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

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

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

One detail shows this to be true.

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Roger Stone isn’t involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a Trump Prosecution for January 6 Would Work

Jeffrey Toobin wrote a shitty piece arguing — seemingly based exclusively on Trump’s request to Jeffrey Rosen to delegitimize the election results in Georgia and Trump’s January 6 speech — that Merrick Garland should not prosecute Trump.

Toobin’s piece sucks for the same reason that all the mirror image articles written by TV lawyers, the ones explaining how DOJ might prosecute Trump, also suck: because none exhibit the least familiarity with how DOJ is approaching January 6, much less what allegations it has already made in charging documents. They are, effectively, nothing more than throwing a bunch of laws at the wall to see whether any stick (and in Toobin’s estimation, none do).

Almost none of these TV lawyers engage with how DOJ is applying obstruction as the cornerstone of its January 6 prosecutions. For example, Toobin considers whether Trump obstructed justice, but he only analyzes whether, when, “Trump encouraged the crowd to march to Capitol Hill but he did not explicitly encourage violence,” Trump obstructed the vote certification. Of around 200 January 6 defendants charged with obstruction, I can think of few if any against whom obstruction has been charged based solely on their actions on the day of the riot, and Trump is not going to be the exception to that rule. As with other January 6 defendants, DOJ would rely on Trump’s words and actions leading up to the event to prove his intent.

In this post, I want to lay out how a DOJ prosecution of Trump for January 6 would work. I’m not doing this because I’m sure DOJ will prosecute. I’m doing it to make the commentary on the question less insufferably stupid than it currently is.

Assumptions

The piece makes three assumptions.

First, it assumes that DOJ’s current application of 18 USC 1512(c)(2) to cover the vote certification survives judicial review. It’s not at all clear it will, either because the courts (this will go to SCOTUS) don’t believe Congress intended to include Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings like the vote certification in a law covering official proceedings, because the courts will decide that rioters had no way of knowing that interrupting Constitutionally-mandated official proceedings was illegal, or because courts will decide that rioters (all of them, as opposed to one or another making a compelling case to a jury) did not have the requisite corrupt purpose. There are currently at least nine challenges to the application of the law (at least two more have been raised since Judge Randolph Moss had prosecutors put together this list). If TV lawyers want to argue about something, this might be a more productive use of their time than arguing about whether Trump can be prosecuted more generally, because the question doesn’t require knowing many actual facts from the investigation.

This piece also assumes that DOJ would apply two things they asserted in a filing pertaining to Mo Brooks to Trump as well. That filing said that the scope of federal office holder’s job excludes campaign activity, so any campaign activity a federal office holder engages in does not count as part of that person’s duties.

Like other elected officials, Members run for reelection themselves and routinely campaign for other political candidates. But they do so in their private, rather than official, capacities.

This understanding that the scope of federal office excludes campaign activity is broadly reflected in numerous authorities. This Court, for example, emphasized “the basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain reelection” in holding that House or Senate mailings aimed at that purpose are “unofficial communication[s].” Common Cause v. Bolger, 574 F. Supp. 672, 683 (D.D.C. 1982) (upholding statute that provided franking privileges for official communications but not unofficial communications).

DOJ also said that conspiring to attack your employer would not be included in a federal office holder’s scope of employment.

Second, the Complaint alleges that Brooks engaged in a conspiracy and incited the attack on the Capitol on January 6. That alleged conduct plainly would not qualify as within the scope of employment for an officer or employee of the United States, because attacking one’s employer is different in kind from any authorized conduct and not “actuated . . . by a purpose to serve” the employer. Id. § 228(1)(c).

These two principles, taken together, would get beyond some of the challenges involved in investigating someone covered by Executive Privilege and making orders as Commander-in-Chief. Importantly, it would make Trump’s activities in conjunction with the January 6 rally subject to investigation, whereas they broadly wouldn’t be if they were done in Trump’s official capacity.

Finally, if DOJ were to charge Trump, they would charge him in a conspiracy to obstruct the vote count that intersected with some of the other conspiracies to obstruct the vote count, possibly with obstruction charges against him personally. In general, I don’t think DOJ would charge most of Trump’s discrete acts, at least those conducted before January 20, as a crime. There are two possible exceptions, however. His call to Brad Raffensperger, particularly in the context of all his other efforts to tamper in the Georgia election, would have been conducted as part of campaigning (and therefore would not have been conducted as President). It seems a clearcut case of using threats to get a desired electoral outcome. It’s unclear whether Trump’s request that Mike Pence to commit the unconstitutional action — that is, refusing to certify the winning electoral votes — would be treated as Presidential or electoral. But that demand, followed closely with Trump’s public statements that had the effect of making Pence a target for assassination threats, seems like it could be charged on its own. Both of those actions, however, could and would, in the way DOJ is approaching this, also be overt acts in the conspiracy charged against Trump.

The other conspiracies

If DOJ would only charge Trump in the context of a conspiracy to obstruct the vote (with whatever other charges added in) that intersects with some or all of the other conspiracies charged, it helps to understand what DOJ has done with those other conspiracies. Here’s what the currently charged conspiracies look like:

DOJ has been treating the multiple Proud Boy conspiracies as one (about which Ethan Nordean is complaining); I think they’re doing that — and excluding other key players who could be in one of the conspiracies, including all the most serious assaults committed by Proud Boy members — as a way to show how the cell structure used on the day worked together to serve a unified purpose, while also managing visibility on different parts of their ongoing investigation. For my purposes here, I’ll focus on the Leadership conspiracy, with the understanding that (notwithstanding Nordean’s complaints) DOJ credibly treats the others as the implementation of the conspiracy the Proud Boy Leaders themselves have laid out.

All of these conspiracies, as well as a disorganized militia conspiracy DOJ has been saying they’ll charge, share the same object: to stop, delay, or hinder Congress’ certification of the Electoral College win. Basically, all these conspiracies, as well as a hypothetical one that DOJ might use against Trump, would involve ensuring that he still had a route to remain in power, that he lived to fight another day. By themselves they did not involve a plan to remain in power (though Trump could be charged in a broader conspiracy attempting to do that, too).

They also all allege common Manners and Means (to be clear, these defendants are all presumed innocent and I’m speaking here of what DOJ claims it will prove). Those include:

  • Agreeing to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging as many people as possible, including outside their own groups, to attend the operation
  • Funding the operation
  • Preparing to make participants in the operation as effective as possible, in all cases including communication methods and in most cases including some kind of defensive or offensive protections
  • Illegally entering the Capitol or its grounds and occupying that space during the period when Congress would otherwise have been certifying the vote

While all of those conspiracies follow the same model, there are some unique characteristics in four that deserve further mention:

Proud Boy Leaders Conspiracy: Operationally, those charged in the Proud Boy Leaders conspiracy managed to assemble a mob, including Proud Boy members (many organized in sub-cells like the Kansas City cell Billy Chrestman led), fellow travelers who met up and marched with the Proud Boys that morning, and those who knew to show up at 1PM (while Trump was still speaking). With apparent guidance from the charged co-conspirators, the Proud Boys managed to kick off the riot and — in the form of the Proud Boy Front Door co-conspirator Dominic Pezzola wielding a stolen shield — break into the building. Thus far (probably in part because Enrique Tarrio is not currently charged in this or any conspiracy), the government has been coy about what evidence it has of coordination with others, including at a December MAGA March in DC. Key planning steps, however, involve deciding not to show Proud Boy colors the day of the riot and fundraising to buy gear and support travel (Christopher Worrell got to DC on a bus paid for by the Proud Boys but that has not yet been charged in any conspiracy). On top of radios and blow horns, two Telegram channels — the larger of which had 60 members — appear to have played key roles in organizing events the day of the riot. To the extent that Proud Boys came armed, they appear to have done so individually, and thus far, DOJ has not included the worst assaults committed by Proud Boys in any of the conspiracies. Several of the charged co-conspirators started talking about war in the days and weeks after the election and those who gathered with the Proud Boys on the morning of the riot skipped Trump’s rally, making their focus on the vote certification much clearer than many others that day.

Oath Keeper Conspiracy: The indictment alleges this conspiracy started on November 9 with a plan both to use Antifa as a foil to excuse violence and in expectation that that violence would be Trump’s excuse to invoke the Insurrection Act and/or respond to that call. The conspiracy used the promise of serving as security — both at the rally and for Roger Stone and other “dignitaries” — to recruit people to come to DC, and in fact a number of the charged co-conspirators were present with Stone the morning of the riot. In addition to kitting out in various Oath Keeper gear at different events on the day of the event, the militia had a serious stash of weapons at the Ballston Comfort Inn in case things did turn violent. The key thing, operationally, this conspiracy achieved was to provide organized brawn to an effort to open a second front to the attack via the East Door of the Capitol. The nominal head of this conspiracy, Florida State head Kelly Meggs, claimed to have set up an alliance with other militias in Florida (he first made the claim a day after the militia had provided “security” for Stone at an event in Florida). Over the course of the investigation, the government has also gotten closer to alleging that Meggs expressed the desire to and took steps to target Nancy Pelosi personally while inside the Capitol.

