Proud Boy Henry Tarrio Sentenced to 22 Years for Role in Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy

For his role in leading a seditious conspiracy to stop the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021, the chairman of the Proud Boys Henry “Enrique” Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years in prison on Tuesday.

It is the stiffest sentence yet handed down to any Jan. 6 defendant and among any defendant charged and convicted with seditious conspiracy in relation to the insurrection. While the sentence fell under the 33 years federal prosecutors initially sought, it is also still higher than the sentence given to Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes received 18 years in May. Matching Rhodes for 18 years is Tarrio’s co-defendant and fellow seditious conspirator, Washington state Proud Boy Ethan Nordean.

Before learning his fate, Tarrio, 38, told the court he regretted his actions on Jan. 6 and that the trial “humbled” him. He apologized to the people of Washington, D.C., and to law enforcement for their suffering.

However, his track record of public and private comments that made it into evidence celebrating the violence of Jan. 6 and specifically, calling to “do it again” in the immediate aftermath, plus his months-long refusal to denounce violence as a means to an end, left U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly unconvinced that anything short of a significant sentence would deter Tarrio or copycats like him in the future.

Federal prosecutor Conor Mulroe urged Kelly on Tuesday to consider Tarrio’s seduction and manipulation of his co-defendants and the thousands of other Proud Boys he held sway over and how slick his “marketing” of the glorification of violence had been.

“Tarrio’s leadership was about violence and manipulation,” Mulroe said. “He demonized his perceived adversaries, glorified use of force, and distributed violent propaganda to thousands and thousands of followers. He elevated street fighting elements with so-called ‘rally boys’ [and] he practiced and endorsed the use of misinformation, plausible deniability, deceiving the public…[and] cultivating fear.”

Tarrio, Mulroe reminded the judge, had compared himself to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels for his use of these techniques.

On Jan. 6, Tarrio wasn’t at the Capitol. He was holed up instead at a hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, watching the Proud Boys attack Congress in their vainglorious attempt to ensure the certification was stopped. Tarrio wasn’t in the District of Columbia because he had been arrested just 48 hours earlier and ordered to stay out of Washington, D.C. The arrest was sparked by Tarrio’s theft and burning of a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church after the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally on Dec. 12, 2020. He also visited the White House that morning on what he said was a “public tour.”

When Tarrio arrived in D.C. on Jan. 4, he knew there was a warrant out for his arrest thanks to a tip he received from Metropolitan Police Officer Shane Lamond. At the time, Lamond oversaw the intelligence division at MPD. He and Tarrio had been in contact since at least 2019 and through the 6th, the men had shared at least 500 messages over text. Lamond was indicted this May on a single count of obstruction of justice—for the alleged obstruction of a probe into the burning of the BLM banner—and three counts of making a false statement. He has pleaded not guilty.

Excerpt from Shane Lamond indictment

Calculating that arrest meant he could inspire his followers and outrage them, prosecutors said. It would generate buzz. It would get a reaction. As Tarrio said on Jan. 4 to Joseph Biggs as he knew he would soon be arrested, “Whatever happens, make it a spectacle.”

The burning of the banner revealed much about who Tarrio was in total, Mulroe argued. Like everything else, Tarrio boasted of his exploits on social media and then marketed off it. At trial, jurors saw footage of dozens of Proud Boys who came to D.C. for the 6th sporting shirts that said: “Enrique Tarrio Did Nothing Wrong.”

“That is the visible manifestation of his influence,” Mulroe said.

When issuing his statement to the court, Tarrio went on a lengthy defense of his actions. He did not testify at trial and for the first time, he stood before the judge to offer his side of things. He believed the election was stolen from Trump in November and his outrage was justified at the time, he said.

Tarrio claimed he told confidantes that he started to doubt whether the election had really been stolen in late November but he was met with “insults and ridicule” so he carried on anyway.

“Even with all my doubts I persisted and attended another rally on Dec. 12,” he said.

And then the same thing occurred the next month when he was spooked by the large size of the Stop the Steal rally that December. He told Judge Kelly, though he admitted to “enjoying the spotlight” he was filled with “dread” after that event.

And yet, he said, he went on anyway and barreled toward Jan. 6.

“Watching the events at the Capitol unfold, I again, chose not to be the voice of reason,” he said.

Kelly would point out to Tarrio and his attorneys multiple times on Tuesday that a sticking point for him in sentencing was Tarrio’s commentary in public and private before, during, and after the 6th that chilled him. Tarrio told Proud Boys he was proud of them as they attacked the building. When a fellow Proud Boy asked Tarrio what to do next, Tarrio responded: “do it again.”

“I believe I made these statements to appease them, ” Tarrio said in a comment most uncharacteristic of the uncompromising alpha-male Proud Boys philosophy.

As for the terrorism enhancements around his sentence, Kelly explained that while they technically applied, he drew a distinction. He didn’t think Tarrio or his co-defendants had intent to kill or that they were engaged in the more typical terrorist conduct of blowing up a building or targeting U.S. troops.

“I am not a political zealot,” Tarrio said, adding that “inflicting harm or changing the outcome” was not his goal.

“Please show me mercy,” he added. “I ask you not to take my 40s from me.”

Nonetheless, the prosecutors argued that Proud Boys may not have strapped a bomb to their chests or signed up for training camps but they were “thrilled by the notion of traveling from city to city and beating their adversaries senseless in a street fight.”

The Proud Boys weren’t a “drop in the bucket” of violence on Jan. 6  Mulroe said.

They were the “tidal wave” that broke through the first barriers and it was Proud Boys who were in huge numbers in the first wave of rioters who streamed past police and into the Capitol. There were at least 200 Proud Boys present on the 6th, called in from all over by chapter leaders and urged on by Tarrio’s position as figurehead.

Before imposing the sentence, Kelly told him, it was “revolutionary zeal” that anchored the conspiracy and resulted in those 200 men getting “amped up for battle [and] encircling the Capitol.”

Members of Tarrio’s family, including his sister, mother, and fiancee, spoke on his behalf and pleaded with Kelly for mercy. The judge acknowledged the support the now-defunct leader had but in his own remarks, he showed no remorse for his crimes.

Telling him that his absence from the Capitol on the 6th actually did serve a strategic purpose for his lieutenants Nordean, Biggs and Rehl to rile up the crowd, Judge Kelly said it wasn’t lost on him that Tarrio even in his statement Tuesday, was trying to “insulate” himself and “distance” himself from what in fact unfolded that day.

“That’s useful to someone as smart as Mr. Tarrio and then, before the day was out, putting publicly on social media, ‘I’m proud of boys and my country’ and ‘don’t fucking leave,” Kelly said before repeating it. “Don’t fucking leave.”

Kelly said he couldn’t say for certain “how close” things came on Jan. 6 to the nation not actually completing its transfer of power but he maintained that what happened was serious and a “disgrace.”

“And I have Mr. Tarrio publicly putting out there, ‘don’t fucking leave’ and privately, to another confidante, ‘make no mistake, we did this,'” Kelly reiterated.

Then, seemingly aghast at Tarrio’s brazenness, the judge repeated each word methodically: “‘Make no mistake, we did this.”

The judge also noted how Tarrio put into yet another message that if “God didn’t put me there [at the Capitol on Jan. 6] for a reason, we would still be there.”

“I don’t have any indication that he is remorseful for the actual things he was convicted of which is seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct the election,” Kelly said.

After the sentencing was over, Tarrio walked out and threw up a peace or victory sign.

His attorneys told CNN after the hearing that they were “caught off guard.”

“That’s what the appellate process is for,” he said.

To take a look through my live feed of proceedings posted to Twitter, a link is available here

The Finding Out Part: Proud Boys Face Sentencing

NOTE: Emptywheel is again supporting Brandi Buchman’s coverage of the Proud Boys hearings live from the courthouse in Washington, D.C. Please consider making a donation to emptywheel as she continues her reporting through the final Proud Boys sentencing hearing for Henry “Enrique” Tarrio scheduled for Sept. 5. If you can and are able, you can also support Brandi’s work as a freelance journalist directly here.

From left to right: Proud Boys Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean, Henry Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Dominic Pezzola

Like moths to a flame, many of the Proud Boys sentenced to prison last week for their roles in the seditious conspiracy to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power on Jan. 6, 2021, appear unwilling or unable to disabuse themselves of the delusions that have led them to exactly where they are today: inside cells, donning jumpsuits or shackles and ordered kept away from the free world and their families for no less than a decade apiece.

Dominic Pezzola, a New York Proud Boy and former Marine who busted open a Senate wing window allowing some of the first rioters to stream inside the Capitol, and forcibly stole a riot shield from a police officer knocked to the ground who believed he would die at the hands of the mob, strode out of a federal courtroom last week shouting “Trump won!” as he pumped

his fist in the air.

Remarkably, less than an hour before receiving his 10-year sentence – the government wanted 20–, Pezzola had begged the court for mercy through tears and vowed he was done with politics.

Joseph Biggs, a former Marine now disgraced with the conviction of seditious conspiracy and a multitude of other felonies, called into a vigil held outside a jail heavily populated by Jan. 6 defendants in D.C. just a few days after he was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The government wanted 33.

“This is just insanity. There is no way in hell any of this stuff can stick. There’s no way you can give somebody terrorism for shaking a fence,” Biggs, a former contributor to Alex Jones’ far-right conspiracy theory peddling InfoWars, railed. “That’s the most insane fucking thing in the world. First, it starts with shaking a fence and what’s next? You shake a hand or accidentally bump into somebody and that’s terrorism… We gotta stand up and fight. And never give up. 17 years? They can kiss my ass. We’re still fighting all the way to the end.”

Biggs then asked the same lawmakers he terrorized nearly 1,000 days ago with a mob of Trump supporters at his back and roughly 200 Proud Boys in the crowd overall, to “get their heads out of their asses” and help free him.

But Trump didn’t win and Biggs wasn’t sentenced to 17 years for merely shaking a fence in the course of peaceful protected protest.

His efforts to bring that fence down, which was bolted inches deep into the steps leading to the Capitol, were done with force and with the implied intent to stop Congress from certifying the election. That forethought was bolstered by the intent and actions of his co-defendants, including Washington state Proud Boy chapter leader Ethan Nordean.

This was decided not just by a jury able to discern evidence clearly enough to evince distinctions between defendants and therefore reach acquittal on some counts, but it was also a point sustained by U.S District Judge Tim Kelly, a Trump appointee. He and the jury defined the Proud Boys’ efforts as an attempt to directly intimidate or coerce the United States government and its officers from doing their duty and initiating the democratic transfer of power.

For the foreseeable future, the Proud Boys and certainly Joe Biggs have appeared to pin all of their hopes for freedom on a pardon from a reelected Donald Trump in 2024. Notably, during an appearance with Alex Jones on InfoWars, Jones – who helped organize the Stop the Steal rally before the attack and who is currently waiting to learn whether $1.4 billion in damages he owes to victims of Sandy Hook will be discharged in bankruptcy – extended an open invitation to Biggs to return to his show.

