Questions about the Proud Boys Superseding Indictment

As noted here, DOJ charged Enrique Tarrio, along with the existing leadership conspiracy defendants and Dominic Pezzola, This is just the second superseding indictment against the key Proud Boys. And while it’s good that Tarrio was finally included and there are hints of interesting coordination, unlike with the Oath Keepers conspiracy, where each superseding indictment pointed to a relentless march in one direction, where the Proud Boy investigation is heading is far less clear to me.

For now, I’ll assume that’s simply because they’re holding their cards close.

Who is missing

My first question pertains to the non-inclusion of certain people in this indictment.

The first is William Pepe, who had been charged with Dominic Pezzola on the indictment that got consolidated with this one. He has either flipped (which would be especially noteworthy given that he is represented by John Pierce), or he’s just sitting out there in a conspiracy with himself.

Another person not included here is Ron Loerkhe. With Jimmy Haffner, he was instrumental in breaching the East side of the Capitol and seems to have provided military structure to the attack. The two of them remain charged only by complaint and in February DOJ got a 3 month continuance on their case.

A third is Aaron Whallon-Wolkind, a close associate of Zach Rehl’s who kibbitzed the attack from Philadelphia that day. He was raided back in October, seemingly suggesting he too might get charged. The indictment doesn’t charge him. It also leaves out some of his statements that were in earlier court filings.

Who is cooperating and who is not

Thus far, there is only one overt cooperator in the Proud Boy cases: Matthew Greene, the former co-defendant of Dominic Pezzola (who has been moved onto this indictment) and Pepe (who has disappeared).

There are three senior Proud Boys — named as Person 1, Person 2, and Person 3 — whose status remains unknown. All three had key leadership positions. And they presumably were involved in a video chat Tarrio scheduled for December 20 to discuss Person 3’s comment that, “most of the protest will be at the capital building given what’s going on inside.” Person 1 is almost certainly Jeremy Bertino, who lives in SC; a number of well-informed people believe Person 2 is Wolkind. [h/t CH]

There are other Proud Boys who could be included in this indictment but who aren’t. Dan “Milkshake” Scott got a continuance in February for 120 days; that filing stated that he and the government had not yet even started plea negotiations. Joe Biggs’ co-travelers on the Arthur Jackman indictment are all still charged individually, even though two of them were literally touching Biggs at key moments during the day; the government is only now sorting through conflicts posed by John Pierce’s representation of three of them that would have to precede any plea discussions. Zach Rehl’s co-travelers also remain charged by complaint (and just misdemeanors, too); in February the government got a continuance until April. Jeff Finley, who also with Rehl and the others for part of the day, got a continuance in February until late March, to allow for “continued discussions about the case.” [Corrected to note Finley is a PB] Gabriel Garcia, who seemed to be one of the most useful people reporting back so others could coordinate from outside the riot, seems headed for trial by himself.

Father Jeremy and son Jeffrey Grace remain in uncertain status, too. After dad got busted for paling around with Proud Boys last summer, they’ve been in flux but still just charged (not even with each other!) with trespassing. In February Jeffrey’s case got continued until St. Patricks Day and Jeremy’s got continued to April.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Ricky Willden set a change of plea hearing for April 7, pretty far in advance as these things go. Because he was charged directly with indictment, it’s not clear what the government knows, but he has ties to the Proud Boys and others.

The inconsistent references

In addition to the three Person-Numbers, this indictment refers to people by all manner of convention.

It names Stewart Rhodes in describing the meeting he had with Tarrio in a parking garage after Tarrio was released from jail on January 5.

Then there are multiple people described as “an individual whose identity is known to the grand jury,” the most interesting of whom is the person who shared a 9-page document about occupying key buildings in DC.

But that’s also the way the indictment describes Ryan Samsel before explaining that he, “put one arm around BIGGS’s shoulder and spoke to him” before be broke through the first barrier in front of the Capitol. On Friday, Jia Cobb (who took over the Samsel case from Tim Kelly when several people were added), ordered Samsel transported from the State Jail in Pennsylvania he had been in to a the Federal jail where DC jail residents had been moved to. Since Samsel has been charged, there’s no reason not to name him, just as Rhodes is named.