3%er Southern California Conspiracy: The men charged in this conspiracy — who occupy the overlap between 3%ers and the anti-mask community in Southern California — organized themselves and others to come armed to the Capitol. As alleged, they started organizing formally in explicit response to Trump’s December 19 advertisement for the event. Both online and in an appearance by Russell Taylor at the rally on January 5, they called for violence. They organized in advance via Telegram chat and on the day with radios. Operationally, these men personally participated in the fighting on the west side of the Capitol (most never went in the building but the government contends they were in restricted space outside). But from a larger standpoint, these men form one intersection between the more formal Trump organization behind the rallies and a group of radicalized Trump supporters from across the country.

Disorganized Conspiracy: You’ve likely never heard of Ronnie Sandlin and Nate DeGrave, nor should you have. Their conspiracy (DOJ has not yet charged it but has been planning to do so since April) started when Sandlin responded to Trump’s calls for people to attend the event on December 23 and started looking online to join up with others. “Who is going to Washington D.C. on the 6th of January? I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” They’re an excellent example of a bunch of guys — along with Josiah Colt, who entered into a cooperation agreement against the other two — who got radicalized via a messy stew of ideologies online, armed themselves for insurrection, raised money and traveled to DC together planning for violence, and allegedly engaged in assaults at two key points inside the Capitol that allowed the occupation of the Senate chamber, and in Colt’s case, Mike Pence’s chair itself. Here’s a video of the two (in orange and all black) fighting to get into the Senate just released today:

Colt has admitted (and may have GoPro video showing) that the three went from learning that Pence had refused Trump’s demand — the government doesn’t say whether they learned this via Trump’s tweet — to forcibly occupying the Senate in response. So while you haven’t heard of them and they’re not members of an organized militia, they still played a tactically critical role in forcibly occupying the Capitol in direct response to Trump’s exhortations.

Questions

There are still a slew of questions about Trump’s actions that have — publicly at least — not been answered. Some that would be pertinent to whether he could be charged with conspiracy include:

  • When Trump said, “stand back and stand by” to the Proud Boys on September 29 — after they had already threatened a Federal judge to serve Trump’s interest, and whose threats had been dismissed by Bill Barr as a technicality — did he intend to signal some kind of relationship with the Proud Boys as the Proud Boys in fact took it to be? Was this part of an agreement to enter into a conspiracy?
  • When both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers started planning their January 6 operation in the days after the election, speaking already then of being called by the President to commit violence, was that based on any direct communications, or was it based on things like the earlier Proud Boys comment?
  • When Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who would later lead the operation on January 6 formed an alliance to keep Trump in office in December at an event with Roger Stone, was Stone involved?
  • What conversations did Trump and Stone have about his pardon even as these militia plans were being put in place?
  • What evidence does DOJ have about the Proud Boys’ decision — and their communication of that decision to at least 60 people — not to attend the Trump speech but instead to form a mob that would later march on the Capitol and lead the breach of it while Trump was still speaking?
  • Did Trump time the specific lines in his speech to the Proud Boys’ actions, which were already starting at the Capitol?
  • What orders were given to the Park Police about various crowd sizes and planned events that explains their failure to prepare?
  • Trump told Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to use the National Guard to protect his protestors on January 3. On January 6, some Proud Boys expressed surprise that the Guard was not protecting them. Did the Proud Boys have reason to believe the Guard would not protect the Capitol but instead would protect them? Why was the Guard delayed 4 hours in responding? Why was there a 32 minute delay during a period when the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were considering a second assault in relaying an order from Miller to the Guard Commander who had the Guard in buses waiting to deploy? Did the militias call off their second assault based on advance information that the Guard was finally being deployed?
  • Both Rudy and Trump made calls to Members of Congress on January 6 making specific asks for delays at a time when the rioters had already breached the building. Did that include a request to Paul Gosar, and did that result in the delay in evacuating the House side that led to Ashli Babbitt’s death, which Gosar (and Trump) have been key figures in celebrating? Would DOJ be able to get either Gosar or Tuberville’s testimony (they already have the voice mail Rudy left for Tuberville, and because Rudy’s phones have otherwise been seized, if they can show probable cause they have access to anything on his phone).
  • Rudy had texts from a Proud Boy affiliate within 9 days after the riot about implementing a plan to blame it all on Antifa. That guy  had, in turn, been in contact with at least six people at the riot. Were they in contact before and during the riot? Again, DOJ has the phones on which Rudy conducted those conversations, and they happen to have his cell location for other purposes, so the question is do they have probable cause to get the same data for the Jan 6 operation?

What a Trump conspiracy might look like

Even without answers to those questions, however, there are a number of things that Trump did that might form part of a conspiracy charge against him (this timeline from Just Security has a bunch more, including magnifying threats from people who would later take part in the insurrection). The Manners and Means would mirror those that appear in all the charged conspiracies:

  • Agreeing (and ordering subordinates) to plan and participate in an effort to obstruct the vote certification
  • Encouraging the Proud Boys to believe they are his army
  • Personally sowing the Big Lie about voter fraud to lead supporters to believe Trump has been robbed of his rightful election win
  • Asking subordinates and Republican politicians to lie about the vote to encourage supporters to feel they were robbed
  • Encouraging surrogates and campaign staffers to fund buses to make travel to DC easier
  • Using the January 6 rally to encourage as many people as possible to come to DC
  • Applauding violence in advance of January 6 and tacitly encouraging it on the day
  • Recruiting members of Congress to raise challenges to the vote count
  • Asking members of Congress to delay evacuation even as the rioters entered the building, heightening the chance of direct physical threat (and likely contributing to Ashli Babbitt’s death)
  • Asking Mike Pence to do something unconstitutional, then targeting him after he refused, virtually ensuring he would be personally threatened
  • Possibly muddling the line of command on which civilian agency would coordinate response, ensuring there would be none
  • Possibly taking steps to delay any Guard response at the Capitol
  • Possibly ignoring immediate requests from help from leaders of Congress

DOJ knows exactly what happened with Trump’s requests that DOJ serve as the civilian agency to lead response on Janaury 6, and some of the witnesses have given transcribed interviews to Congress and probably DOJ IG. Some details about which there remain questions — who delayed the National Guard — would be available to subpoena. The big question, and it’s a big one, is what kind of communications Trump had with members of Congress to ensure there was maximal conflict and physical risk on that day.

But much of this, including the illegal request of Mike Pence and the specific targeting of him in the aftermath, which directly affected the actions of the disorganized conspiracy, are already public. Both the computer Enrique Tarrio brought to DC and Rudy’s phones have been accessible if DOJ wanted to obtain a warrant for them.

None of this addresses the complexities of whether DOJ would charge a former President. None of this guarantees that DOJ will get key charged defendants to flip, whose cooperation might be necessary to move higher in the conspiracy.

I’m not saying DOJ will charge Trump.

But if they were considering it, it’s most likely this is how they would do so.

Update: Per Quake’s suggestion I’ve added the funding of buses.

Update: Reuters reports that FBI has found “scant” evidence of central coordination in the attack, specifically naming Stone.

Proud Boy UCC-1’s Work Ethic Saved Him from a Felony Charge

The other day the government released Powerpoint presentations (Zach Rehl, Charles Donohoe) from detention hearings for the two Proud Boys, as well as the Telegram chats one or the other side used as part of those detention disputes. (The times on the chats are UTC-8, probably because they came from Ethan Nordean’s phone after it was seized in Washington; add three hours to get the time in DC.)

January 4 5:17 to 5:42PM

January 4 5:50 to 7:06PM

January 5 8:58PM to January 6 12:03AM

January 6 1:00 to 4:07PM

January 30 to February 1, Nordean and Donohoe

In general, the texts show how, in the wake of Enrique Tarrio’s arrest on January 4, Donohoe took the lead in attempting to set up two new Telegram chats — New MOSD, with just a few leaders, and Boots on the Ground, with around 60 Proud Boys (not all of whom were present, it seems) — so the Feds wouldn’t have access to their organizational efforts via Tarrio’s phone, which they correctly assumed the government had seized (though it’s not clear when the phone was exploited). The Proud Boys struggled to figure out what to do with Tarrio, with Donohoe seemingly warning not to add Tarrio back into a chat until they had confirmed he was free and using an uncompromised phone, to prevent the FBI from logging on under Tarrio’s credentials.

They seem to know that Tarrio also spoke with someone outside their circle about his flag-burning, and considered warning that person. They interspersed that conversation with discussions about how to get more Proud Boys to the riot, perhaps picking them up in Philadelphia or Greensboro. For several hours, Donohoe kept adding names, begging for help, explaining what he was doing as he went.