Biggs gushed and Jones reassured the jailed insurrectionist he was merely a “patsy.” Perhaps in hopes of inspiring fundraising levels, he urged Biggs to “give me a 1776!!”

“1776 brother!” Biggs laughed.


At the E. Barret Prettyman courthouse last week, Pezzola, Biggs, Nordean, and their co-defendant, Philadelphia Proud Boy chapter leader Zachary Rehl, were each sentenced by Judge Kelly following their convictions by a jury trial that lasted four months. The only Proud Boy left for sentencing is the group’s leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio. He will be sentenced on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. The government seeks 33 years for him.

Prosecutors sought 20 years for Pezzola, he was given 10. They sought 33 years for Biggs, he was given 17. Nordean faced a 27-year recommended sentence but received just 18 years, matching Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes for the stiffest sentence yet handed down to any of the extremists charged and convicted of seditious conspiracy.

The Justice Department sought 30 years for Rehl, and Kelly sentenced him to 15, noting as he rendered his decision how the son and grandson of Pennsylvania police officers perjured himself blatantly on the stand more than a dozen times as he denied – despite clearly visible footage of him – pepper-spraying police who were battling to keep the Capitol under the control of the U.S. government.

Yet, it seems increasingly unlikely that the judge will venture into those high climbs and may instead deliver a sentence closer to what Nordean and Rhodes received.

Given their tenor at trial and their mostly self-serving apologies that comprised their remarks before learning their fates, it would also seem things are today not very much different than they were for the Proud Boys in the fall of 2020 or that first fateful week of 2021.

Their minds are heavy still with toxic propaganda. Their egos remain front and center and from their mouths, they continue to sputter drivel echoing a lie told by a man that, for whatever reason they appear unable to fully grasp even now, has helped pave the road to their ruin and continued suffering.



To his credit, before he was sentenced, Nordean at least correctly called Jan. 6 a “tragedy.” And he at least offered an apology “for my actions that day and to anyone who I directly or indirectly wronged,” he said.

But he also qualified those remarks and others. What he regretted the most, he told the court, was “not being a better leader” on Jan. 6, speaking nothing of all the times in the lead-up to the day that he failed to disavow fellow Proud Boys in private messages of their violent notions or how he actively recruited men to come with him to Washington.

In court, he said it took him time to “humble” himself and to “accept my situation,” as the trial unfolded, he told Judge Kelly.

“I thought of myself merely as an individual, removing blame and accountability for myself… [but] I had to face a sobering truth. I came to Jan. 6 as a leader; I came to keep people out of trouble and keep people safe,” he said.

Still deflecting responsibility, omitting discussion of how he vilified police and effectively couching his crimes in the language and context of a well-intended general who merely lost control of an unforeseeably mutinous troop, he nonetheless maintained that he tried to “deescalate.”

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shae Cooney testified at trial in February that it was Nordean who screamed at her, calling her a “pig” as he whipped people up into a frenzy and knocked over the metal fencing that allowed the mob to rush past her. She and other officers near her were beaten with “thin blue line” flags, pelted with frozen water bottles, knocked down and nearly trampled, and doused in chemical spray.

“I had ample opportunity and I did nothing. There is no excuse for what I did… adding myself to a chaotic and dangerous situation in the Capitol building was sorely irresponsible,” Nordean said Friday, his voice clear and even.

Unlike all of his co-defendants at sentencing so far, the Jan. 6 ground leader did not appear to cry.

Before he sentenced him, Kelly told Nordean that what disturbed him was not just Nordean’s actions before and on Jan. 6, but afterward, too. Nordean expressed regretting nothing and when there was talk among Proud Boys of going further, of possibly ramping up for another Jan. 6-style takeover in the days after the attack, he didn’t back down. Not before the inauguration. Not after.

In a text message on Jan. 12, 2021, Proud Boy Ethan Nordean defends his efforts “on the ground.” (Source: DOJ Trial exhibit)


In a text message from Jan. 20, 2021, Ethan Nordean discusses plans moving forward for Proud Boys in the “fragile time” after Jan. 6. (DOJ trial exhibit)


Proud Boy Ethan Nordean (aka Rufio Panman) text message from Jan. 27, 2021, discussing preparing the group for its next move. (DOJ trial exhibit)

Nordean’s attorney Nick Smith argued for leniency and at one point contended that while Jan. 6 was regrettable, the charge of seditious conspiracy didn’t fit because what the defendants did only really amounted to something in the category of a national embarrassment. The subsequent crimes that sprang forth should be deemed more humiliations to a branch of government and nothing more. Kelly entertained Smith briefly but was sharp on the singular point appearing lost on the defense: the Proud Boys’ actions culminated at a crucial, positively critical constitutional moment. Early last week, Kelly denied all requests for acquittal and retrial.

“If we don’t have the peaceful transfer of power in this country, then we don’t have anything,” Kelly said, his voice slightly exasperated.

The novelty of Smith’s arguments aside, Kelly fell back on what Nordean said and did. It was Nordean who suggested Proud Boys “fash the fuck out.” They understood too, he said, that Jan. 6 was “the day that was the last stop on the train to make sure their preferred candidate stayed in power.”

Calling for terrorism enhancements to apply to Nordean’s sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough underlined that Nordean was the figure all other Proud Boys turned to in the fray. Witnesses for the prosecution who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy testified to this. Evidence and testimony showed how he stepped in when Tarrio, the organization’s founder, could not. (Tarrio was arrested before the raid on the Capitol but watched from afar.)

Nordean marched side by side with Rehl, and Biggs, and it was Nordean, McCullough noted, who recruited and “seduced men like Dominic Pezzola [with the idea] that violence is the answer.”

Judge Kelly would apply a terrorism enhancement to some of the charges at sentencing. The judge said he did not believe the defendants intended to kill anyone on Jan. 6. He also remarked that he would “probably never sentence someone 15 years below the guideline in my entire career.” The recommended sentences, he added, seemed to “overstate” the crime.

When she delivered her victim impact statement ahead of sentencing, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shae Cooney broke down at the lectern. Through her sobs, she recalled how she lost a friend that day.

“Someone who I worked with for almost three years, I was standing right next to him when we started fighting and later that night he was gone,” Cooney said, referring to fallen Officer Brian Sicknick through choked-back tears. “Every day we have to be reminded he’s not here anymore because the people in this courtroom decided they weren’t happy with how an election went and their best idea was to break into the Capitol, fight police officers, and overturn an election.”

“We understand people were upset and angry. We tried to talk to them as best we could to show we understood they were angry and whatnot, and that this was not going to fix anything… it didn’t matter how much talking we did that day. There were too many people that just wanted to keep going and get through us as much as possible,” Cooney said.

So many people have taken their lives because of what happened to them on Jan. 6, she told the court.

Metropolitan Police Officer Jeffrey Smith killed himself after Jan. 6. Fellow Metro Police Department officers Gunther Hashida and Kyle DeFretag died by suicide. U.S. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also committed suicide four days after Jan. 6.

Officer Sicknick died after suffering multiple strokes following his confrontation with rioters.


At his sentencing, Biggs told the court that his “curiosity got the better of me” on Jan. 6. All of his violent rhetoric was just that – talk. It was a way for him to cope, he said.

Last week, when cuddling up to Judge Kelly and before he said the Justice Department could “kiss his ass” when speaking to supporters gathered at the D.C. jail, Biggs told the judge he respected the process and outcome though he freely admitted he would appeal.

“I don’t have any grudges toward any of you. I don’t hate the prosecutors. I prayed for all of you. I’m going to leave this situation a better person,” Biggs said, his speech rushed and his emotions high as he spoke.

He continued: “I had time to think about who I am and who I want to be with all my time in solitary confinement… I don’t want to be a person affiliated with any more groups unless it’s my daughter’s PTA.”

Biggs went on to claim that the assault of his daughter by someone he knew had twisted him up in the run-up to the insurrection. He also claimed that after Jan. 6, that was his “last time” with the Proud Boys and he had planned to tell everyone he was “done.”

Crying, Biggs pleaded: “I’m not a terrorist. I don’t hate people.”

But, Kelly told him, he did play a role leading people and riling others up against lawmakers and police. He was instrumental in the Proud Boys’ so-called “Ministry of Self Defense” and Biggs for weeks was key in leading operations for the channel that acted covertly to coordinate efforts for the 6th.

It was Biggs who wanted to find “real men” to “get radical” with and it was Biggs’ overt calls for violence and civil war that littered the group’s private and public correspondence. It was Biggs whom Tarrio turned to and whom Tarrio told members he relied on, along with Nordean, to make decisions. And when it finally came to it, it was Biggs, Kelly said, who helped yank down the fence and wave people inside with an intent to intimidate Congress.

Proud Boy Joe Biggs is seen gesturing to rioters below, indicating where a nearby opening is for those to come inside the Capitol. (DOJ trial exhibit)

Biggs was the only Proud Boy to breach the Capitol twice. He saw officers fighting for their lives and brushed past them at the Columbus doors. He took a selfie once inside and stole an American flag as he marauded through the building.

“You waved people in. You entered the Senate gallery and made comments afterward that justified and celebrated what happened,” Kelly said.

A terrorism enhancement would apply to the charge involving the metal fence, the judge was quick to distinguish, because its removal was integral to rioters advancing and getting inside the Capitol. But he was shy to label Biggs a terrorist in the general sense.

“It’s not my job to label people a terrorist and my sentence today won’t do that. There are sentencing guidelines here that talk about adjustments and departures for conduct and then lay it out and label it terrorism and my job is to apply this. You asked me not to label you a terrorist, that’s for other people to argue about,” Kelly said.

Prosecutors warned the judge in their sentencing memo: “A conviction for serious felonies, and the accompanying substantial prison sentence, might unfortunately only redouble Biggs’s commitment to embracing extreme measures to achieve his political aims. The Court must accordingly impose a sentence long enough to prevent Biggs from leading another violent conspiracy against the government while he is still motivated and equipped to do so.”

In court, McCullough told the judge the Proud Boys, especially with leaders like Biggs at the helm, brought the nation to the “edge of a constitutional crisis” because that was precisely what they set out to do. Buildings may not have been bombed, mass casualties may not have occurred, McCullough argued, but the Proud Boys created an atmosphere on Jan. 6 that has yet to dissipate.

People are afraid to go to polling places or inaugurations for fear of political violence, he said. (In fact, threats and harassment of poll workers are up according to a recent study by the Justice Department.)

The Proud Boys didn’t need weapons of mass destruction, McCullough said.

“It just takes slick propaganda in an environment where you can encourage people to basically say it’s you against them,” he said.

Before Biggs was carted out of the courtroom by a marshal, Kelly told the parties he would have imposed precisely the same sentence had the terrorism guideline not applied.

“I know this is not the outcome you wanted or the government either,” Kelly said. “But I wish you the best of luck in your relationship with your daughter moving forward. I’ll just say that. I think it’s an appropriate sentence but I do wish you the best of luck with your daughter.”


Of all the Proud Boys to face sentencing last week, it was Rehl who became the most undone after prosecutors laid out their request.