Where is Trump

As I noted earlier, there’s no mention of Enrique Tarrio’s visit to the White House in December. The White House claimed that was no big deal, and maybe it is.

But this indictment also leaves out all mention of Proud Boys, including Tarrio, playing on Trump’s Stand Back and Stand By comment.

Where is the obstruction charge?

In some ways, this indictment charges more aggressively than the earlier one. As other indictments have, it swaps the 18 USC 371 conspiracy (with a maximum sentence of 5 years) for an 18 USC 1512(k) conspiracy (with a maximum sentence of 20 years).

It charges all the men for the assaults originally charged just against Donohoe and Pezzola.

But it doesn’t include an obstruction charge for Tarrio, in spite of his explicit efforts to prevent others from cooperating, recordings of which were publicly released.

Where does this go from here?

I’ve been expecting and predicting this indictment since December 28. But for the life of me, I’m not sure where DOJ expects to go from here.

This indictment describes the numbers of people massed at several stages of the operation. 65 members on the Ministry of Self Defense (MOSD) Members Group. 90 people in the New MOSD members group created on January 4. Approximately 100 Proud Boys who met at the Washington Memorial the morning of the attack. Donohoe bragging at 12:00PM on January 6 that “WE ARE WITH 200-300 PBS,” just before they kicked off the riot.

Perhaps this framework is meant to provide a way to implicate all those others, 300 people who agreed, by signing up, that they were following a plan that DOJ has now shown (and that Matthew Greene’s cooperation was designed to show) was a plan to occupy buildings from the start.

But otherwise, this still feels really dispersed, and the prosecution team (which consists of three visible members for the leadership conspiracy, including Erik Kenerson, Jason McCullough, and Luke Jones, and about four detailees from other offices for satellite cases; a fourth prosecutor who had been on the core cases, Christopher Berridge, left immediately after Greene pled) has a far harder caseload than the significantly larger team on the Oath Keepers.

Perhaps something will really start to crystalize as some of these continuances end in April. Or perhaps DOJ will be serially prosecuting Proud Boys for the foreseeable future.

Judge Tim Kelly Releases Opinion on Obstruction Affecting as Many as Two Dozen Proud Boys

Judge Tim Kelly released his order denying Ethan Nordean’s motion to dismiss the Proud Boys’ conspiracy indictment, a challenge largely focused on DOJ’s application of the obstruction statute to January 6 (here’s my Twitter thread on the opinion). The opinion cites Dabney Friedrich’s opinion in Sandlin seven times, Amit Mehta’s opinion in Caldwell three times, and Trevor McFadden’s opinion in Couy Griffin (on one of the trespassing charges) ten times, suggesting that DC District judges (three of them Trump appointees) are coming to a consensus approving the way DOJ has charged these January 6 cases.

Perhaps the most notable language in the opinion rejects a comparison Nordean tried to make with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court protests.

Arguing that the statute invites discriminatory enforcement, Defendants repeatedly point to charging decisions and plea deals related to other January 6 defendants, see ECF No. 226 at 12– 13, and the uncharged protestors on the Capitol steps during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, see ECF No. 113 at 13–16. But neither provides evidence of vagueness. Both merely show “the Executive’s exercise of discretion over charging determinations.” United States v. Fokker Servs. B.V., 818 F.3d 733, 741 (D.C. Cir. 2016). And “Supreme Court precedent teaches that the presence of enforcement discretion alone does not render a statutory scheme unconstitutionally vague.” Kincaid v. Gov’t of D.C., 854 F.3d 721, 729 (D.C. Cir. 2017); see also United States v. Griffin, — F. Supp. 3d —- , 2021 WL 2778557, at *7 (D.D.C. July 2, 2021) (rejecting argument that defendant’s prosecution was discriminatory given large numbers of similarly situated, uncharged individuals from January 6 and uncharged protestors at Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings). “As always, enforcement requires the exercise of some degree of police judgment, but, as confined, that degree of judgment here is permissible.” Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 114 (1972).