Because of the time crunch, Donohoe added everyone as Admins (I’m not familiar enough with Telegram to understand potential repercussions of that, with regards to FBI’s ability to get more of these chats as they arrested more Proud Boys).

On January 5, their communication plans were still in flux, with one apparent cell leader — who, on account of the redaction, appears not to have been arrested yet — communicating with his cell separately.

Nordean was supposed to be in charge, but he was AWOL for several hours leading up to 9PM (rather interesting hours on January 5 to be unreachable).

There are texts about adding someone to the MOSD leadership channel that might be consistent with Tarrio rejoining the chats after his release (the government redacted his name in some places but not all of them).

Whether or not they added Tarrio to the thread, Biggs — who was with the AWOL Nordean — seems to have been in contact with Tarrio.

Great swaths of the texts from January 6 — almost 10 full pages — are redacted. What’s left are seemingly one after another Proud Boy (not all present) claiming to be storming the Capitol right at 1:02 PM.

At 3:38 PM Donohoe says the Proud Boys will regroup, only to express shock that Trump[‘s Administration] would call out the National Guard against rioters.

The exhibits with just texts are actually far more redacted than the Donohoe Powerpoint — the latter of which includes damning details like Donohoe acknowledging, in advance, that they could face gang charges.

In addition, in the Donohoe Powerpoint, the government lays out a discussion from after the insurrection where someone — perhaps Biggs — expresses some kind of regret, something to make Donohoe push back.

REHL: Ah shit forgot you [Biggs] had to roll, was hoping to have some celebratory beers with yall after this epic fuckin day, I’ll drink one for ya

BIGGS: We will one day. This day lives in infamy or [sic] the ages

DONOHOE: Yeah I feel like a complete warrior. . . .I stood on that front line the entire time and pushed it twice . . . Thank God we were not wearing colors . . . We should never wear colors ever again for any event . . . Only for meetups . . .

[Approximately 12 Minute Gap with No Messages in Message Thread]

DONOHOE: Stop right there . . . All of what you said doesn’t matter . . . We stormed the capitol unarmed . . . And took it over unarmed . . . The people are fucking done . . . Wait when joe biden tells us we are all criminls [sic] [emphasis original]

The gap is interesting, however, because every Telegram text involving Nordean from the key days amounted to a deleted attachment to a text.

We know Nordean would text, though, because he did later in January, when he and Donohoe were discussing Nordean’s plan for a temporary move to North Carolina.

Note, if texts involving Nordean were deleted, they may not be deleted in phones seized from other participants.

Which leads me an obscure detail revealed in that Powerpoint that nevertheless explains something that has been out there for some time: the logic behind an unindicted Proud Boy co-conspirator’s status.

By March 1, prosecutors had details about all these Telegram texts. Yet in a detention hearing for Nordean on March 3, they backed off providing proof, leading to claims that prosecutors had gotten over their skis on Nordean’s prosecution. But the government rolled out the texts themselves — as well as the existence of an unindicted co-conspirator, referred to as UCC-1, in the Proud Boy Leadership conspiracy indictment on March 15. In a sealed filing before unsealing the indictment, the government had asked Judge Tim Kelly to hide all that until Rehl and Donohoe could be arrested. At the time, it seemed that UCC-1 was the likely source for the Telegram texts.

It turns out that was wrong, however. At a hearing on May 4, Nordean’s attorney Nick Smith revealed that the government had obtained all the texts from Nordean’s phone, a password for which his wife shared with the FBI (which explains the time zone and may explain why Nordean’s content was deleted when his that of co-conspirators was not).

Texts from early on January 6, not replicated (or left redacted) in the full exhibits explain that UCC-1 was not at the insurrection because he had just gotten a new job that he didn’t want to fuck up, yet.

DONOHOE: Are you here? …

UCC-1: No I started a new job, don’t want to fuck it up yet

DONOHOE: Well fuck man

UCC-1: There will be plenty more I’m sure lol

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

Person-2: Would be epic

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

That provides a ready explanation for why DOJ might seek to get UCC-1 to cooperate: he wasn’t present, and any role had had in decision-making leading up to the insurrection pales in comparison to Tarrio’s role. Plus, maybe he was telling the truth about trying to keep that new job. As soon as investigators saw why this guy didn’t show, they would understand a motive he might have to cooperate.

If that’s right, that not only would provide a direct witness to these leadership chats, but it might provide an even fuller set of Telegram chats than what the charged co-conspirators know about.

The Grand Jury Secrets Hiding the Proud Boys’ East Door Activities

By my very quick review, there have just been a handful of January 6 defendants charged individually via indictment, without first being charged by complaint.

Lewis Cantwell was arrested in February for civil disorder and obstruction, but whose actions on January 6 are not laid out in any public court documents.

Richard Harris was arrested via indictment in March for resisting arrest and obstruction. A motion supporting detention revealed that Harris persuaded cops to back down at one of the entrances and picked up a phone and purported to threaten Nancy Pelosi; he had assaulted a journalist at a protest in December in Oregon and — though this is contested — lived out of his car after that time.

Daniel Rodriguez was arrested via indictment in March for tasing Michael Fanone, among other things. A HuffPo article, which in turn relied on the work of various volunteer Sedition Hunters, had already provided ample introduction on Rodriguez.

The Klein brothers — Matthew and Jonathanpeter — probably count as one unit. They were charged via conspiracy indictment in March. Their drawn out detention fight showed one or both have ties to the Proud Boys, they followed Dominic Pezzola in the Senate side door, and then later successfully breached the North Door.

Other than that, people have been initially charged via indictment in group or conspiracy indictments: Verden Nalley got indicted along with William Calhoun a month after Calhoun was first charged. Albuquerque Cosper Head and Kyle Young were indicted for assault along with Thomas Sibick, who had already been charged. Taylor Johnatakis and Isaac Sturgeon were indicted on assault charges with Craig Bingert, who had already been charged. A now sprawling assault indictment including Jack Whitton, Clayton Mullins, and Michael Lopatic started with complaints against Jeffrey Sabol and Peter Stager. Another sprawling assault indictment including Tristan Stevens, David Judd, Christopher Quaglin, Robert Morss, and Geoffrey Sills built off a Patrick McCaughey complaint.

When some of the militia members got added to one or another indictment — Matthew Greene to one of the Proud Boys indictment, and several Oath Keepers to that omnibus indictment — they were indicted without a complaint first.

Which is to say, in this investigation, it has been very rare for an individual to be initially charged via indictment.

That’s why it’s notable that the government arrested Ricky Willden yesterday, a Proud Boy from Northern California, on assault and civil disorder charges via an indictment obtained a week earlier. The government issued a press release that describes that Willden was on the East side cheering as a bunch of Marines and one co-traveller opened the door, then sprayed some stuff at cops guarding the door.

The Proud Boys is a group self-described as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.” In publicly available videos recorded on Jan. 6, Willden can be seen in a crowd near the east door of the Capitol at 2:24 p.m. (according to time stamps in one of the videos) wearing a dark jacket, beanie cap and gloves, and cheering as the doors to the Capitol opened. At 2:35 p.m., he can be seen raising his hand and spraying an unknown substance from a green can toward police officers who were standing guard at the east door.

But because the government arrested Willden via indictment, they don’t have to release a public explanation of their probable cause to arrest him. Indeed, the press release pointedly cites “publicly available videos” to back the only allegation it makes.

One reason to charge someone on indictment rather than complaint is to hide the identity of witnesses who have testified. I find that particularly interesting, in part, because there were several people who posed in Joe Biggs’ picture on the East side, but thus far, just Paul Rae and Arthur Jackman have been identified from the picture (though Biggs surely knows who the others are). While the government has ostentatiously rolled out one after another Oath Keeper cooperator — first Jon Schaffer, then Graydon Young, and yesterday Mark Grods — aside from an unindicted co-conspirator identified in some of the Proud Boy indictments (UCC-1), whose identity those charged also know, the government has hidden the cooperators it has surely recruited from the notoriously back-stabbing group.  The hybrid approach the government has used — charging five overlapping conspiracies but also charging a bunch of Proud Boys who worked in concert with others individually — has (surely by design) made it harder for both participants and observers to understand what the government has in hand. There have been a few inconclusive hints that one or another person has flipped (or that Judge Tim Kelly, who has presided over most of the Proud Boys cases, had a sealed hearing that might reflect a plea deal), but nothing concrete.

For weeks it has been clear that unpacking how it happened that two militias and a bunch of Marines converged on the East Door as if all had advance warning would be one key to demonstrating the larger conspiracy behind the January 6 insurrection.

But just as DOJ has rolled out a new player in those events, they’ve moved everything to a grand jury to hide its secrets.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald Are Outraged that Bill Barr Set Up Antifa!!!! [Just Kidding]

You’ve no doubt seen the conspiracy theory championed by Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald claiming that the unnamed Oath Keeper associates described in those indictments are actually FBI informants.