“Zachary Rehl deserves every day of the sentence the government has requested for him here [of 30 years],” Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said Thursday.

Rehl helped “raise an army” of Proud Boys who shared in his belief that the 2020 election was stolen and that the only means of recourse to stop the transfer of power was to put a halt to proceedings on Jan. 6, Kenerson said.

“What is particularly pernicious in this conspiracy is the glorification of violence… the willingness to brawl in support of their cause to achieve results they could not otherwise,” the prosecutor emphasized.

Rehl looked at “vigilante violence” as a means to an end and when he recruited members to the Proud Boys, it was the most violent footage of their ideological or political opponents being brutalized that he tapped. He endorsed violence as just one piece of the strategy to “take back the country” and had been doing so since as far back as 2019 when he first started to associate with the group, Kenerson said.

Though the son and grandson of police officers, Rehl nonetheless encouraged violence against law enforcement when he advanced on the Capitol and then used violence to break a standstill on the Capitol’s West Plaza by assaulting an officer with pepper spray, Kenerson said.

At trial, prosecutors destroyed Rehl’s testimony after a series of questions emerged about his whereabouts on the West Plaza as well as what codefendant he was or wasn’t in contact with as he breached the building.

An intense exchange under cross resulted in Rehl melting down spectacularly and stumbling through a series of denials – to a mind-boggling degree – over footage played in court that depicted a man who looked and dressed identical to Rehl down to every detail spraying an irritant right at an officer.

Kenerson, who unwound Rehl at trial like so much thread from a spool, recalled how the Proud Boy’s testimony was “combative, evasive, and incredible.”

And it was. At one point, Rehl asked a jury to believe that he and others who stormed the Capitol did so because they thought stages were erected on the plaza for them, like at a rock concert. He was even unwilling to concede to prosecutors that the black glasses on the man that appeared to be him were in fact black and not, as Kenerson pointedly asked him during a tense minutes-long volley, pink?

From left to right: DOJ trial exhibits show Proud Boy Zachary Rehl outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; taking a selfie inside a lawmaker’s office and spraying a chemical irritant at a police officer

Since the trial ended, Rehl continued to mock proceedings and not just that, but lie about them, Kenerson noted to Judge Kelly. That included when Rehl falsely told the Gateway Pundit in a post-trial interview that the trial was under a media blackout.

Last week, as he prepared to receive his sentence and read from his remarks, Rehl’s body was wracked by waves of tears, each of his words punctuated or paused by a sniff or a guttural clearing of his throat. He originally had a 10-page statement written out, he said, but on the advice of his counsel, Norm Pattis, he opted to focus “on what’s important in this room: my daughter and wife.”

Rehl told them he let them down and, that seeing them in court was difficult but the circumstances were his fault.

“A complete lapse in judgment cost me everything,” he sobbed.

Pattis lay a hand on Rehl’s back as his client lamented that his daughter would now lose his military benefits. He worried it may “still be a possibility” that he could lose more people in his life. He apologized to prosecutors for “blaming them” instead of himself for how things turned out.

Crying hard, he sputtered: “I am done peddling lies for people who do not care about me.”

He called Jan. 6 “despicable.”

“I did things I regret,” he said.

Like Nordean, Biggs, and Tarrio, Rehl was convicted of seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties, impeding officers during a civil disorder, and destruction of property.

In the weeks before Jan. 6, Rehl was involved with Tarrio’s brainchild, the group’s exclusive “Ministry of Self Defense.” After the attack on Congress, Rehl told members “We should have held the Capitol.” He said he was proud of what he accomplished yet frustrated more hadn’t been done. It was Rehl who called for firing squads for people who “stole” the election.

“‘Everyone should have showed up and taken the country back,’” Judge Kelly said in court on Thursday, reciting Rehl’s own words after the insurrection back to him.

“I mean my god!” Kelly exclaimed.

Rehl’s statements were “chilling,” he added.

Pattis urged the court to believe that Rehl was another casualty in the nation’s political discourse and had been swept up in the “crisis of legitimacy in this country.”

Rehl believed Trump when he said the election was stolen and fell for it “hook, line and sinker,” Pattis said.

The defense attorney has argued this point in court yet also wiles away his time on social media sharing things like Trump’s appearance with Tucker Carlson on Twitter late last month or suggesting Trump’s own looming trial dates are politically timed with the coming primaries and election.


But for the fact that he was acquitted of the topmost charge of seditious conspiracy and that he failed to play a significant leadership role among the Proud Boys, the 45-year-old Rochester, New York man might have received a sentence closer in line with his co-conspirators. Instead, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Pezzola has already told supporters he thinks he will be out in one.

The image of Pezzola busting open a Capitol window with a stolen police riot shield wielded above his head is one of the most memorable images of Jan. 6.

And Pezzola has always been out front, according to prosecutors.

Tarrio first put Pezzola out front on his social media a week before the insurrection as a “literal poster child” for their organization, McCullough said, stamping an image of a warrior-like Pezzola with the hashtag, #LordsofWar #J6. Pezzola didn’t have a huge social media footprint but would often reply to Tarrio’s posts online rapidly. He also made it to the cover of The Washington Post when attending a pro-Trump rally in November.

Pezzola had proven himself to the Proud Boys at a Stop the Steal rally in D.C. the following month and was taken into the fold in short order thanks to a vote of confidence from Jeremy Bertino, a Proud Boy who would plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in October 2022.

Once inside the Capitol, he celebrated with a victory smoke. And if there were questions over the depth of his involvement in the greater seditious conspiracy, the jury at least found this video damning enough of his involvement in the conspiracy to obstruct,

“I knew we could take this motherfucker over if we just tried hard enough,” Pezzola said in a selfie video he filmed inside the Capito less than 20 minutes after he powered through police, glass, and a crushing mob.

Kenerson told Kelly this was precisely the sort of violent political activity that Pezzola wanted to be a part of when he joined the group in 2020.

When he took the stand, Pezzola was arrogant and combative with prosecutors under cross-examination and offered half-apologies and concessions. He told them he took the riot shield from U.S. Capitol Police Officer Mark Ode out of fear for his own safety. He quibbled over whether he had pulled the shield away from Ode; he suggested at another point that Ode “lost” it in the scuffle. He blamed police for the violence of the day and he made himself out to be a defense and weapons expert.

At sentencing, Pezzola’s attorney Steven Metcalf sought to seek credit for his client’s “accepting of responsibility” for some of his crimes when he was on the stand.

But Kelly was not persuaded.

“And at the end of the day, even before we get to his testimony, well, he did take the stand and he did testify that there was no conspiracy. You’re entitled to that I suppose, but the jury convicted him of conspiracy. Not seditious conspiracy, but conspiracy. It makes it hard to waltz in and say, I should get acceptance of responsibility,” Kelly said. “I don’t think in his trial testimony he took responsibility for robbing or assaulting Officer Ode and he was convicted of those things as well.”

He credited Metcalf for the “creative” argument but rendered Pezzola’s “acceptance” as performative.

Addressing Pezzola, Kelly said: “You really were in some ways, the tip of the spear that allowed people to get into the Capitol.”

“You opened the Capitol like a can opener,” Kelly remarked.

Nonetheless, the judge departed downward on the sentence because he believed, as he did with the other defendants, that the terrorism enhancement overstated the Proud Boys’ conduct. They didn’t mean to cause massive loss of life, he said.

Speaking to the court before he was sentenced, with his mother, daughter, and wife crying behind him, Pezzola was emotional.

“I stand before you a changed and humble man,” he said before promptly ignoring what the court had ruled earlier. “But nonetheless a man who has always taken responsibility for his actions.”

He apologized to his wife for “magnifying” their personal life to the public. He apologized to his daughters for missing milestones. Mercy, he told the judge, would make or break his family. Pezzola’s wife, Lisa Magee, who was unable to speak a word without crying, told the judge she wasn’t making excuses for her husband but she noted, “As I said on the stand, he’s a fucking idiot.”

Her life had been turned upside down because of her husband, she said. Their children were ashamed to show their faces or reveal their names to strangers.

Pezzola’s 19-year-old daughter begged the judge to look at her father, extending her arm to and pointing in his direction across the court where he sat clutching a wad of tissue. Pezzola’s face was flush red, and he wiped tears away. He gave her a good life, she said. She never got in trouble and that was thanks to him, she said. His mother, sobbing through her statement, told the judge “I know my son” and called him “my hero.”

Before he sentenced Pezzola, Kelly repeated to him a speech he delivered to each of the defendants.

“The peaceful transfer of power is one of the most precious things we had as Americans. Notice I said had because our tradition of unbroken peaceful transfers of power – that string has now been broken. We can’t just snap our fingers and get it back.”

Pezzola had his eyes cast down on the table as Kelly spoke.

After he stood to accept his sentence but before he declared “Trump won!” and threw his fist in the air, a wry smile creeping across his face, he turned to his family in the pews to look at them. Whether he realizes it fully or not, it may have been one of the last times, in a very long time, that he sees them without bars or thick glass obstructing his view.

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola sentenced to 10 years in prison, Ethan Nordean gets 18

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, who U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly described Friday as the “tip of the spear” that first let rioters flood into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. As he exited the courtroom, Pezzola shouted: “Trump won!” and pumped his fist in the air.

The remark came after his wife, daughter and mother delivered tear-soaked, highly emotional pleas to the court for mercy and less than an hour after Pezzola told the court: “There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever.”

Pezzola faced trial for seditious conspiracy and a multitude of other charges connected to efforts with fellow Proud Boy co-defendants to forcibly stop the transfer of power. He was acquitted of the sedition charge but jurors that reviewed the case for a marathon four-month slog did find him guilty of conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding. Pezzola was also found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent members of Congress and federal law enforcement officers from discharging their duties, civil disorder, and destruction of government property.

For the forcible taking of a police riot shield off a U.S. Capitol Police officer Pezzola was also found guilty of assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers and robbery involving government property.

“You really were, in some ways, the tip of the spear that allowed people to end up getting into the Capitol,” Kelly said.

The 10-year sentence fell well under what prosecutors initially sought: 20 years. Guidelines only recommended 17.5 to 22 years. Kelly did apply the terrorism enhancement on his offenses, but felt that it didn’t apply to his conduct specifically and overstated it. Pezzola, the judge said, did not have intent to kill.

Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean — who was convicted of seditious conspiracy — was sentenced to 18 years in prison by Judge Kelly on Friday afternoon. That is the same length of sentence that was given to former Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Rhodes was also convicted of seditious conspiracy and several other charges.

When it was his time to make a statement, Nordean’s voice was clear and loud. He did not appear to be overcome by emotion. He started out by telling Judge Kelly that he believed only two points about Jan. 6 really needed to be understood to grasp the gravity of that day.

“We must conclude Jan. 6 was a complete and utter tragedy. How do we know this? It’s best to simplify this complex argument…All we need to show is two simple points: first, lots of people were seriously hurt and [next] some people lost their lives. We don’t necessarily need to know about all the destruction that was caused, [or about those] not following commands of law enforcement or those who assaulted police officers,” Nordean said.