That’s because eventually Kavanaugh will get to weigh in on this issue, and because DOJ’s response to Nordean’s comparison was weaker than it should have been.

In a feat of procedural wizardry, Nordean already appealed today’s decision, yesterday, by sticking it onto an appeal of Kelly’s refusal to reopen bail.

The denial of his motion to dismiss normally would not be appealable until after trial (at which point Kavanaugh can have his say).

One reason Nordean may have done that is to attempt to stave off a flood of Proud Boys rushing to join Matthew Greene in pleading out. That’s because Judge Kelly’s decision will also apply to the following groups of Proud Boys and Proud Boy adjacent defendants whose cases he is also presiding over, as well as a number of others who might get added in if — as I expect — DOJ consolidates its Proud Boy conspiracy cases in the weeks ahead:

  • Nordean (4 defendants)
  • Pezzola (2 remaining defendants after Greene’s change of plea)
  • Chrestman (6 defendants)
  • Jackman (5 defendants charged individually with obstruction, but not with conspiracy)
  • Hughes (2 defendants)
  • Pruitt
  • Samsel (2 defendants)*

All defendants charged with obstruction have been waiting for these opinions. But as it happens, almost two dozen people currently or potentially charged with obstruction will be covered by this opinion. And if the attorneys are seeing the same signs of an imminent superseding Proud Boy indictment, if they don’t think there’ll be any fresh uncertainty from another judge, they may rush for the exits before that happens.

Thus far, with assistance from Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys have prevented the kinds of (visible) defections we’ve seen from the Oath Keepers. But this decision — coming at the same time as Greene’s plea deal — may change that.

*DOJ has been talking about consolidating Samsel’s case with that of Paul Johnson and Stephen Chase Randolph, along with another not-yet arrested defendant. If they do that, it would normally be kept under Judge Paul Friedman since he had the case first.

Update: Corrected McFadden’s first name.

Update: Judge Randolph Moss has also issued his opinion, similarly upholding the application of obstruction. Here’s my thread on it.

Broken Windows Policing and January 6 Plea Deals

Before Proud Boy Matthew Greene entered into a cooperation plea deal yesterday — the January 6 investigation event that generated a lot of press attention — something else happened that helps to explain the Greene (and most other) pleas thus far.

In a status hearing for Kurt Peterson, AUSA Alison Prout described that the government had offered Peterson a plea deal that she wanted to put on the record. He could plead guilty, Prout explained, to one count of obstruction, which would give him a guidelines range of 41 to 51 months. That compares to the sentence he faces if he were to go to trial on the other 7 counts, including a destruction of government property count, which Prout claimed might be 210 to 262 months. Prout claimed there had even been a meeting in Louisville to discuss such a deal and explicitly acknowledged the plea would include cooperation.

Only after that did Peterson’s attorney, Laura Wyrosdick, ask that the hearing — which I had just tweeted out in real time — be sealed to hide the discussion of cooperation.

Whatever effect Prout’s comments will have on her ability to finalize a plea deal with Peterson, she has confirmed something I pointed out when Graydon Young pled guilty. The government is using the terrorism enhancement that can come with 18 USC 1361 charges for damage to government property to convince people to plead to the obstruction charges and gain their cooperation. And because Peterson broke a window while at the Capitol, such a deal will look preferable by comparison.

It’s unclear what the government believes he can offer in cooperation (though the meeting in Louisville suggests he has already proffered testimony). On Facebook after the riot, he revealed he, “was with 3 men who had served our country in special forces. All of us in our sixties. They were patriots and not an [sic] anarchists.” Thus far, just two Special Forces veterans, Jeffrey McKellop and Jeremy Brown, have been arrested so far. McKellop would likely would be younger than his 60s (he completed 22 years of service in 2010) and I think Brown would be too. So it may be DOJ has an interest in Peterson’s co-travelers.