As happened with earlier propaganda campaigns (notably the one downplaying Brian Sicknick’s death), the conspiracy theory started with Revolver News, got magnified by Tucker Carlson, and got normalized by Glenn Greenwald (the latter of whose central role largely escaped attention because commentators don’t identify him, yet, as a right wing propagandist).In his first appearance, Carlson grotesquely accused Sharon Caldwell, who was described in later Oath Keeper documents as Person Two but was identified clearly in earlier documents by her first name and as Thomas Caldwell’s spouse, of being an informant who framed her husband.

Person Two and Person Three were organizers of the riot. The government knows who they are. But the government has not charged them. Why is that? You know why. They were almost certainly working for the FBI. So FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol on January 6, according to government documents. And those two are not alone! In all Revolver News reported there were, quote, “upwards of 20 unindicted co-conspirators in the Oath Keepers indictments, all playing various roles in the conspiracy, who have not been charged for virtually the exact same activities — and in some cases much, much more severe activities — as those named alongside them in indictments.”

Huh????

So it turns out that this white supremacist insurrection was, again, by the government’s own admission in these documents organized at least in part, by government agents.

This little campaign has led compromised members of Congress to embrace this excuse for the insurrection they previously have claimed was not an insurrection at all.


Thomas Caldwell’s wife, Sharon, is Person Two

To show that “Person Two,” whom Tucker Carlson alleges for framing Thomas Caldwell, is actually his wife, Sharon, you can compare this filing, where her name is not redacted, with this one, where “Person Two” has substituted for her name.

1. Sharon Caldwell is Thomas’ wife:

2. “Sharon and I are setting up shop there” (at the Comfort Inn Ballston) and then “Sharon and I are going our way.”

3. “Sharon was right with me!”

Later filings over release conditions confirm the selfies posted to Facebook were of Thomas’ wife, describe Thomas agreeing to be accompanied by his wife, Sharon, to Sunday Mass starting on Easter, expressing concern that his wife has to do all the chores on their 30-acre farm which has led to the loss of farm income, and describing that he rarely travels anywhere without his wife, Sharon Caldwell, and she’s willing to go with him every time he does leave their property.


Glenn and Tucker must be outraged that Billy Barr set up Antifa

Parts of this campaign are pathetic, even for the men involved, and may reflect a desperate attempt to repackage their own past claims.

For example, after parroting a bunch of obviously self-serving PR from Parler in the days after the attack (such as that the insurrectionists organized on Facebook, not Parler), Glenn now shows that Parler was actually sharing threats of violence with the FBI in advance, without noting that that undermines several things he said in the past, such as that the insurrectionists didn’t plan on Parler. This must be dizzying and embarrassing for Glenn.

And because Glenn has to package this — like he did his never-ending obsession with Hunter Biden’s laptop — as a failure of Democrats and liberal media, he remarkably claims that the left — which has so relentlessly asked why the FBI was caught unawares that Glenn even screen caps an example of Ryan Goodman linking to Carolyn Maloney doing so — is resistant to questioning the FBI’s role in the riot.

What accounts for this furious liberal #Resistance to questioning the FBI’s role in the January 6 riot and asking whether there are vital facts that are being concealed?

Maybe Glenn has a harder time getting CSPAN in Brazil than I do in Ireland, because when I’ve watched the multiple hearings Democratic Chairs of various committees (including Maloney) have had with FBI Director Chris Wray or now-National Security Branch EAD Jill Sanborn, they question the FBI about it over and over and over. Glenn literally made up this hash-tagged resistance out of thin air because he needs it to be true, when in fact the opposite is true.

But it’s important to look at what this propaganda campaign obscures.

Probably, this campaign got started because a number of people implicated in the investigation, now realizing that it won’t go away, are trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. It has already happened with those charged for crimes committed on January 6. Dominic Pezzola suggested that a key witness against him was actually more involved in the riot than he was, only to learn he guessed wrong and that the government was going to invoke a terrorism enhancement with him. Similarly, top Proud Boys were hinting at challenges to the UCC-1 described in their indictment, before they grew conspicuously silent about it, as if they learned something that undercut such claims. [see update below]

The other reason people are talking about informants is that (FBI’s failure to respond notwithstanding) it’s not that far-fetched. Importantly, multiple Proud Boys have claimed to be informants, though Glenn only mentions Enrique Tarrio. Maybe that’s because the implication of the claims from the others leads to a place Glenn and Tucker don’t want to go. Of the four Proud Boys that Aram Rostom described as being FBI informants prior to January 6, three claimed to be sharing information about Antifa.

Reuters interviewed two Proud Boys members who spoke on the condition of anonymity about some members’ interactions with the FBI. Reuters also interviewed Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, examined court records and interviewed sources close to the federal investigation.

The reporting showed:

– One Proud Boy left the group in December after telling other members he was cooperating with the FBI by providing information about Antifa, say Tarrio and two other Proud Boy sources. The former member, whom Reuters was unable to identify, insisted to group leaders that he had not revealed information about the Proud Boys, these people say.

– A second Proud Boy leader bragged in 2019 about sharing information with the FBI about Antifa, according to private chats leaked on social media. The chats’ authenticity was confirmed by a source familiar with the Proud Boys and the Jan. 6 case.

– A third Proud Boy leader, Joseph Biggs, who was indicted and charged with conspiracy in the January attack, has said in court papers he reported information to the FBI about Antifa for months. Reuters spoke to Biggs two days before the riot. In that interview, he said he had specific plans for Jan. 6, but declined to disclose them. But, he volunteered to Reuters in that call, he was willing to tell his FBI contact of his plans for the coming rally, if asked. Reuters wasn’t able to determine whether such a contact took place. [my emphasis]

What this suggests is not that the FBI set up the Proud Boys with paid informants, but the opposite: that under a President who “denounced” the Proud Boys by saying they should “Stand back and stand by,” and under an Attorney General who dismissed threats against a judge involving the Proud Boys as a technicality, the Proud Boys were viewed not as an equivalent (or greater) threat than Antifa, but instead were able to disguise their use of Antifa as a foil to sow violence by serving as informants against them.

If these three self-proclaimed informants are right (there’s good reason to doubt them), then it means under Bill Barr, the FBI was using informants not to set up the Proud Boys, but instead to set up Antifa.

If Tucker and Glenn were good faith actors and not paid propagandists, you would fully expect them to be outraged that the FBI set up Antifa.

Especially because of the possibility that the FBI didn’t take the Proud Boys threat seriously because (on top of being endorsed by the President and downplayed by the Attorney General), they prioritized investigating Antifa over investigating the Proud Boys. With that possibility in mind, read the framing of Glenn’s Substack post:

The original report, published by Revolver News and then amplified by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, documented ample evidence of FBI infiltration of the three key groups at the center of the 1/6 investigation — the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters — and noted how many alleged riot leaders from these groups have not yet been indicted. While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

The implications of these facts are obvious. It seems extremely likely that the FBI had numerous ways to know of any organized plots regarding the January 6 riot (just as the U.S. intelligence community, by its own admission, had ample advanced clues of the 9/11 attack but, according to their excuse, tragically failed to “connect the dots”).

[snip]

What would be shocking and strange is not if the FBI had embedded informants and other infiltrators in the groups planning the January 6 Capitol riot. What would be shocking and strange — bizarre and inexplicable — is if the FBI did not have those groups under tight control.

It is fucking insane that Glenn claims to be mystified by the possibility that a group endorsed in the President’s first Presidential debate and dismissed by the Attorney General would not get the proper scrutiny by the FBI. Trump very effectively punished people — especially at the FBI — for investigating entities close to him. And on September 29, 2020, Donald Trump made it quite clear the Proud Boys should get special treatment. That’s all the explanation you need. Though it is, indeed, reason for closer scrutiny, the kind of scrutiny that Democrats have been demanding, Glenn’s false claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

But if you want to raise the possibility that FBI had informants in the group, then the explanation may be equally as damning: That the FBI didn’t see January 6 coming because it was too busy treating Antifa as a terrorist threat.

Indeed, everything we know about the threat reporting on that day — which claimed the big risk of violence arose from the possibility of clashes between counter-protestors and right wing militias — suggests that may be what happened: that the FBI was looking the other way, possibly in conjunction with the militia that played a key role in planning the attack. That certainly accords with Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller’s claim that Trump told him to use the National Guard to protect Trump supporters.

Since Glenn claims to be very familiar with the role of informants, surely he knows that multiple terrorists — definitely David Headley and allegedly Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Omar Mateen — have planned attacks under the cover of serving as informants (or in the case of Mateen, his father doing so). There were also at least two former FBI informants that played key parts in the Russian operation in 2016. The most logical answer to the questions that Glenn pretends to entertain is that the FBI didn’t look too closely at what Joe Biggs was planning (as part of a Kelly Meggs-brokered Florida alliance of militia groups with ties to Roger Stone), because they treated him as a credible source of reporting on Antifa.