“A lot of people went to [D.C. on] Jan. 6 with good intentions but passions accelerated and chaos ensued,” Nordean also sad Friday. “Even if we start out with good intentions, the end result is how we will be judged, as it should be.”

Of his largest regrets around Jan. 6, Nordean told the court it was his lack of “leadership” on Jan. 6.

“I came to Jan. 6 as a leader. I came to keep people out of trouble and keep people safe,” he said.

Later he added: “The truth is I did help lead a group of men back to the Capitol and I can see the government’s point: I had ample opportunity to de-escalate and I chose to do nothing… There’s no excuse for what I did…. adding myself to an already chaotic and dangerous situation in the Capitol building was sorely irresponsible.”

Pezzola and Nordean’s co-defendants Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl were sentenced Thursday. Both Biggs and Rehl were convicted on the seditious conspiracy charge; Biggs received 17 years and Rehl was sentenced to 15 years. After Judge Kelly fell ill earlier in the week, Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio’s sentencing was pushed to Sept. 5. Prosecutors seek 33 years for Tarrio.

If you want to read through the live-thread I’ve put together for emptywheel, check out the link here. An in-depth report encapsulating these historic sentences is coming. 

NOTE: Emptywheel is again supporting Brandi Buchman’s coverage of the Proud Boys hearings live from the courthouse. Please consider making a donation to emptywheel as she continues her reporting through the final Proud Boys sentencing hearing for Henry “Enrique” Tarrio scheduled for Sept. 5.

THE RINGLEADER’S LAST(?) CIRCUS: Observations from inside the Proud Boys Seditious Conspiracy Trial

There was an occasion when I sat inside the courtroom for the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial where I caught Proud Boys ringleader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio’s eye.

Most days, due to rules at the Prettyman courthouse prohibiting recording devices and electronics in the courtroom itself, I reported from the media room with the rest of the press where I could watch proceedings on a closed circuit feed as I tweeted them out in real-time. 

But a few times, so I could put eyes on the jury or the defendants, I would leave the windowless room to sit in the thick of it and take notes the old-fashioned way in court with my notebook balancing on my crossed knee.  

We didn’t look at each other for very long. 

Tarrio looked into my face and I into his. His eyes went slightly wide and searching for a moment as he, I suspect, worked out that I was press in short order. Not many reporters were covering the trial to begin with and it was very sparsely attended by the public so a new face was likely to stand out. And of course, I always come into a courtroom bearing a notebook and pen, so the dots, I presume, were pretty easy to connect. 

But the look on his face that day is something I’ve thought a lot about recently and in particular, since he and fellow Proud Boys Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, and Zachary Rehl were convicted of seditious conspiracy and a multitude of other charges for their roles in Jan. 6.

It was roughly midway through the four-month-long trial. The prosecution’s daily pace was stilted with defense objections on a near-constant basis. It seemed proceedings were getting terribly bogged down and I wondered how much of a witness’s testimony the jury could actually remember at the end of every day given the incessant interruptions and sidebars. Turns out they did just fine. 

At this point, Tarrio’s co-defendants Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola had not yet testified. It wasn’t clear at the time if they would. But it seemed nonetheless the defense was intent on putting up a fight every step of the way on grounds meritorious or not. With the defense willing to swing so big, I imagined, if I were a defendant in this trial, and swinging for the fences is pretty much all I’ve got, I’d suppose I would be happy to see my lawyers do it. 

And considering all of this, when his eyes met mine that first time, there wasn’t a trace of anxiety on Tarrio’s face. In fact, it was the easiness in it that struck me. There’s an assertiveness that shades a person’s face when they have experience dealing with “delicate” situations but this was not just the look of experience with tough times writ large on his face. 

There was pride. The look struck me as ego. It was confidence, baldly. I wished everyone paying attention to the trial could have seen his face in that moment so they could understand exactly what I mean. 

I’ve been racking my brain as to where and when I’ve seen this look specifically before and what it reminded me of. 

And then it came to me. 

Tarrio looked at me that day in the same way I had seen politicians look when I covered Congress: It is the look of a person who knows they are selling something or they really want to sell something and there’s a lot of pressure behind their eyes for me to buy it or believe it. 

Tarrio had nothing to say to the jury at trial, as is his right. And he decided that before Rehl or Pezzola would make their (ultimately tortured) appearances. But ahead of the jury’s deliberations, and without a federal prosecutor to face, Tarrio had plenty to say during a “Spaces” event held on Twitter and hosted by the right-wing Jan. 6 conspiracy theory peddling Gateway Pundit. 

In so many words, Tarrio defended his decision against testifying and it largely sounded like he was griping about the strength of the government’s case against him. More directly, he claimed prosecutors would misconstrue his words or bring out old statements unrelated to Jan. 6 to hurt him if he took the stand.

Before the verdict came down, Tarrio said he would respect the jury’s decision and that he felt he and his co-defendants were “in a good place.” 

And that’s the tricky thing with someone like Tarrio. If your public persona has largely revolved around attempting to manipulate the press for your benefit, what is said or done in the press sort of rings hollow once you know what his game is.

Now all things being fair, perhaps he really believes he’s innocent. Or perhaps he knows he is guilty in his bones. I ask, even if Tarrio himself stated these positions publicly, how does one trust him? 

Perhaps for his supplicants, friends, lovers, foot soldiers and the lawyers paid to serve him, it is easier.

But for the rest? For the rest of America that believes the jury rendered a fair verdict and found him guilty of orchestrating a seditious conspiracy—what basis do they have to trust a word Tarrio or his ilk utter about Jan. 6 ever again? 

He’s not playing to the American public at large. He knows his audience. But I write this piece offering a window into a person I observed for 60 days because I realize most Americans don’t know who Tarrio is at all. That seems imbalanced to me given the liberties Tarrio and his co-defendants attempted to forcibly take with their fellow American’s votes in a presidential election.

(I wish more people could have seen the trial in action but even I, who champion transparency, go back and forth on whether cameras in every courtroom would be truly beneficial or if it would turn every defendant into an aspiring reality-tv star.)

At trial, Tarrio was closely focused, regularly taking or passing notes, especially during witness testimony. He didn’t slouch moodily in his chair or seem out of sorts when tensions ran high between U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly and his co-defendants’ attorneys.

I watched him whisper to people at a crowded table populated by his co-defendants and their attorneys. The stakes so high, he was an ever-active party to his own case. 

Rehl sat to Tarrio’s left. Ethan Nordean to his right. They were nearly shoulder to shoulder. Joseph Biggs and Pezzola sat furthest away from Tarrio though along the same side of the table. Many defense attorneys were squeezed onto the opposite side or at the ends of the table though Tarrio’s attorneys often sat at another long one just adjacent to him. He was most talkative outside of the jury’s presence though their presence didn’t stop him, really. 

He was always “on” it seemed. I watched him exchange what looked like very friendly words with a young female paralegal sitting just across from him on occasion. I watched him pour her a glass of water and another time, I watched as he accepted a piece of gum or a mint she offered with her smile broad and eyes tender. He mouthed ‘thank you’ at her, grinning back as he did before passing another sticky note to a lawyer at the table. 

Tarrio’s confidence may have also come from knowing that he had at least one person watching in the pews from time to time who wrote for the Gateway Pundit. This individual once professed to me in the hallways of Prettyman that she was a “friend of the defendants.” She also said she respected how I covered the trial even if she disagreed with me politically. The truth is, she doesn’t know my politics beyond what she presumes of course, and more importantly and this may be a concept unfamiliar to some, but my politics don’t determine my reportage. The point wasn’t one I felt like making so I thanked her politely and went about my work. 

Meanwhile, I spent weeks watching Tarrio elicit more than one or two laughs or smiles from U.S. marshals when they would engage him in passing chit-chat on breaks or at the start of a trial day.

A real charmer that Tarrio fancies himself, I would think to myself as I watched him in court whether in person or from the media room. 

Tarrio’s smiles came easily in that courtroom. 

Though I welcome levity in its various forms, even yes, in a federal courtroom, his consistent lightness stood out in such stark contrast to the moment. To the grueling pace of the trial. For someone potentially facing 20 years in prison plus and squaring off with federal prosecutors that had been building a case again him for over a year, Tarrio exuded what seemed like an unfounded optimism in the eventual outcome. Online since the trial, he’s expressed his frustration of being kept in isolation in detention for 23 of 24 hours a day. He has lamented a weaponized Justice Department. It’s the same song jurors heard in the Oath Keepers case to some degree or another. It’s the core argument by J6ers to fundraise. 

Back on April 26, before jurors went into deliberations, Tarrio said: “I’m going to be dead honest: If you walked in the building, you know, I agree, maybe you should get hit with trespass. If you assaulted a police officer, fine, get hit with assault on a police officer. If you broke something, if you stole something, get charged that way…What we’re seeing here with a lot of these cases is they’re overcharging these cases, they want to give multiple years, decades, in some of these cases.”

But I ask, again, who can trust Tarrio’s assessment? The jury couldn’t. Not on the topmost charge anyway. Yet Tarrio said before the conviction, he got a fair trial. Yet later, another message that appears as “forwarded to the Proud Boys,” from Tarrio’s Telegram account stated: “The fight isn’t over. This is just the beginning.” 

On the day I looked into his face, that was the face of Henry “Make it a Spectacle” Tarrio. 

I think back to what his own lawyer Nayib Hassan, asked of one Proud Boy witness at trial, George Meza aka Ash Barkoziba. Did Meza understand Tarrio liked to “razzle-dazzle” people and the media? Did he understand Tarrio was more a “showboater” than a “showman?” Whatever difference between those two labels Hassan was trying to make was unclear and an objection to relevance on the question was sustained by Judge Kelly. Hassan left it alone. And I suppose for good reason—is Tarrio about spectacle or is Tarrio leadership? Does he, in fact, believe he is leading a (fascist) movement? An answer to either one of those questions in a courtroom could be damaging because it begs another: so, does Tarrio engage in criminal conduct because it’s fun and he is an agent of chaos or does he genuinely believe it is his imperative to “save” America, the rest of his fellow Americans views on that be damned. 

After the verdict dropped, Tarrio went on Telegram and shared a 2001 quote from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Drawing on Nelson Mandela for inspiration is understandable but let’s be clear: Tarrio is no Mandela. 

Where Mandela helped lead a nation out of apartheid at great personal sacrifice and imprisonment and helped create a multi-racial democracy, Tarrio, a jury of his peers has decided, conspired with a group of men to stop a democratic process by brute force. 

And Tarrio did that by overseeing a network of men who spoke of “fash[ing] out,” as they espoused bigoted and racist views that allowed their anger or bloodlust or some combination of both to remain at a constant simmer.  And unlike Mandela, who condemned prejudice and hatred, no evidence emerged at trial of Tarrio condemning violence or hatred. No, in fact, and instead, Tarrio’s lawyers worked overtime to keep out details that could have revealed Tarrio’s true colors, like when he burned a Black Lives Matter flag outside of a historic Black church in December 2020.