It’s also possible DOJ wants Peterson’s testimony about the attempts to break into, first, the House Chamber and then the Speaker’s Lobby. He was present as Ashli Babbitt was killed (and claimed to be calling the crowd to stop, though that doesn’t show up on the video I’ve seen). He’s not being prosecuted by AUSA Candice Wong in the group of men from that scene that seem to be clustered together. If that’s the case, then the government would be seeking to use the testimony of someone who had himself damaged the building to help prosecute men (at least Zach Alam, the guy who punched through the Speaker’s Lobby door) who likely do merit a terrorism enhancement for their efforts to hunt down members of Congress.

We’ll see whether Peterson ultimately decides to cooperate. But a similar calculation seems to have convinced Matthew Greene to flip on his Proud Boys.

Greene was charged, along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, in what I call the “Front Door Proud Boys Conspiracy,” for the way the three of them worked towards Pezzola’s breach of a Northwest window, the first breach of the building on January 6. Greene was charged with conspiracy to obstruct the vote count (18 USC 371), obstruction (18 USC 1512(c)(2)), civil disorder (18 USC 231), destruction of government property (18 USC 1361, the charge that can carry a terrorism enhancement), as well as three trespassing counts.

His plea agreement shows that he pled to conspiracy — which the plea agreement claims included both obstruction and civil disorder (the first indictment did include both) — and the obstruction charge. Rather than a separate charge for vicarious responsibility for Pezzola’s break of the window (on an abetting charge), that liability is added to the obstruction charge as an “offense involving property damage.” At the hearing yesterday, it was said his guidelines range would be 41 to 51 before accounting for the cooperation.

That is, Matthew Greene made effectively the same deal that Peterson is contemplating, though he was probably working from a much higher guidelines range because of the additional civil disorder charge, not to mention possible weapons violations based off an AR-15 seized at his arrest.

Curiously, Greene’s written plea agreement still permits the government to request a terrorism enhancement under U.S.S.G. § 3A1.4, n. 4, which normally is being taken out of cooperation plea deals. But the entire proceeding yesterday was dismayingly discombobulated, with the plea itself just signed by Greene’s attorney and some clauses in the elements of the offense requiring tweaking. So it’s possible the prosecutors just used boilerplate and forgot to take that out. Greene’s attorney, Michael Kasmarek, spoke about the detailed discussions he has had with prosecutors, so he seems to trust them, but I’d still make sure everything were better captured in writing.

Perhaps it reflects the overwhelming workload of this investigation (the Proud Boys team has significantly fewer prosecutors — at least that have noticed appearances — than the team prosecuting the Oath Keepers), but I remain concerned that the team prosecuting the Proud Boys seems less organized than a bunch of the people prosecuting non-militia trespassers.

Greene’s deal differs from others thus far in that he’s moving immediately to sentencing on March 10 (he’s the only publicly identified cooperator in custody), with the understanding that even after sentencing the government may file for another downward departure while he serves his sentence.

The plea agreement contemplates the possibility of witness protection.

Update: Corrected to add Jeremy Brown as a Special Forces arrestee.

Update: Gina Bisignano’s August plea agreement has now been released. She, too, dodged the property damage crime by cooperating. She also faces the same 41 to 51 month sentence.

Three Tea Leaves in Judge Tim Kelly’s Matthew Greene Detention Decision

Judge Tim Kelly, the judge presiding over most of the Proud Boy cases, just ruled that Matthew Greene must remain detained until his trial as a threat to the community. Greene’s defense attorney Michael Kasmarek made a compelling argument that the things Greene did at the Capitol weren’t as bad as some other defendants and a witness who testified that Greene had suggested they would have killed Nancy Pelosi if they had found her is unreliable (here is his brief). Prosecutor Erik Kenerson argued that the things Greene did since January 6 — such as stocking up on ammunition and calling for war — were the things that merited detention (here’s the government brief).