The propaganda that goes unnoticed

The absurdity of accusing Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her spouse has, justifiably, gotten all the attention from this campaign.

But there’s a piece of propaganda that it incorporates — one parroted by Members of Congress — that deserves focus of its own: in framing his piece, Glenn not only claims that the plot leaders have been shielded from charges, he also states as fact that, “low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail.”

While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

In making this claim, Glenn is mindlessly parroting something that appears in the original Revolver piece.

The first category is the group of mostly harmless tourists who walked through already opened doors and already-removed barricades, and at most were guilty of minor trespassing charges and light property offenses. The second group consists of those who were violent with police officers, broke down barricades, smashed windows, belonged to a “militia” group engaged in military-style planning prior to the event, discussed transporting heavy weaponry, and so forth.

Up until now, the overwhelming (perhaps exclusive) share of counter-establishment reporting on 1/6 has focused on absolving the first group. And this is a valuable thing. The notion that these harmless “MAGA moms” wandering around the Capitol were domestic terrorists engaged in an insurrection is absurd. That many of these people are being held in prison, without bail, under harsh conditions, amounts to an unacceptable and outrageous abuse of basic human rights.

The only way to sustain a claim that “low-level protestors” have been charged with major felonies and held without bail is to claim that alleged plot leaders — people like Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Billy Chrestman, and Kelly Meggs — were actually just protestors.

That’s because with perhaps two exceptions (people like Karl Dresch whose criminal records were cited as the reason for their detention), the only people who remain in jail are either those charged with planning the insurrection, or people who engaged in violence or came armed. And even many of those people were released. Just going in alphabetical order, Christopher Alberts brought a gun and a magazine to the insurrection but was released on bail. John Anderson is accused of assault but is out on bail. Richard Barnett, who entered Nancy Pelosi’s office with a high voltage stun gun, was initially jailed but has since been released. Bradley Bennett, whom the government argued went on the lam for weeks and destroyed his phone, got released on bail. Craig Bingert, involved in one of the conflicts with cops at a barricade, was released on bail. Gina Bisignano, accused of inciting violence and destruction with a bullhorn, was released on bail. Joshua Black, who was involved in confrontations with cops before heading to the Senate Chamber and said God ordered him to riot, was released on bail. James Breheny, an Oath Keeper who allegedly lied to the FBI and attended a key inter-militia planning event, is out on bail. Both men who brought zip ties to the Senate Chamber on the day of the riot, Eric Munchel and Larry Brock, are out on bail (and Brock isn’t even charged with a felony).

Even Brandon Fellows, charged with obstruction and present when Jeff Merkley’s office was trashed and laptop stolen, thus far remains out on bail, even after several bail violations.

Perhaps the only two people who remain in custody who weren’t either associated with a group being treated as a militia or involved in assault are Doug Jensen and Jacob Chansley. Both, though, played a kind of leadership role during the attack, both brought blades with them to the insurrection, both had direct confrontations with cops, and the government has argued (Jensen, Chansley) both exhibit the kind of fervor in their QAnon beliefs that pose a particular danger.

Given that QAnon had better success placing bodies where they were useful during the insurrection, I’m not sure it even makes sense to treat them differently than the more traditional militia.

Other than that, the men detained pre-trial are accused of leading the insurrection, precisely the people that this conspiracy theory falsely claims have been shielded from charges. Among the Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Charles Donohoe, Zack Rehl, and Kansas City cell leader Billy Chrestman remain jailed. Among the Oath Keepers, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins remain jailed. All are accused of playing key leadership roles in the insurrection.

There were some questionable detention decisions early on. At this stage, however, there are no cases where people still detained are simply protestors on the wrong side of the law.

And yet even Glenn makes that false claim without any evidence.

Donald Trump’s FBI Director and Bill Barr’s hand-picked US Attorney called these defendants terrorists

There’s one more aspect of this conspiracy that is confounding.

Tucker Carlson and Glenn Greenwald suggest this is a Deep State plot to harm Trump and his supporters. Even Andrew McCarthy, who wrote a long and worthwhile piece debunking Tucker and Glenn’s conspiracies, nevertheless claims the prosecutorial decisions in this case reflect Democratic politicization.

Although Schaffer is plainly a member of the Oath Keepers conspiracy, the Biden Justice Department did not have him plead guilty to the conspiracy charge in the Oath Keepers indictment. That’s undoubtedly because, for the purposes of helping Democrats hype a white-supremacist terrorism narrative, the conspiracy charge is too minor. Although that charge has been portrayed by the media and the Justice Department as if it were a terrorism allegation, it actually involves a statute that criminalizes comparatively minor conspiracy offenses, fit for a maximum penalty of just five years’ imprisonment (with the possibility of no jail time at all).

So instead, DOJ had Schaffer plead guilty to a two-count criminal information, charging him with the substantive crimes of obstructing Congress and illegally carrying a dangerous weapon (bear spray) on restricted federal grounds. That allowed government officials to bray that Schaffer could be looking at 30 years in prison, which sure sounds a lot worse than five years. But it’s a feint. The 30-year level is just an aggregation of the maximum sentences prescribed by the two statutes in Schaffer’s guilty plea — i.e., the highest possible sentence that could potentially apply to anyone who violated these laws. The sentence a judge actually imposes within that 30-year range depends on the circumstances, with only the worst offenders getting the maximum sentence. Realistically, then, what matters in Schaffer’s case are the federal sentencing guidelines that apply specifically to him. In the plea agreement’s fine print, prosecutors concede that the guidelines call for a relatively paltry 41- to 51-month term, which may be reduced if his cooperation proves to be valuable.

I suspect that Schaffer is one of the unnamed, numbered “Persons” referred to in the Oath Keepers indictment.

[snip]

To be clear, Carlson is right that it is ridiculous for Attorney General Merrick Garland to portray the Capitol riot as if it were a terrorist attack and the people behind it as the most dangerous national-security threat we face. As noted above, the conspiracy allegation is not a terrorism charge: It carries a penalty of no more than five years. Carlson is right to point out that, despite the government’s and the media’s claims to the contrary, there is no indication that racism motivated the riot (the Oath Keepers, for example, are not a white-supremacist organization, and the indictment does not even hint that race had anything to do with January 6). Carlson is right that, even as congressional Democrats posture about the supposed need for a commission to fully expose the events of January 6, the government is withholding mounds of information — including the identity of the security official who killed rioter Ashli Babbitt, a concealment that would be unfathomable in a case where a police officer killed an African-American criminal suspect or a Black Lives Matter rioter. And Carlson was right to call out the ludicrous suggestion by Frank Figliuzzi, a former top FBI national-security official, that congressional Republicans who cynically supported Trump’s scheme to overturn the election result are the equivalent of a terrorist organization’s “command and control element.”

Christopher Wray — the FBI Director chosen by Donald Trump — has, from day one, called this a terrorist attack.

More importantly, the person leading this investigation for the first two months was the US Attorney Bill Barr installed with no input from Congress, Michael Sherwin. If Sherwin had his way, these people would be charged with seditious conspiracy. Under Sherwin, Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s crimes were labeled terrorism. Under Michael Sherwin, Jessica Watkins’ crimes were labeled terrorism. And while the Jon Schaffer cooperation agreement that McCarthy disdains was finalized after Sherwin left, signs of it were already evident before Sherwin left (note, McCarthy is probably wrong in his belief that Schaffer is one of the people identified thus far in the Oath Keepers conspiracy, and he misunderstands why prosecutors charged Schaffer like the did). A Sherwin-friendly article written after his departure quotes him stating these were not close cases (and also taking credit for making the bulk of the cases).

“These were not complicated cases,” Sherwin said of the Capitol breach probe. “What made these cases so unusual were the scope and scale of the crime,” reaching into almost every state in the country, including Florida.

Sherwin’s tour of duty as acting U.S. Attorney ended soon after the Biden administration took over the Justice Department. He was asked to stay on as the lead prosecutor in the Capitol breach probe, but Sherwin said it was time to move on after making the bulk of the cases in the investigation.

If you have a problem with the way this investigation unfolded, you have a problem not with Joe Biden’s DOJ, but instead with the guy Bill Barr installed into a politicized US Attorney role with no input from Congress.

Which may be why those who need to downplay the seriousness of the attack have instead resorted to baseless conspiracy theories.

Update: Because some dead-enders still don’t believe that Tucker Carlson has accused Sharon Caldwell of entrapping her husband Thomas, I’ve done an entire section showing how the same references to Person Two in a later filing show up as Thomas’ wife Sharon in an earlier one. I also describe all the efforts Sharon is making to keep her husband out of jail.

Update, July 25: Above, I noted that the Proud Boy leaders seem to have learned something that sated their curiosity about whether UCC-1 was an FBI informant. Indeed they did. At a recent hearing, one of the AUSAs on the case revealed that they had been provided this person’s identity and confirmation he was not an informant.