Mandela and Tarrio really only share one quality and it is in a very general sense. They were both leaders of other people in the typical understanding of the word. But that’s it. As a leader, Mandela pursued peace and equality for subjugated human beings. Tarrio pursued a narrow, deeply selfish vision of a country subjugated by views held by the Proud Boys and their supporters. 

After considering the overwhelming evidence and testimony of fellow Proud Boys both for and against the defense, the jury convicted Tarrio, Nordean, Rehl, and Biggs of seditious conspiracy as well as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and obstruction of an official proceeding. Only Pezzola, who wrestled a police riot shield away from an officer before using it to bash open a window and let rioters stream inside the Capitol, was deemed “too stupid,” by the jury to commit seditious conspiracy.

The charges start to lose some of their everyday meaning when you read them enough times in their cloying legalese. But stripped down, it is vital to understand the simple concept here. A jury found, save for one man of five, that the Proud Boys on Jan. 6, led by Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, decided their will should overtake the free will of millions of Americans who already cast their ballot against a candidate that Proud Boys preferred. 

At trial, jurors heard testimony and reviewed evidence showing how many Proud Boys believed the election was stolen. Many of them bought into the bogus lie that Trump and his sycophants in Congress and in the right-wing mediasphere repeated for months. 

And yet, it was never made perfectly clear: did Tarrio believe Trump’s Big Lie or was he too in on Trump’s grift? 

Proud Boys didn’t come to D.C. to merely protest, a jury has agreed. They came to DC to commit acts of violence against the U.S. government and law enforcement. Proud Boys intended to stop Congress from doing its work so they might have another shot, even though it was far too late, to install their loser of the 2020 election into the White House. 

Tarrio’s recent reference to Mandela reminds me of one of my own favorites: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Tarrio respected and enhanced no one’s freedom on Jan. 6, least of all and perhaps most ironically, his own.

When Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes was on trial for seditious conspiracy last year, he appeared on InfoWars and referenced Nelson Mandela too in the sort of self-aggrandizing way he did with much else when he—unlike Tarrio—testified at his own trial. 

On InfoWars Rhodes said, before jurors had deliberated: “You need to be willing to go to jail. I think Americans need to lose their fear of being indicted or put in prison. When you have a dictatorship you’re going to have dissidents. And if you’re going to have anybody standing up for freedom, some of you are going to go to jail and some of you are going to go to prison. But just like Nelson Mandela was willing to go to jail for life, he did 20 years, you have to be willing to do that. You have to be willing to take the hit if you’re a person who’s a freedom fighter and is standing up for rights. Because if you don’t, then what you become is a slave.” 

It was evocative of the end-all-be-all, good vs. evil talk that he invoked in his draft letters to Trump beseeching him to invoke the Insurrection Act, raise Oath Keepers to aid him, and if necessary, help overturn the 2020 election results since they both knew they were “fraudulent.” 

That both Tarrio and Rhodes cite Nelson Mandela would seem to speak volumes about how they internalize their conduct and their crimes. Or maybe just perhaps how they propagandize them.

In the past, I covered a trial involving an American terrorist sympathizer who provided material support to ISIS: Mohammed Khweis, the first American convicted by a U.S. jury of joining the Islamic State. 

I watched Khweis deny strongly supported allegations against him on direct and I watched him crumble under cross. I watched him lie on the witness stand when his family was watching from the pews, some unable to hold back tears. I watched him nearly burst into tears himself when it was clear prosecutors had him in a lie. I recall, outside of the jury’s presence, a defense attorney asking the presiding judge if it may be a good idea to pull his family member out of the courtroom so Khweis would answer more freely.

After his trial, Khweis was sentenced to 20 years for providing material support to terrorists and for a weapons charge. Last year, after a successful appeal, he had his sentence reduced to 14 years after the weapons charge was dropped.

In an interview in 2022, Khweis said: “It’s still mind-boggling to me that I made this terrible decision.” After watching him in court in 2017 absolutely beside himself with anxiety, here in 2023 I would wager a guess that he probably means that. 

To compare, Tarrio has expressed no such remorse to date. He’s offered a lot of thin excuses for his conduct, little real apology. Before jurors, his team painted him as a scapegoat for Donald Trump, blamed for Jan. 6  because Trump could not possibly be held to account. Before the jury began deliberating, Tarrio went on social media and called himself a “stepping stone” on a road that effectively ends with the death of the First Amendment. 

The racist, misogynist, virulent, anti-Semitic, and anti-democratic rhetoric (and actions) expressed by Proud Boys were always defended at trial as “locker room talk” or part and parcel of their rollicking discussions about “self-defense” against leftists, antifa, and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

It was just talk! It was always in good fun! How dare the government criminalize free speech!

This was, boiled down, the argument often delivered unsuccessfully at trial by Norm Pattis, a defense attorney for Joe Biggs. Pattis also represents Alex Jones. Maybe Pattis was at his wit’s end on the long side of a four-month trial or maybe it was an inside joke or maybe he did it to “taunt” the press he knows watches from the media room, but one day after returning from a break and before jurors had reentered chambers, Pattis took a moment to ham it up and perhaps unwittingly encapsulate just how unserious the defense thinks their clients conduct was on Jan. 6. I don’t know. But he leaned into a microphone and offered a short, guttural, “uhuru,” the Proud Boys mantra/chant invoked at their rallies, sometimes as a type of call and response. 

He chuckled as he took his seat.

Tarrio had called the violent language of the Proud Boys “simple fun” in his media spot late last month. He even teased Lawfare reporter Roger Parloff, who, like me, covered the trial gavel-to-gavel, when Parloff recently mentioned Tarrio’s suit choice. 

Ever the jokester, that Tarrio. A real laugh-riot. 

Whoever Tarrio is or isn’t, whoever he speaks for, or proposes to speak for, this most immediate chapter in his life is now written thanks to a jury of his peers who represent checks in a greater system that he sought to tear asunder. Now, he and his co-defendants face what could be very lengthy prison sentences.

Tarrio has said his “fight isn’t over.”

Neither is the Justice Department’s.


THE BIG FINISH: The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial goes to the jury

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

A jury that has listened to arguments and evidence for roughly four months in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial that unfolded mere blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, has now entered deliberations. 

The mere physical task of sorting through the evidence before them is significant all its own and it is only eclipsed by the burden to finally render a verdict that is just and reflective of the instructions they received at the conclusion of what has been the Justice Department’s longest Jan. 6 trial to date. 

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe took the podium for the final time this week in U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly’s courtroom, he faced the jury, his suit a dark blue and his tie a muted red, and harkened first to the words of the Proud Boys ringleader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio on Jan. 4, 2021:

“Whatever happens, Make it a spectacle.” 

Tarrio said this to his now co-defendant, Joseph Biggs, just before his arrest on the 4th. What followed was a sequence of events that led Tarrio to exactly where he found himself this week: listening to a federal prosecutor standing just a few feet away tell a jury of his peers that he was responsible for a conspiracy that nearly toppled democracy as they and America have only ever known it.

 The Proud Boys on trial include Tarrio, Biggs, chapter leaders Ethan Nordean and Zachary Rehl, and one of the group’s foot soldiers, Dominic Pezzola. They face no less than nine charges apiece for their alleged roles in the attack at the U.S. Capitol and their attempt to stop Congress from certifying an election that would ultimately end Donald Trump’s presidency after his popular and electoral defeat. 

Through evidence that included video footage and raft upon raft of the Proud Boys’ text messages as well as public social media posts scattered on Telegram or Parler as well as through the testimony of witnesses for and against the defense, the government weaved together the very crux of its historic case against the neofascist network. 

The defendants viewed themselves as “Donald Trump’s army,” Mulroe said. They were a self-stylized group of “radical” and “real men” who could and would be willing to strike down anyone or anything that opposed their vision of an America only Trump could lead. 

“They were hyper-focused on the election and what they viewed was the special role of the Proud Boys in a deadly serious conflict in American society,” Mulroe said. 

It was that “life or death” attitude among the Proud Boy defendants about the election and America’s future that finally reached its fever pitch on Jan. 6. It came to a head when they initiated the breaching of barricades and it spilled over when they assaulted or impeded police trying desperately to stop them. And it was no more clear, the prosecution argued, when those efforts coalesced into a disruption of Congress from its sacred and solemn business that lasted for several tense hours. 

At the close, the Justice Department showed jurors a montage of texts and posts where the defendants could be seen celebrating Trump’s “stand back and stand by” remark after the 2020 presidential debates. There were also other communications displayed where members appeared to agree it was time to stand up and fight against their perceived enemies—largely “antifa” at the start. 

When Biggs arrived in Washington on Jan. 5, he did so with the conviction that there was a “war of Americanism” underway and he believed it was “time for fucking war if they steal this shit,” Biggs once wrote.

Tarrio had offered up, “No Trump, no peace no quarter.” Nordean had proposed in texts to “fash the fuck out so we don’t have to worry about these problems anymore.” 

And when Biggs told fellow Proud Boys he believed “every lawmaker who breaks their own stupid laws should be dragged out of office and hung,” it was his now co-defendant Zachary Rehl who had also once called for something similar. 

Rehl wrote that he hoped there were “firing squads” for “the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.” 

And if the taste for violence needed to be made any clearer, Mulroe pointed the jury’s attention to Nordean’s commentary ahead of the insurrection: “Live free or die hard, Politics ain’t working for nobody, it’s time to fucking rage.” 

For prosecutors, this case isn’t about patriotism run amok or free speech on steroids. It wasn’t about loose talk among rough men that came to nothing. The government asked jurors as they rendered their verdict to consider information before them and see it for what it is: These were people who had spent weeks building animosity towards law enforcement. These were people who believed, as several witnesses testified at trial, that a “civil war” was imminent and these were people who would do whatever was necessary to keep their preferred leader in office. 

At trial, prosecutors argued that after pro-Trump rallies in Washington in November and December 2020  had turned violent with Proud Boys brawling with people they deemed “antifa” in the streets, the group’s members quickly lost all reverence or respect they once harbored for the police. 

Jurors reviewed evidence where Proud Boys blasted police as wrongly defending “antifa” after the clashes that fall and winter. And after one of their leaders, Jeremy Bertino—who has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy—was stabbed, the time to “back the blue” had ended.

Facing the jury on Tuesday, Mulroe recited a message Biggs had posted after Bertino was stabbed on Dec. 12. 

“We the people will treat your thin blue line like you do antifa. We’ll knock you to your senses… and bypass your unconstitutional asses,” Biggs said. 

Nordean sent messages saying he was “disgusted” with law enforcement and that they should encourage people to “back the yellow,” a reference to their group’s official colors of black and yellow. 

When Proud Boy and witness for the defense Fernando Alonso, admitted to calling police “coptifa” in court last month and said “maybe” Tarrio had once called them the same, he tried to backpedal, seeming altogether unwilling to say anything critical of the organization. Wearing Proud Boy colors in court, Alonso tried to qualify that Proud Boys don’t regard all police that way. 