It didn’t help Greene that since these filings New York State indicted him because some of the guns he possessed when the FBI showed up were not legal in NY.

But I found the hearing most interesting for how Kelly got to the decision and something he said along the way.

First, after Kenerson said that two of the defendants were at least considering pleading, Kelly said he didn’t think he’d rule on the co-defendant William Pepe’s pending motions — a motion to dismiss the obstruction count, a motion to sever Pepe from Greene and Dominic Pezzola, and a motion to transfer the case out of DC — until after defendants decided they were going to trial.

Given my focus on pending challenges to the obstruction count, it’s significant that Kelly would defer ruling on it. According to a list of all the pending 1512 challenges submitted to Judge Randolph Moss by Brady Knowlton, Kelly has similar challenges from Ethan Nordean (which I wrote about here) and Joshua Pruitt.

But two other comments Kelly made suggest it may not matter.

As he began his analysis of the detention decision for Greene, he noted that the obstruction charge he and the others face may carry a sentence of up to 20 years; he characterized the charged crime as the obstruction of the peaceful transfer of power and described it as a gravely serious crime.

That doesn’t sound like the language of a judge who finds the obstruction charge inapt.

And then from that discussion Kelly described how the damage to the window of the Capitol he is charged with as a co-conspirator of Pezzola carries a terrorism enhancement.

It does — I’ve written about it several times, and such allegations have been before Kelly since a detention dispute for Pezzola in February. But I don’t remember Kelly emphasizing it as much in the past.

To be very clear: Kelly was talking about these legal implications in terms of what the grand jury had decided to charge these Proud Boys with. He wasn’t judging that the Proud Boys are terrorists; rather, he is noting that the grand jury charged them in such a way to be treated as such.

Still, it reflected a thought process I don’t recall him expressing in the same way before. And that’s of particular interest, because Kelly ruled Greene should stay in jail almost entirely because of the risk he — and the Proud Boys — posed going forward.

Spaz: More than Just a Thumb Drive [Updated]

The government released its motion for detention for Dominic Pezzola, AKA “Spaz,” the Proud Boy who was among the first to break into the Capitol.

As a Marine with ties to the Proud Boys, it’s easy to see why the government thinks he’s dangerous.

To support their claim he is, though, the government made two arguments that probably aren’t the main reasons. First, they treat his use of a police shield to break open the door of the Capitol as a crime of violence.

Felony destruction of government property is a crime of violence. For purposes of the bail statute, as relevant to these offenses, a crime of violence is defined as “an offense that has an element of the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another,” if that crime is punishable by ten years or more in prison. See 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(A) & 16. Section 1361 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code meets those requirements. It is punishable by ten years if the property damage was greater than $1,000, and its elements include the use of physical force against the property of another.

More spectacularly, they point to the bomb-making materials they found at his home.

The FBI also executed a search warrant at the defendant’s residence at the time of his arrest. Agents recovered, from a room that appeared to be used exclusively by the defendant, a thumb drive that contained hundreds of .pdf files. While some of those files are related to seemingly innocuous topics, a significant number of those .pdfs provide detailed instructions for making homemade firearms, poisons, and/or explosives. A sample of titles includes, but is not limited to: (1) multiple serials of a series entitled “Advanced Improvised Explosives,” those serials including “Explosive Dusts” and “Incendiaries;” (2) “The Box Tube MAC-11,” with subtitle, “The Ultimate DIY Machine Pistol;” (3) “Ragnar’s Big Book of Homemade Weapons;” and (4) “The Advanced Anarchist’s Arsenal: Recipes for Improvised Incendiaries and Explosives.” All of the above examples contain detailed instructions for how to make the subject matter reflected in their titles, and they are but four of hundreds of similarly titled .pdf files on the recovered thumb drive.

But I’m more interested, as is my wont, in the ways that the government points to something more.