Several more relevant updates: First, Larry Brock has since been charged with obstruction, a felony, but remains out on bail. Doug Jensen, one of the last remaining people who wasn’t either a leader or charged with assault still being detained, was released on bail. Michael Curzio, one of just a few exceptions who got jailed because of past crimes, got released after serving a six month time served sentence for his misdemeanor trespass charge. Two non-violent defendants — Brandon Fellows and Thomas Robertson — have since had pretrial released revoked for violating their conditions.

Finally, the friend of former DEA officer Mark Ibrahim — who may himself serve as an FBI informant — not only debunked Ibrahim’s excuse for being at the insurrection, but made it clear that the FBI did not formally ask him to attend the event.

IBRAHIM said he went along with his friend, who had been asked by the FBI to document the event, and that he went along with his friend to assist with that effort.

Your affiant also interviewed IBRAHIM’s friend. According to the friend, IBRAHIM crafted this story about how his friend was at the Capitol to assist the FBI and that IBRAHIM was there helping him. IBRAHIM’s friend told your affiant that he was not there in any formal capacity for the FBI and that the FBI was not giving him directions or marching orders. He said that IBRAHIM crafted this story in an effort to “cover his ass.” According to IBRAHIM’s friend, IBRAHIM went to the rally in order to promote himself—IBRAHIM had been thinking about his next move after leaving the DEA and wanted the protests to be his stage for launching a “Liberty Tavern” political podcast and cigar brand.

Ibrahim, who brought another of the guns that Glenn claims no one brought to January 6 and displayed it publicly, is out on bail.

A New Emphasis on Threats of Violence in the Latest January 6 Conspiracy Indictment

As I laid out the other day, the government charged six Three Percenters from California — American Phoenix Project founder Alan Hostetter, Russell Taylor, Erik Warner, Tony Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele — with conspiracy. As I described, the indictment was notable in that just one of the men, Warner, actually entered the Capitol. But it was also notable for the way it tied Donald Trump’s December 19 call for a big protest on January 6 with their own public calls for violence, including executions, as well as an explicit premeditated plan to “surround the capital” [sic].

That’s one reason I find the slight difference in the way this conspiracy got charged to be of interest.

As I’ve been tracking over time, the now-seven militia conspiracies are structured very similarly, with each including coordinated plans to get to DC, some kind of plans to kit out for war, and some coordinated effort to participate in the assault on the Capitol. These conspiracies intersect in multiple ways we know of:

  • Thomas Caldwell’s communication with multiple militia to coordinate plans
  • Kelly Meggs’ formation of an alliance between Florida militias
  • Joe Biggs’ decision to exit the Capitol after the first breach, walk around it, and breach it again with two other Proud Boys in tow just ahead of the Oath Keeper stack
  • The attendance of James Breheny (thus far only charged individually), apparently with Stewart Rhodes (thus far not charged), at a leadership meeting of “multiple patriot groups” in Quarryville, PA on January 3, which Breheny described as “the day we get our comms on point with multiple other patriot groups”

All three militias mingled in interactions they’ve had with Roger Stone, as well, but thus far Stone only shows up in the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy.

In other words, while these represent seven different conspiracies (along with around maybe 15 to 20 identified militia members not charged in a conspiracy), they’re really one networked conspiracy that had the purpose of preventing the democratic replacement of Donald Trump.

Of particular note, what is probably the most serious case of assault charged against a militia member, that charged against Proud Boy Christopher Worrell, has not been included in any conspiracy. So while individual members of these conspiracies — including Joshua James, Dominic Pezzola, and William Isaacs, have been charged for their own physical resistance to cops — the conspiracies as a whole don’t yet hold conspirators accountable for the violence of their co-conspirators. The conspiracies only allege shared responsibility for damage to the Capitol, not violence against cops.

That said, the purpose and structure of the Three Percenter conspiracy is slightly different than the other six. The other six (Oath Keeper, Proud Boy Media, Proud Boy Leadership, Proud Boy Kansas City, Proud Boy North Door, Proud Boy Front Door) are all charged under 18 U.S.C. §371, conspiracy against the US. While the timeline of each conspiracy varies and while some of the Proud Boy conspiracies also include the goal of impeding the police, all six include language alleging the conspirators,

did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and others known and unknown, to commit an offense against the United States, namely, to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, the Certification of the Electoral College vote, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512(c)(2).

The purpose of the conspiracy was to stop, delay, and hinder the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

That is, those six conspiracies are charged (at least) as a conspiracy to violate the obstruction statute.

The Three Percenter SoCal conspiracy, however, is charged under the obstruction itself, 18 U.S.C. §1512(k).

Between December 19, 2020 and January 6, 2021, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants … together with others, did conspire to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.

The object is the same — to impede the vote certification. But it is charged differently.

I’m still thinking through what the difference might mean. It might mean nothing, it might reflect the preference of the prosecutors, or it may reflect a rethinking at DOJ.

Nick Smith claims there’s no evidence Ethan Nordean corruptly influenced anyone else to violate their duty

But there are two things that may factor into it. First, since the government first started structuring its conspiracies this way, some defense attorneys have started challenging the applicability of the obstruction statute to the vote certification at all. For this discussion, I’ll focus on the argument as Nick Smith laid it out in a motion to throw out the entire indictment against Ethan Nordean. Smith makes two arguments regarding the conspiracy charge.

First, Smith argues that Congress only intended the obstruction statute to apply to proceedings that involve making factual findings, and so poor Ethan Nordean had no way of knowing that trying to prevent the vote certification might be illegal.

As indicated above, § 1512(c)(2) has never been used to prosecute a defendant for the obstruction of an “official proceeding” unrelated to the administration of justice, i.e., a proceeding not charged with hearing evidence and making factual findings. Moreover, there is no notice, much less fair notice, in § 1512(c)(2) or in any statute in Chapter 73 that a person may be held federally liable for interference with a proceeding that does not resemble a legal tribunal.

Of course, that argument ignores that Ted Cruz and the other members who challenged the vote claim they were making factual findings — so Nordean’s co-conspirators may sink this legal challenge.

Smith also argues that the obstruction charge fails under the findings of US v. Poindexter, in which John Poindexter’s prosecution for lying to Congress about his role in Iran-Contra was reversed, in part, because the word “corruptly” as then defined in the obstruction statute was too vague to apply to Poindexter’s corrupt failure to do his duty. Smith argues that the language remains too vague based on his claim that the government is trying to prosecute Nordean for his “sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided,” which prosecutors have no business weighing.

Here, the FSI’s construction on § 1512(c)’s adverb “corruptly” fails this Circuit’s Poindexter test. First, the FSI does not allege that Nordean obstructed the January 6 joint session “to obtain an improper advantage for himself or someone else. . .” Poindexter, 951 F.2d at 386. Instead, it contends he allegedly obstructed the session in support of the sincerely held political belief that the 2020 presidential election was not fairly decided. Such an interpretation of § 1512(c) is unconstitutionally vague because it leaves to judges and prosecutors to decide which sincerely held political beliefs are to be criminalized on an ad hoc basis. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. at 1223-24. Second, the FSI neither alleges that Nordean influenced another person to obstruct the January 6 proceeding in violation of their legal duty, nor that Nordean himself violated any legal duty by virtue of his mere presence that day.

As I noted in my post on this challenge, this might be a nifty argument for a defendant who hadn’t — as Nordean had — started calling for revolution on November 27,  well before the state votes were counted. But Nordean had already made his intent clear even before the votes were counted, so Smith’s claims that Nordean was reacting to the election outcome is fairly easily disproven. (As with this entire challenge, it might work well for other defendants, but for a long list of reasons, it is far less likely to work with Nordean.)

There’s another, far more important, aspect to this part of the argument though. Smith claims, without any discussion, that Nordean didn’t “influence” any other person to violate their legal duty. Smith wants Judge Timothy Kelly to believe that Nordean did not mean to intimidate Congress by assembling a violent mob and storming the Capitol and as a result of intimidation to fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution, whether by refusing to certify Joe Biden as President, or by running away in terror and simply failing to complete the task.

Unlike conspiracy, obstruction has a threat of violence enhancement

As I understand it (and I invite actual lawyers to correct me on this), the other difference between charging this conspiracy under 18 USC 371 and charging it under 1512(k) is the potential sentence. While defendants can be sentenced to 20 years under their individual obstruction charges (the actual sentence is more likely to be around 40 months, or less if the defendant pleads out), 18 USC 371 has a maximum sentence of five years.

If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

But 18 USC 1512(k) says that those who conspire to obstruct shall be subject to the same penalty as they’d face for the actual commission of the offense.

(k)Whoever conspires to commit any offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

And obstruction has special penalties tied to murder, attempted murder, and the threat of physical force.