Just the ones they believed were against them. 

These communications were evidence of an appetite for violence that led to the defendant’s intent and motive on the 6th. It was there as they marched toward the Capitol and Nordean used a megaphone to taunt police that “real men are here” and it was there when Nordean said  Proud Boys “represented the spirit of 1776” before warning police that day “they would remind those who have forgotten what their oath means.”

“Listen to the contempt in their voices,” Mulroe said as he played video footage of Proud Boys  marching group streaming past a small group of police scrambling to gear up. As they passed, men in the group screamed things like: “Pick a side,” “fucking scum,”  “honor your oath,” “treason,” and “traitors.”

The Proud Boys are alleged to have never intended to go to Trump’s speech as their main prerogative on the 6th. Instead, many of the Proud Boys waited for the proceedings to get started and “made a beeline for the barricades.” 

“The barriers were there to protect what was going on inside of that building… the proceeding was already underway when the first wave of rioters breached. Nordean, Biggs, Rehl, and Pezzola were all part of that first wave,” Mulroe said. 

The defense has insisted over the last 14 weeks that there was never a plan to storm the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the election. Not a written one or a spoken one. No testimony ever emerged at trial from witnesses called by either the government or the defense that stated an explicit plan was in place. 

The Proud Boys maintain they only went to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to protest, support Trump, protect Trump supporters, and have their voices heard. 

When Bertino testified on behalf of the government in February, he told the jury he never heard a point-by-point plan communicated. But, he said, there was an understanding and agreement that they would do whatever was necessary to keep Trump in power. 

He described to the jury that ahead of the 6th, Proud Boys believed when “something big” would happen, they could rely on the “normies,” or Trump supporters otherwise unaffiliated with the Proud Boys, to get behind them. Bertino once described the Proud Boys in texts as the “tip of the spear.” Another Proud Boy, a low-level member named Matthew Greene, also referred to Proud Boys this way when he testified on behalf of the government. Greene has pleaded guilty to two charges including conspiracy and obstruction of a proceeding. 

“We always led the way and they were always behind us, the normies,” Bertino testified in February. 

Proud Boys were “ready and willing for anything that was going to happen,” Greene testified in January. They were “essentially the tip of the spear.”  

The Justice Department argues that all that unfolded at the Capitol on the 6th was not just sanctioned by Tarrio but that Tarrio was responsible for bringing his co-conspirators together, even if he wasn’t on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6. Mulroe also reminded jurors how Tarrio had never told his men not to use violence to achieve their ends. 

He didn’t on Jan. 6, Mulroe highlighted.

Instead, Tarrio posted on Parler “don’t fucking leave” and “proud of my boys” and “1776.” In a private chat for members of the group’s secretive subdivision known as the Ministry of Self Defense, Tarrio wrote “proud of y’all” as the Proud Boys invaded the Capitol. And on the night of the 6th around 11:14 p.m., he posted an ominous-looking video of himself standing in front of the Capitol with the words “premonition” to caption it. He had shot the video the night before on Jan. 5 but waited to post it. 

The Ministry of Self Defense wasn’t a back channel for run-of-the-mill rally operations or marketing as the Proud Boys had argued. The Proud Boys themselves weren’t a fraternity of roughnecks or harmless edge lords. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s call this what it is. The Ministry of Self-Defense is a violent gang that came together to use force against its enemies,” Mulroe said. 

All of this was proof enough of Tarrio’s “explicit encouragement and direction.” 

This made up the defendant’s explicit agreement, he said. 

And if that wasn’t convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, Mulroe told the jury they should consider the sheer force the group used with its combined numbers enough to disrupt Congress. That too was an agreement, he argued. 

Pointing out how the defendants’ credibility had been shot through time and again, and perhaps most powerfully when Rehl and Pezzola mostly crumbled under cross-examination and delivered bitter, conspiracy-theory-laden testimony, Mulroe urged the jury to believe that the Proud Boys turned a peaceful process for more than 200 years into a “horrifying spectacle.” 

Just as Tarrio had commanded and several of his co-defendants agreed. 

“From the first breach to the last, these defendants joined together and that was an agreement. What that means, is even if you didn’t know about anything that had come before, even if you hadn’t seen the evidence of prior rallies, secret chats, Parler posts, MOSD, even if you pick things up on the afternoon, even if you only came to this at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 6, you still have decisive evidence of their shared action toward a mutual goal,” Mulroe said. 

During the defense’s closing arguments, Tarrio’s attorney Nayib Hassan picked up where Tarrio’s other attorney, Sabino Jauregui, had begun when the trial opened.

The Proud Boys were a “scapegoat” for Trump, he said. 

“It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on Jan. 6 in your beautiful and amazing city,” Hassan said. “It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique as a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power.”

Hassan hammered at the assertion that there was “no communicating of an understanding or of an objective” by Tarrio with anyone, or any of the defendants about stopping the transfer of power with force. 

Hassan argued that Tarrio never asked anyone to attack police, never broke a window, never crossed police lines. The government was trying to distract the jury from the reality of Proud Boys being violently attacked by antifa, he said. Bertino’s stabbing was the catalyst that led Tarrio to become consumed with plans for how to protect members when they attended rallies, rallies that were a protected expression of their rights. 

Bertino, who was once an intimate of Tarrio’s, and a high-ranking leader of the Proud Boys, was thrown under the bus by Hassan and other defense attorneys at close. It was a recurring theme as the trial wore on, too. 

In early April, the defense presented 46 text messages between Tarrio and Shane Lamond, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who had been on the force for more than two decades. He’s now under investigation by the FBI. Lamond has denied any wrongdoing. 

Tarrio’s attorneys argued Lamond and Tarrio had a symbiotic relationship where Tarrio would keep Lamond in the loop about Proud Boys activities with information flowing in a meaningful way. The existence of these communications on their face, according to Tarrio, proves there was no plan to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying the election on Jan. 6 because he was engaging with law enforcement, not evading them. 

But prosecutors said the messages didn’t show Tarrio was very helpful to Lamond at all, and rather, deceived him and used their relationship to keep tabs on police. When it came to the 6th, for example, Tarrio told Lamond in one of their few dozen exchanges that Proud Boys may come to D.C. for the 6th and if they did, it would be in “extremely small numbers.” 

Proud Boys would show up by the hundreds on the 6th. The only thing Tarrio told Lamond in that exchange that was true was that Proud Boys wouldn’t be wearing colors that day. 

Tarrio may be reprehensible to the jury, Hassan said, but he urged them to put personal feelings aside about the ugly things chats showed Tarrio saying. 

“Your deliberations in the next few days will impact the rest of his life,” Hassan said. “If you have an abiding position that the government did not prove its case, its your obligation to speak up.” 

Steven Metcalf, a defense attorney for Dominic Pezzola, pleaded with the jury during an impassioned plea for the Proud Boy.

Pezzola faces the same seditious conspiracy charge and conspiracy charges as his co-defendants plus a robbery charge for his alleged stealing of a police riot shield from an officer who was knocked to the ground by Pezzola. 

“You hate him or me, I ask you to put that aside,” Metcalf said. 

Jurors should put their politics aside, he argued, because “this case has mostly been about the government using Dominic’s politics against him so each of you hate him.” 

Pezzola’s second day of testimony, which came not long before closing arguments, was explosive and frequently combative. Pezzola told the jury, who had sat and listened to the case for roughly four months, that the proceedings were “corrupt” and the charges “fake.” Metcalf said he warned Pezzola to “shut up” and not testify but the Rochester, New York Proud Boy really wanted to tell the jury: he trespassed, broke a window, and got a shield. 

“But seditious conspiracy? Seditious conspiracy?!” Metcalf said, loudly, driving home his disbelief. 

The government had “over-inflated” the case against the Proud Boys, Metcalf said. 

Biggs’ defense attorney Norm Pattis closed out the case for his client with an often meandering, objection-drawing treatise heavy on the defense of the First Amendment and lighter on the defense of his client’s actual conduct. It was also rich in attacking the government’s broader case overall and at one point Pattis even compared the charges themselves to conspiracy theory. 

“They [the defendants] have been criminalized for being present at the scene in what I will assert is basically a conspiracy theory,” he said. 

But when he did pick at the charges more, he balked at the government’s position that “concerted action equals an agreement.”

“My left eye!” Pattis wailed. “I go to a ball game and I cheer and someone buys me a hot dog at that moment. At that moment, did we all agree to buy that hot dog?” 

During the government’s rebuttal delivered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore, the prosecutor boiled it down to something more accurate under the law. 

“It’s no wonder they want you to focus on a specific plan to breach the Capitol. But we don’t have to prove a plan. There’s no requirement of a detailed plan. They’re not charged with that. They are charged with conspiracy,” she said. 

And then she offered an example, free of legalese.

“If I pull up to a red light and I rev my engine and a guy in a Mustang next to me does it back and the light turns green and we both peel out, even if we never met each other, even if we never said a word, we both formed an agreement,” she said. 

The agreement doesn’t have to be notarized, she added, and there’s no requirement to prove formal or express agreement to every detail. The government only needs to prove that the defendants agreed to oppose the certification by force. 

It could happen at the last second. 

And though she didn’t reference it in the government’s rebuttal argument, jurors did hear testimony from Matthew Greene in January that he had an “abstract” feeling of what they were doing as they marched on the Capitol but he wasn’t sure. 

It wasn’t until he saw the first barricade go down that the light bulb clicked on. 

“Oh shit, this is it,” he said he recalled thinking. 

After their first day of deliberations Wednesday, there’s no word of a verdict. The jury will meet daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

ADDITION: On Wednesday, jurors passed a note to the court asking for exhibit numbers on two exhibits: one from Rehl’s phone where he’s filming the breach at the first barrier and another video where Biggs “suggests they pull their masks up.”

The Hot Seat: Two Proud Boys testifying at seditious conspiracy trial unravel on the witness stand

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

It was a risky move by Proud Boy defendants Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola to take the witness stand. So it is for any criminal defendant. A skilled prosecutor can unwind even the most robust witness without alerting their subject to it until it is too late. 

It took four months of hearing evidence in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial—which enters closing arguments on Monday—but this past week, jurors got it straight from the source when two of five Proud Boys on trial testified for once and all: Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola. 

Their respective testimonies were often combative, the tension frequently high. Each man started out confident and cocksure, but the more Justice Department prosecutors pushed Rehl and Pezzola around the edges of their testimony, the more the men relinquished whatever tight grip they had over themselves when testifying under the far more amenable gaze of their own attorneys. 

Both sides have now rested and on Friday, jury instructions were issued. All that is left are closing arguments. It will be those final words that the jurors will have ringing in their ears when the book finally closes on this trial. But no matter how sweeping or evocative those final arguments may be, some of the trial’s most potent moments,  for better or worse, will belong to the testimony of two Proud Boys who favored speaking instead of silence. 

ZACHARY REHL: “Not that I recall.”