It does so, first of all, by hinting at additional charges to come — though lays out charges that are likely not the ones DOJ has in mind for Pezzola.

The defendant currently stands charged with violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1361, 1512(c)(2), and 1752(a), stemming from his role in the violent events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

[snip]

The defendant is currently charged by complaint with one crime of violence—breaking the window of the Capitol with the shield—and the evidence as laid out above would establish probable cause to believe that he committed another crime of violence a short time earlier, robbery of U.S. government property, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2112.

[snip]

The evidence as laid out above would also establish that the defendant violated 18 U.S.C. § 2112, robbery of U.S. Government property, and § 111, assault on a federal officer, among other things. The government acknowledges that the defendant is not charged with these offenses at the time this memorandum is submitted.

More importantly, the government repeatedly talks about how he coordinated his actions.

The defendant’s actions show planning, determination, and coordination.

It uses the language of conspiracy — persons known and unknown — to describe his actions leading the mob towards the Capitol.

At around 1:00 p.m. EST, on January 6, 2021, known and unknown individuals broke through the police lines, toppled the outside barricades protecting the U.S. Capitol, and pushed past U.S. Capitol Police (“USCP”) and supporting law enforcement officers there to protect the U.S. Capitol.

The motion describes how he walked up to the barriers with others, including this guy in a flag bandana.

It shows how, at the moment he breaks in the window through which the Capitol was breached, he was wearing an earpiece.

The government describes how that first group of people immediately turned to “where they counting the votes?” (though were distracted from finding them by Officer Goodman).

Pezzola was part of a group that turned to the right and eventually confronted USCP Officer Eugene Goodman, demanding to know “where they meeting at, where they counting the votes?” It is unclear from the video which member of the mob shouted that question at Officer Goodman.

And the motion describes Pezzola talking about a “we” who had taken the Capitol.

“Victory smoke in the Capitol, boys. This is f***ing awesome. I knew we could take this motherf***er over [if we] just tried hard enough.”

While the motion lays out its argument for detention by emphasizing other things, the argument it is really making is that Pezzola, as a key member of the conspiracy (and as someone with the operational security to flee), he needs to be detained.

It’s not surprising that the government points to evidence of a conspiracy. After all, he’s associated with the Proud Boys, a key focus of their attention (and the motion cites a W-1 who is clearly privy to their plans).

It’s just telling how the government only hints at that argument while pointing to other things that make Spaz dangerous.

Update: DOJ announced the conspiracy indictment of Pazzola with William Pepe, the guy in the flag bandana pictured above.

 Dominic Pezzola, 43, of Rochester, New York, and William Pepe, 31, of Beacon, New York, were indicted today in federal court in the District of Columbia on charges of conspiracy; civil disorder; unlawfully entering restricted buildings or grounds; and disorderly and disruptive conduct in restricted buildings or grounds. Pezzola was also charged with obstruction of an official proceeding; additional counts of civil disorder and aiding and abetting civil disorder; robbery of personal property of the United States; assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers; destruction of government property; and engaging in physical violence in a restricted buildings or grounds.

The prosecution team includes the guy who prosecuted Maria Butina, Erik Kenerson, along with a CT prosecutor from NSD.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason McCullough and Erik Kenerson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Taryn Meeks of the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Western and Southern Districts of New York. The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with assistance by the FBI’s Buffalo Field Office and the FBI’s New York Field Office.

Update: Here’s the indictment itself. It is very narrowly drawn, describing the conspiracy to cover just their successful entry past the cops at the second barrier.

The object of the conspiracy was to obstruct, influence, impede, and interfere with law enforcement officers engaged in their official duties in protecting the U.S. Capitol and its grounds during the demonstrations planned for January 6, 2021.

I suspect DOJ did this, in part, to have a way to keep Pepe detained. He’s not even accused of entering the Capitol, nor is he charged with stealing anything or assaulting a copy. But by being charged in a conspiracy with Pazzola, he’s on the hook for Pazzola’s more obviously violent acts.