(3) The punishment for an offense under this subsection is—
(A) in the case of a killing, the punishment provided in sections 1111 and 1112;
(B) in the case of—
(i) an attempt to murder; or
(ii) the use or attempted use of physical force against any person;
imprisonment for not more than 30 years; and
(C) in the case of the threat of use of physical force against any person, imprisonment for not more than 20 years.

Thus, anyone charged along with a co-conspirator who threatened to kill someone may be exposed to twenty or even thirty years in prison rather than just five years.

As noted, there are several things about the overt acts charged in the Three Percenter conspiracy that differentiate it from the other militia conspiracies. They were even more explicit about their intent to come armed to the Capitol than the Oath Keepers were with their QRF (and their stated excuses to be armed relied even less on what I call the Antifa foil, the claim they had to come armed to defend against people they fully planned to incite).

And Hostetter twice publicly threatened to execute people. He posted a YouTube on November 27 in which he said, “some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.” And he gave a speech on December 12 in which he demanded, “There must be long prison terms, while execution is the just punishment for the ringleaders of the coup.”

In other words, I think by charging this conspiracy under the obstruction statute rather than the conspiracy one, the government has exposed all of Hostetter’s co-conspirators, along with Hostetter himself, to far longer sentences because he repeatedly threatened to execute people.

The Three Percenter conspiracy makes threats to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress an object of the conspiracy

My guess is that the government is going to argue that, of course, Nordean was trying to corruptly influence others to violate their legal duty to certify the electoral results. Every single militia includes at least one member who made explicit threats against Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, and the Proud Boys, especially, have no recourse by claiming they showed up to listen to Donald Trump, since instead of attending his speech, they were assembling a violent mob to march on the place where Mike Pence was going to enact his official duties.

The Proud Boys were there to intimidate Mike Pence and members of Congress in hopes they would fail to fulfill their duty as laid out in the Constitution. If these charges make it to trial, I think prosecutors will be able to make a very compelling argument that assembling a mob in anticipation of Pence’s official acts was designed to intimidate him corruptly.

But, if I’m right about the criminal penalties, with the Three Percenter conspiracy, the government is going one step further. This conspiracy is structured to hold each member of the conspiracy accountable for the threats of murder made by Hostetter, the threat posed by planning to be armed at the Capitol, as well as the violence of others in their networked conspiracy. And even for those who didn’t enter the Capitol but instead egged on violence from some rally stage or behind some bullhorn, this conspiracy seems to aspire to expose co-conspirators accountable to a twenty year sentence for their (unsuccessful) efforts to intimidate Mike Pence to renege on his duty.

Update: I should add that someone with no prior convictions who goes to trial and is found guilty would face closer to 7-9 years with a full threats of violence enhancement. It would not be the full 20 years.

Update: Thanks to harpie for helping me count to seven (I had the wrong total number originally).

Latex Gloves Hiding Evidence of Conspiracies: On the Unknown Adequacy of the January 6 Investigation

Since I’ve acquired new readers with my January 6 coverage and since the financial stress of COVID is abating for many, it seems like a good time to remind people this is not a hobby: it is my day job, and I’d be grateful if you support my work.

Update, 6/2: As this post lays out, Hodgkins’ plea was indeed just a garden variety plea. During the hearing he explained the latex gloves. He carries a First Aid kit around all the time and saw Joshua Black’s plastic bullet wound (though he didn’t know Black and didn’t name him in the hearing) and put gloves on in preparation to provide medical assistance. After Black declined his help, he took the latex gloves off.

On Wednesday, June 2, insurrectionist Paul Allard Hodgkins will plead guilty, becoming just the second of around 450 defendants to publicly plead guilty (particularly given the number of people involved, there may be — and I suspect there are — secret cooperation pleas we don’t know about).

NOTICE OF HEARING as to PAUL ALLARD HODGKINS: A Plea Agreement Hearing is set for 6/2/2021, at 11:00 AM, by video, before Judge Randolph D. Moss. The parties shall use the same link for connecting to the hearing.(kt)

This could be the first of what will be a sea of plea deals, people accepting some lesser prison time while avoiding trial by pleading out. But there’s one detail that suggests it could be more, that suggests Hodgkins might have knowledge that would be sufficiently valuable that the government would give him a cooperation deal, rather than just a plea to limit his prison time.

Hodgkins is one of the people who made it to the Senate floor and started rifling through papers there, which by itself has been a locus of recent investigative interest. But he is an utterly generic rioter, wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a Trump flag. According to an uncontested claim in his arrest affidavit, he told the FBI he traveled to the insurrection from Florida alone, by bus. Because the only challenge he made to his release conditions — to his curfew — was oral, and because the prosecutor in his case hasn’t publicly filed any notice of discovery (which would disclose other kinds of evidence against him), there’s nothing more in his docket to explain who he is or what else he did that day, if anything.

But one thing sticks out about him: before he started rifling through papers in the Senate, he put on latex gloves.

It’s not surprising he had gloves. During the pandemic, after all, latex gloves have been readily available, and I’ve wandered around with gloves in my jacket pocket for weeks. But he did show the operational security to put them on, when all around him people were just digging in either bare-handed or wearing the winter or work gloves they had on because it was a pretty cold day.

There’s just one other instance I know of where someone at the insurrection showed that kind of operational security (though there is one person identified by online researchers by the blue latex gloves he wore while playing a clear organizational role outside the Capitol). When one of the guys that Riley June Williams was with started to steal Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, Williams admonished him, “dude, put on gloves” and threw black gloves (which may or may not be latex) onto the table for him to use.

There’s no reason to believe there’s a tie (as it happens, Williams had a status hearing last week where her conditions were loosened so she can look for work). There is a cybersecurity prosecutor, Mona Sedky, who is common to both cases, which sometimes indicates a tie, but she is also on cases against defendants who have no imaginable tie to Williams. But Hodgkins exhibited the kind of operational security that, otherwise, only other people who seemed to be operating from some kind of plan exhibited.

My point is not that there’s a tie, but that we don’t know whether there’s something more interesting about Hodgkins, and we might not even learn whether there is on Wednesday, in significant part because if there is one, prosecutors may not want to share that information publicly.

And I think, particularly in the wake of Republicans’ successful filibuster of a January 6 Commission and discussions of whether there will be any real accountability, that’s a useful illustration about the limits of our ability to measure the efficacy of the investigation right now. Paul Hodgkins could be (and probably is) just some Trump supporter who hopped on a bus, or his latex gloves could be the fingerprint of a connection to more organized forces.

With that said, I’d like to talk about what we can say about the investigation so far, and where it might go.

Last week, when I read this problematic and in several areas factually erroneous attempt to describe the attack in military terms, I realized that readers new to my work may not understand what I do.

I cover a range of things, but when I cover a legal case, I cover the legal case as a means to understand what prosecutors are seeing. That’s different than describing the alleged crime itself; particularly given the flood of defendants, I’m not, for example, reading through scraped social media accounts from before the attack to understand what was planned in the semi-open in advance. But reading the filings closely is one way to understand where the criminal investigation might go and the chances it will be successfully prosecuted and if so how broadly the prosecution will reach.

I’m not a lawyer, though I’ve got a pretty decent understanding of the law, especially the national security crimes I’ve covered for 17 years. But my background in corporate documentation consulting and comparative literature (plus the fact that I don’t have an editor demanding a certain genre of writing) means I approach legal cases differently than most other journalists. For the purposes of this post, for example, my academic expertise in narrative theory makes me attuned to how prosecutors are withholding information and focalizing their approach to preserve investigative equities (or, at times, hide real flaws in their cases). Prosecutors are just a special kind of story-teller, and like novelists and directors they package up their stories for specific effects, though criminal law, the genre dictated by court filings, and prohibitions on making accusations outside of criminal charges impose constraints on how they tell their stories.

One of the tools prosecutors use, both in a legal sense and a story-telling one, is conspiracy. The problematic military analysis, linked above, totally misunderstood that part of my work (as have certain Russian denialists looking for a way to attack that doesn’t involve grappling with evidence): when I map out the conspiracies we’re seeing in January 6, I’m not talking about the overarching conspiracy that made it successful, how the entire event was planned. Rather, I’m observing where prosecutors have chosen to use that tool — by charging four separate conspiracies against Proud Boys that prosecutors are sloppily treating as one, and charging (as of yesterday) sixteen members of the Oath Keepers in a single conspiracy — and where they haven’t, yet — for a set of guys who played key roles in breaching the East door and the Senate chamber who armed themselves and traveled together. As that set of guys shows, prosecutors aren’t limited to using conspiracy with organized militias, and I expect we’ll begin to see some other conspiracies charged against other networks of insurrectionists. It’s virtually certain, for example, that we’ll see some conspiracies charged against activists who first organized together in local Trump protests; I expect we’ll see conspiracies charged against other pre-existing networks (like America First or QAnon or even anti-vaxers who used those pre-existing networks to pre-plan their role in the insurrection).