Zachary Rehl was one of two Proud Boy defendants to take the witness stand, and when under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson, his tone was often sharp, his face taut and eyes hard as he grew impatient with a barrage of questions from the federal prosecutor. 

The 37-year-old man’s face, which looks much younger than his years, was more softly animated when he spoke to his own attorney Carmen Hernandez. With her, his testimony would spill out rapidly as he told a jury that has now heard evidence for four months: there was no conspiracy to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. There was no plan to stop proceedings nor impede law enforcement from doing their duty, he said again and again under oath. 

Police, he claimed, let protesters pass through barriers. He said he never saw any significant violence directed at law enforcement and didn’t realize there had been such conduct until later, though on the stand he conceded to witnessing “scuffles” between rioters and police. (He would distinguish “rioters” from “protesters” often.) But, again, he offered, there was no attempt by him to assault any officers while he was on Capitol grounds.

On this point, the son and grandson of a Philadelphia police officer was adamant and he would turn to face the jury as he said this, his eyes searching theirs to validate him.

But he didn’t turn to face the jury when Kenerson started walking Rehl through a sequence of video clips from the 6th, including those that his attorney tried and failed to keep out of evidence after they emerged following a weekend break in proceedings.

The prosecutor had Rehl identify himself in footage shot close-up and Rehl positively identified himself as wearing a black jacket, black goggles, a camouflage hat with orange writing, and a gaiter that appeared to have a chevron or some sort of triangular pattern on it.

When Kenerson asked Rehl if he recalled being by the giant media tower erected outside of the Capitol on Jan. 6 before entering the building, Rehl readily offered, he was  “around there.” 

But when asked if he could recognize a man in attire appearing identical to his at a slightly greater distance near this location, Rehl started to lock up. The man appeared to be wearing the same clothes Rehl had just identified as his own at closer range. And at this angle, appearing at a distance, the man appeared to be holding something dark in his hand. Rehl, with his brow furrowed, leaned into the monitor at the witness box and told the jury he couldn’t say what it was that the man was holding. 

Zooming in and out, the footage rolling back and forth, Kenerson pressed: Was this, in fact, his attire? Was this man Rehl? Was this his arm extended toward officers as he held something in his hand? 

“A lot of people wore the same clothes that day”, Rehl said. “I can’t confirm or deny that’s me.”

For several tense minutes, Rehl could not or would not confirm hardly anything presented to him including whether the color of clearly black sunglasses or goggles covering the man in question’s face in the sequence were in fact black. 

“Are they pink?” Kenerson asked incredulously, triggering a storm of objections from defense counsel.

Rehl’s demeanor became more irritated from that point forward and the gloves came off. He insisted the footage was “very blurry,”  although he would eventually concede as cross continued that the gaiter in question was “close” to the pattern of his own. The coat was similar too, but he wouldn’t say whether the more distinctive camouflage hat was his. Going around and around like this with Rehl, Kenerson eventually asked the Proud Boy outright if he assaulted any police before entering the Capitol with pepper spray.

“No,” Rehl said. 

Playing footage frame by frame that prosecutors said came from a bodyworn police camera, a man who prosecutors suggest is Rehl has a device in his hand. 

“I can’t tell but I would imagine it’s an OSMO,” Rehl said, referencing a small camera or recording device.

“Does a small recording device usually have streams coming out of them?” Kenerson asked.

Rehl said he couldn’t see a canister and could only see a hand. He conceded he could see “streaks” in the footage but not “spray” in the direction of police. He questioned the integrity of the evidence. The hand was holding something, he admitted, but if it was his hand, he said, it would be a camera. 

“Mr. Rehl, you’ve had overnight to think about it. You were spraying in the direction of police officers near the media tower on Jan. 6, 2021?” Kenerson asked. 

Rehl, who had been so emphatic of so much else in his testimony about Jan. 6, or about himself, or the Proud Boys as a whole, replied coolly: “Not that I recall.”

The prosecutor elicited from Rehl that after he left the area near the media tower, he was ultimately able to advance further onto the upper west plaza of the Capitol before going inside. Positioned high above, and as police were being overrun on both the west and east sides of the complex, he snapped a photo and narrated to Proud Boys in a text sent at 2:29 p.m: “civil war started.”

On redirect, he didn’t deny sending the message and instead claimed he was “basically mocking all the news we were hearing prior to the event,” he said.

He added that he was being “ironic.” 

“It’s all just a very peaceful scene, we were just standing around,” Rehl told his attorney.

Hernandez tried to steady the ship: “Is that your opinion today that everything that happened that day was irony?”

“Oh no no no,” Rehl said. 

When he went through his phone, after the fact, he said he realized what had happened. 

“It was a terrible day, a lot of bad stuff happened,” he said.

Nonetheless, he told the jury he was “proud of the turnout.” But on Jan. 7, as he started to “go through things and see what happened that day” he didn’t want to “associate” with it. 

And then with a remark that could cut both ways for a jury who had only just watched Rehl’s temper rise and flare, Rehl said: “Previously, I tried to have a good persona and that’s what I try to portray.” 

The scenes that unfolded around him as he got past police and pushed inside the complex didn’t strike him as unusual. 

“Nothing out of the ordinary for a protest?” Kenerson would ask him before ending Rehl’s cross-examination.

The prosecutor’s question was a direct quote from Rehl’s time on direct when described what he witnessed in Washington some 800 days ago now. 

“Nothing out of the ordinary for a protest,” Rehl repeated. 

“No further questions,” Kenerson said. 

Isaiah Giddings, (who Rehl testified came to D.C. with him and at least two other individuals, Brian Healion and Freedom Vy) said in his statement of offense to law enforcement that Rehl had asked other rioters on the 6th whether they had any “bear spray.” According to Giddings’s statement, Rehl never got it. 

In court, Rehl denied realizing he was in Senator Jeff Merkley’s office when he stopped in to have a smoke. But he admitted to lighting up and told the jury he regretted it. So many others were milling around smoking inside, he explained, he figured he would do the same. 

When asked on his last day on the stand, Rehl was able to identify his fellow Philly Proud Boy Giddings as one of the individuals in the lawmaker’s office with him. When Kenerson had asked him if he could remember what Giddings wore on the 6th, he couldn’t recall. When Hernandez played a video from inside Merkley’s office for the jury, he said he “thought Freedom and Brian might be there but I don’t see them.” 

“The door was already open when I got there,” he said. 

Rehl, perhaps still smarting from Kenerson’s cross, quipped that he didn’t think he “would be charged nine felonies” for smoking in the Capitol. 

When former West Virginia Proud Boy leader Jeff Finley testified, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore asked Finley if it was Rehl’s idea to go inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“We discussed it. I was part of that discussion,” Finley testified in March.

“My question is: did he ask you, ‘you wanna go in?’” Moore said. 

Finley shrugged his shoulders as he sat in the witness box, his face mostly emotionless, and said: “I guess.”

He said he understood at the time they entered the Capitol, police did not want them there. Rehl would deny having a clear understanding of this when he would finally testify weeks later. 

Finley also admitted that he stopped by Merkley’s office and took a selfie. He said he took it in the doorway of the lawmaker’s office. After the 6th, Finley began deleting photos and advised other Proud Boys to do the same. He told the jury it was because he feared doxxing by the left if their devices were captured. Like Rehl, Finley was often curt with prosecutors but unlike Rehl, far more forthcoming. And unlike Rehl, Finley had already pleaded guilty, copping to a misdemeanor charge for entering restricted grounds. He’s serving a 75-day prison sentence.

Jurors saw text messages too that Rehl, a former U.S. Marine, sent to his mother on the night of Jan. 6 when he told her how “fucking proud” he was of the “raid” on the U.S. Capitol.

 It had “set off a chain reaction of events throughout the country” he gushed. 

He sent his mother a message in December 2020 as well after things had turned bloody in D.C. following a pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally. 

Four Proud Boys had been stabbed and a woman, who Rehl told the jury he suspected was “antifa,” had been brandishing a knife on the street that night. 

Footage that circulated among the far right network on their private channels as well as on public ones on Parler and Telegram showed the woman being cracked over the head with a helmet before crumpling to the ground. Impressed and celebratory “oohs” and “ahs” emanated from Proud Boys surrounding the grim scene. 

Prosecutors argue this graphic footage was something that Rehl and Proud Boys used as a recruitment tool ahead of the 6th and that it was a point of pride for them to display their violent tendencies.

Records extracted from Rehl’s device after his arrest show he sent the video to his mother. 

He blanched at the suggestion from prosecutors that he shared the clip with his mother because he was proud of the violence and any Proud Boys’ handiwork in it.  

To the contrary, he testified, he didn’t want his mother to think Proud Boys were the aggressors. 

“I didn’t want my mom of all people thinking we’re just going around being freaking bullies to people in the street,” Rehl said in court last week. 

When squaring off with the Justice Department, however, Kenerson brought out a series of text messages from 2020 that he argued showed Rehl had long wanted to “fast track” members into the Proud Boys who were the bullying type. He wanted members who were “ready to crack skulls” and wanted recruits “physically ready” for rallies. 

Rehl disagreed with the interpretation. He was joking, he said, when he told a fellow Proud Boy in one message he wanted all of their guys “to be jacked. LOL” 

“I was looking for guys who could hold their own. Doesn’t mean looking for violence,” he told Kenerson sharply.  

Rehl called much of this talk “street language.” 

There was always some such euphemism Rehl had on hand to describe his communications. He defended the Proud Boys as no more than a fraternity that liked to drink hard, “talk shit” or “bluster” and dabble in political activism to have their “voices heard” when they felt the need or weren’t partying.   

That dabbling, he admitted, included trips where he and his chapter members traveled from their Pennsylvania homes to attend events where they wanted to make a presence, like in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or St. Louis, Missouri, or Fayetteville, North Carolina. Or Washington, D.C.

Texts in evidence between Rehl’s co-defendant Joe Biggs and Henry Tarrio dated Dec.19 offered jurors a look into where the Proud Boys seemed to stand at that time. It was Biggs who wrote that when it came to recruitment efforts, they needed to forgo finding “losers who wanna drink.”

“Let’s get radical and get real men,” Biggs told Tarrio on Dec. 19. 

In this same exchange, Tarrio replied: “The drinking stuff helps mask and recruit. Although some chapters don’t leave their bars and homes.”

“No one looks at us from our side and sees a drinking club,” Biggs responded later in the chain to Tarrio. “They see men who stand up and fight. We need to portray a more masculine vibe.” 

Biggs would buy his airline tickets to D.C. the next day, telling Tarrio he was booked from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7. 

Within 24 hours of that conversation between Biggs and Tarrio, the Ministry of Self-Defense was stood up. 

According to prosecutors, it was then that Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean, Charles Donohoe, and a slew of other Proud Boys like Aaron Wolkind and John Stewart—alleged “tools” of the conspiracy—were added to MOSD. Donohoe has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting an officer.

Jeremy Bertino, who has already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and testified against the defendants at trial, would come aboard a few days later on Dec. 23. As for Dominic Pezzola, prosecutors say the Rochester, New York Proud Boy, and former U.S. Marine wouldn’t join the conspiracy until Jan. 2, 2021, when he was officially added into the MOSD chat group. 