Conspiracies are useful tools for prosecutors for several purposes. For example, a conspiracy charge can change what you need to prove: that the conspiracy was entered into and steps taken, some criminal, to achieve the conspiracy, rather than the underlying crime. It can used to coerce cooperation from co-conspirators and enter evidence at trial in easier fashion. And it’s the best way to hold organizers accountable for the crimes they recruit others to commit.

If Trump, or even his flunkies, are going to be held accountable for January 6, it will almost certainly be through conspiracy charges built up backwards from the activities at the Capitol. I am agnostic on whether they will be, but it’s not as far a reach as some might think. This handy guide to conspiracy law that Elizabeth de la Vega laid out during the Mueller investigation provides a sense of why that is.

Conspiracy Law – Eight Things You Need to Know.

One: Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree to conspire & there doesn’t need to be a written agreement; in fact, they almost never explicitly agree to conspire & it would be nuts to have a written agreement!

Two: Conspiracies can have more than one object- i.e. conspiracy to defraud U.S. and to obstruct justice. The object is the goal. Members could have completely different reasons (motives) for wanting to achieve that goal.

Three: All co-conspirators have to agree on at least one object of the conspiracy.

Four: Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy, i.e., releasing stolen emails, collaborating on fraudulent social media ops, laundering campaign contributions.

Five: Co-conspirators don’t have to know precisely what the others are doing, and, in large conspiracies, they rarely do.

Six: Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he/she is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators.

Seven: Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator.

Eight: Overt Acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal. A POTUS’ public statement that “Russia is a hoax,” e.g., might not be illegal (or even make any sense), but it could be an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

We know that Trump and his flunkies shared the goal of the conspiracies that have already been charged: to prevent the certification of the vote. Trump (and some of his flunkies) played a key role in one of the manner and means charged in most of the conspiracies: To use social media to recruit as many people as possible to get to DC. Arguably, Mike Flynn played another role, in setting the expectation of insurrection.

What’s currently missing is proof (in court filings, as opposed to the public record) that people conspiring directly with Trump were also conspiring directly with those who stormed the Capitol. But we know the White House had contact with some of the conspirators. We know that organizers like Ali Alexander and Alex Jones likewise had ties to both conspirators and Trump’s flunkies (an Alex Jones producer has already been arrested). We know that Flynn had other ties to QAnon (which is why I’ll be interested if the government ever claims QAnon had some more focused direction with respect to January 6). Most of all, Roger Stone has abundant ties with people already charged in the militia conspiracies, and was at the same location as some of the Oath Keepers before they raced to the Capitol in golf carts to join the mob. If Trump or his flunkies are held accountable, I suspect it will go through conspiracies hatched in Florida, and the overlap right now between the Oath Keeper and Proud Boys conspiracies are in Floridians Kelly Meggs and Joe Biggs. But if they are held accountable, it will take time. It’s hard to remember given the daily flow of new defendants, but complex conspiracies don’t get charged in four months, and it will take some interim arrests and a number of cooperating witnesses to get to the top levels of the January 6 conspirators, if it ever happens.

This post, which is meant to be read in tandem with this one, assesses developments in the last week or so in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case.

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.

January 6: A Change of Pace

Although GWU’s tracker, which is still the best way to keep track of all the January 6 defendants (though this visual story from WaPo using their data is nifty) added four new January 6 defendants yesterday, the pace of new defendants has slowed considerably. While there are still some detention fights, several of those disputes (Proud Boys Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs, and disorganized conspirators Nate DeGrave and Ronnie Sandlin, as well as Neo-Nazi sympathizer Timothy Hale-Cusanelli — have moved to the DC Circuit.

We’re likely to have more bail revocation fights. The other day, for example, Landon Copeland — who made news for his meltdown during a magistrate judge’s hearing last week — was arrested for some still unidentified bail violation. The government has also moved to revoke Patrick Montgomery’s bail because he — a professional hunting guide — shot a mountain lion that he — a felon — cannot legally possess.

But there are a couple of developments this week that point to what’s going on with this investigation.

Delayed phone exploitation

In a hearing in the case against mother and son defendants Deborah and Salvador Sandoval, Deborah’s attorneys were anxious to move to trial based off an apparent misunderstanding that the evidence on her sole computer device, her smart phone, would show she barely entered the Capitol. Meanwhile, the government revealed that because Salvador chose not to share passwords to his multiple devices, those are taking a lot longer to exploit. As I’ve already noted, Ethan Nordean is the only Proud Boys leadership co-conspirator whose phone DOJ was able to exploit without cracking the password first (the FBI got the password from Nordean’s wife). Exploiting all these phones is going to take a lot of time.

In another case, there appear to be privileged communications on Eric Torrens’ phone, which will delay the exploitation of that for up to four weeks as a filter team reviews the content.

In other words, even before you consider any delay created by FBI’s need to respond to Signal’s Moxie Marlinspike’s exposure of vulnerabilities in Cellebrite’s code, it will take some time to process the vast volume of evidence the government has obtained since January 6.

The network analysis

The arrest of Brittiany Dillon gives a sense of another cause of delay.

Bryan Betancur was one of the first wave of January 6 defendants to be arrested, on January 17, after his parole officer alerted the FBI that he had lied about handing out Bibles to get permission to travel from Baltimore to DC that day. The government got a warrant for his phone on January 20. Once they got into his phone, they discovered text messages between Betancur and Dillon in which Dillon described falling in the door of the Capitol during the riot. The government found video of her — falling down as she entered — on surveillance videos by January 23. The government obtained phone and Google warrants to confirm that Dillon had been inside the Capitol the day of the riot. For some reason, the FBI only got around to interviewing Dillon’s father, ostensibly about Betancur, on April 21; the agent got Dillon’s father to confirm Dillon’s ID while they were talking.

This is similar to what happened with Patrick Montgomery, who like Betancur was arrested on January 17. Only after FBI exploited his phone and found some key pictures did they arrest a buddy he was with that day, Brady Knowlton, while pursuing two others.

These arrests of friends of early arrestees may reflect an FBI agent trying to get arrest numbers, but in a number of cases, they seem to reflect larger investigative strategies based on things investigators have found in the profiles of the original defendant. By my count there are about 18 cases of network arrests aside from the militia conspiracies, and about half of those look like they may be more interesting than friends getting scooped up together. I would expect to see more of this going forward.

Delayed arrests

The two month delay between the time DOJ identified active duty Marine, Major Christopher Warnagiris, as the person who played a key role in keeping the East door of the Capitol open after it was first breached on January 6 and when they arrested him on Wednesday is far more interesting.

As the arrest affidavit explains, FBI isolated Warnagiris as a suspect based on his conduct as shown in video, and then published a Be On the Lookout picture to figure out who he was. On March 16, a former co-worker IDed him, and on March 17, the FBI interviewed one of his current co-workers, who positively IDed Warnagiris.

And that’s it–that’s where the narrative in the affidavit, which was signed on Wednesday, ends. They get a BOLO-based tip on March 16, and get military witnesses to confirm his ID on March 17. And that’s all they’re telling us about who he is and what other evidence they have against him.

I’m sure that’s not all that has transpired since FBI discovered an active duty Major played a key role in keeping the East Capitol breach open.

All the while, someone who by dint of being an active duty service member has clearance, has (as far as we know) been going into Quantico every day for the almost two months since they IDed him. That’s … an interesting investigative decision.

Compare that narrative to the one told in the arrest affidavit of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, the Army reservist and Nazi-sympathizer who worked as a contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey. On January 12, an informant told the FBI that Hale-Cusanelli was at the riot, on January 14, the informant recorded a conversation in which Hale-Cusanelli admitted to pushing and shoving along with the rest of the mob. Hale-Cusanelli has been jailed since the very next day, January 15 (he is appealing his detention to the DC Circuit). Hale-Cusanelli has not been charged with assault and he is not known to have played such a key role in compromising the Capitol from a second side.

Now, for many defendants, I can see taking your time after the initial rush of arrests. After all, if they were going to delete their Facebook, that would have happened (and did happen, with a goodly number of defendants) by January 9. But Warnagiris seems like a more urgent risk.

And, remarkably, DOJ apparently did not ask for any special conditions on Warnagiris. He has no location monitoring, no restrictions on possessing a gun, no specificity to his travel around DC (most defendants have stay-away orders, but for people like Warnagiris who are local to DC, they’re sometimes restricted to their District). They did not ask him to surrender his passport. Now, perhaps something is also going on with him in the military. But the whole thing — on top of the inevitable shock of having an active duty officer arrested — raises more questions than other cases.

All of which is to say that, with a defendant who genuinely poses unique security risks, the government is now taking their time to flesh out their investigation.

I’ve said from the start that this investigation has been lightning quick. That’s still, absolutely, true. But there’s going to be a lot more happening behind closed doors in the weeks ahead.

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.