Sitting inside the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse just a few blocks from where he once stood shoulder to shoulder with rioters wildly overwhelming police, Rehl resisted the Justice Department’s allegations about MOSD’s real purpose and he tried to slap away suggestions that Proud Boys relied on violence as a key mechanism bonding their “western chauvinist” group.  

When prosecutors showed the jury evidence tied to an August 2020 rally organized against human sex trafficking and sexual assault in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Rehl grew particularly pointed. The rally was uneventful despite concerns that it would turn ugly when busloads of “antifa” would show up. (A rumor that circulated widely and never came to pass). Kenerson then showed texts suggesting Rehl’s history of being primed to take matters into his own hands when he saw fit. 

Pulling up messages extracted from Rehl’s devices, Kenerson asked him if he said he wanted to “fuck up antifa” at the North Carolina rally if they showed. Without missing a beat, Rehl said in court: “Actually, you know what, yes I did.” 

And, he added, he would have used “any can of mace I had” to stop anyone who would have stood in opposition to the people attending that rally that day. 

“You said you were going to beat them with a 12-inch dildo you picked up?” Kenerson asked. 

“Yes. Again, preparing for the worst,” Rehl said. 

Rehl said Proud Boys only ever “prepared for the worst.” 

Rehl said he wanted “the legal process to play out” on Jan.6 and his intentions were well-meaning. 

“I didn’t go in until I thought there wasn’t anyone in there,” he has said. “The Capitol was a public building. I thought it was fair game to go in.” 

On Jan. 7 in a Proud Boy chat entered into evidence dubbed “Philly PB E-Board,” Rehl lamented in the cold morning light: “Looking back, it sucked. We shoulda held the capital. After Trump conceding today, it all seemed like a waste.” 

Another Proud Boy, using the handle “Rod (Venezuela)” offered, “they should have let them finish the counting and when they didn’t accepted [sic] the challenges, rush in and set fire to that shit.” 

“Yup,” Rehl replied 24 minutes later. 

Rehl told Kenerson, “I see what you’re trying to do here,” and said his reply was to something else in the chat thread. 

In another message from Jan. 7, Rehl wrote on the “E-Board”: “The reason it feels like a waste is because all of these politicians getting scared and realizing they need to answer for this fraud, their [sic] all turning their back on Trump and cucking, they are doubling down on their actions. Everyone shoulda showed up armed and took the country back right away. And fuck you FBI yeah I’m mad.” 

Rehl testified on direct that he believed Trump’s “last stand” to change the election results had been in December. He said people had held out hope that Trump could “pull a rabbit out of his hat” on the 6th but he also testified that he knew better. 

Personally, he said, he didn’t think Trump could pull a rabbit from his hat. He vowed over and over in court that he wanted a legal, constitutional process to unfold. There was never a conspiracy among him or any other Proud Boy to stop those processes or obstruct Congress from taking the necessary steps in the nation’s transfer of presidential powers. 

“I said some fucked up shit the day afterward,” Rehl told Kenerson on April 17. 

“But you just testified, you were only [concerned] about voting and yet you concluded, ‘everyone shoulda showed up armed?’” Kenerson asked. 

“Shoulda, woulda coulda. As opposed to the legal way,” Rehl said. “We didn’t do it that way.”


DOMINIC PEZZOLA: “Corrupt trial… fake charges”

Things had started out strong for Dominic Pezzola when he first took the witness stand this past week. He didn’t look anything like the man in the video footage jurors had seen of him for several weeks, particularly as the trial first began and prosecutors shared evidence of things like Pezzola’s victory smoke inside of the U.S. Capitol after he bashed open a window and hoisted himself and other rioters inside. 

The former Marine—a battalion known for its “first in, last out” mentality—was one of the first rioters to get inside the Capitol. 

He faces a slew of charges alongside his co-defendants though he is unique in that he faces a robbery charge for his alleged taking of a police riot shield from U.S. Capitol Police officer Mark Ode. Ode testified at trial in February that his experience on Jan. 6 was “terrifying” as he scrambled to replenish officers who were being overwhelmed by rioters invading the building and grounds. 

Rioters were using “some type of chemical spray;” he testified and at one point “it looked like a [person was holding a] small fire extinguisher walking around spraying officers.” It took Ode more than 10 minutes to recover his vision after he was doused.

Under questions from prosecutor Nadia Moore on Feb. 7, Ode said when he was knocked to the ground it was because he was being pulled down as he clung to his shield with one hand before it was wrestled away from him. 

On the witness stand, in a suit and tie, and sometimes with dark-rimmed glasses framing his face, salt and pepper hair, and beard neatly cut, Pezzola started his testimony by communicating what sounded a lot like genuine remorse about what had happened.

“I’m ready to do this,” Pezzola told attorney Steven Metcalf on first day before the jury. “I’m taking the stand today to take responsibility for my actions on Jan. 6 and I’m also taking the stand to explain how these men that I’m indicted with should not be roped into my actions.” 

Willing to cast himself apart from his co-defendants, Pezzola first couched his testimony with a folksy, warm delivery. 

“There was no conspiracy, it never existed,” Pezzola said. 

It was “the craziest damn thing,” he testified. 

“So, I got caught up in the craziness. I trespassed at the first breach, second, I think there may have been a third, I basically trespassed all the breaches and during the scuffle and whole shield incident, I did grab onto the shield and pulled onto it for fear of my own life because deadly force was being used on us by police,” he said.

Pezzola would tell the jury that he acted out a flash of adrenaline that coursed through his body and made him feel as if he were on “autopilot.” 

When he grabbed the shield it happened in a “split second,” he said. Someone else had grabbed it from police, he claimed, and then he grabbed it. And then, he turned to the jury while he confidently declared: “And we’ll have the proof to show this.” 

The Rochester, New York Proud Boy said he was upset as he “watched mothers grabbing their children to get them out of the way to avoid flashbangs.” (The next day on the witness stand he would clarify, “children” meant teenagers.) Elderly protesters, he said, had their “eyes split open” and people had “faces full of pepper spray.” 

“I was upset,” Pezzola said. 

What fueled his outrage to the point that he began screaming at police, he testified, was an injury sustained by another man, rioter Joshua Matthew Black. Black, who is not a Proud Boy, was found guilty this January for entering and remaining on restricted grounds with a deadly weapon. Black was carrying a knife and made it all the way to the Senate floor despite taking a munition to the face shot at him by police who were repelling him, Pezzola, and thousands of others in the crowd. 

Notably, Black posted social media videos after the 6th saying that he joined the mob and crossed barriers to get inside the Capitol because he wanted to “plead the blood of Jesus over it.”   

Black also claimed that he was shot in the face while he was attempting to help a police officer who “was on the ground with boots coming down on him.” 

Pezzola said after Black was shot, he got in closer for a “bird’s eye view of the damage it had done to him.”

“I knew if it had been a few inches higher that shot would have been fatal,” he said.

On direct, Pezzola spent considerable time telling jurors he was in “disbelief” of how police treated “unarmed crowds just pushing against riot shields.”

Things were “dire,” for them he testified. Things were “deadly.” 

Pezzola never saw combat during his time in the military but he compared the use of less-than-lethal munitions by police on the 6th akin to being “underfire by a machine gun or something.”

The military had taught him to ignore his flight response, he said. He claimed “flash bangs” soared into the crowd at a rapid clip but he wasn’t going to turn around or walk away. He was going to “neutralize the danger,” he said. 

Whether or not tales of his perceived heroics in the face of bodily harm were convincing to jurors, there was a palpable missing link in his narrative. 

Pezzola expounded on direct about “rubber bullets” whizzing past his eyes, head, and face. Yet at no point over the months of evidence presented from either side, has any video or photographic evidence emerged showing Pezzola hoisting the police riot shield in a defensive posture over his head or face. On the stand he said he covered his head and remembered bullets hitting right by where his head would have been, but those flew by, he claimed, when he was on the ground in the scuffle. 

When Kenerson pressed him, Pezzola couldn’t recall the moment he might have used the shield to cover his head. It was a “fog of war type thing,” he said. It was a “vague recollection.”

Footage did, however, show Pezzola carrying the shield, ascending Capitol steps with the shield, and then using the shield to smash apart a window. He also found time to take a selfie with it. In other video footage presented in court, Pezzola can be heard replying “yeah” when a man asks him if he had stolen a police shield. 

Pezzola said he only said that to get the person asking questions “out of my hair.” 

Once he was atop the scaffolding, video evidence shows Pezzola screaming at police: “You better be fucking scared! Yeah, you better be fucking scared! We ain’t fucking stopping. Fuck you. You better decide what side you’re on motherfuckers. You think antifa is bad, just you wait.”

In court, Metcalf asked Pezzola: “Did you use that shield to damage any property?”

“I did. When I made it up to the terrace… I did break one pane of glass. One. Someone used a two-by-four… it’s been proven over and over it was less than $1,000,” Pezzola said. 

This is a point that he emphasized more than once as he testified, saying that each pane only cost $774. Further, according to Pezzola, a pane to the left of the one that he broke with the riot shield was already shattered by the two-by-four and therefore: “I struck a completely destroyed pane of glass with a shield,” Pezzola told AUSA Kenerson.

 “I wouldn’t consider it a pane anymore,” he said. 

When Kenerson asked him if he was saying he thought he did no damage, Pezzola smiled wryly at the attorney and told him he was just “twisting his words.”

Where he had been cool, calm, and seemingly collected on direct, Pezzola’s demeanor changed abruptly on cross. He grew more defensive and his tone more abrasive and angry. He smirked regularly or laughed under his breath at Kenerson’s questions.  

“Your goal of busting the window was to have someone to listen to you?” Kenerson asked. 

“Correct,” Pezzola said. 

They were there to express their First Amendment rights, he said. They were “trespassing,” he admitted, but this was the way to “have their voices heard.”

“And this was the way to get the government to listen to you?” Kenerson asked again, footage of him entering the Capitol still on the screen for jurors. 

“At this moment? Correct,” Pezzola said. 

Besides a claim of self defense from police he deemed overzealous, the Proud Boy and his attorney also played down the alleged robbery of the shield by playing up the fact that Pezzola gave the shield back to another police officer before leaving the building. Nonetheless, on cross, the 43-year-old Proud Boy said that was a “last-minute decision.” 

Pezzola met with Charles Donohoe after he got the shield and together, they and Proud Boy Matthew Greene of New York, who testified at trial and has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction already, moved toward a concrete wall. Donohoe would help him carry the shield for a time, Pezzola affirmed. Jurors also saw a text message Donohoe sent to Rehl and other Proud Boys on Telegram moments after Pezzola got the shield.

When describing his military service to the jury, Pezzola took pains to highlight his experience with antiarmor rockets and crowd control, but in fact, he was never a military police officer, and his very limited experience using flash bangs was restricted to his short stint in the Marines more than 20 years ago. When prosecutors asked him if he was aware that police used sting balls on Jan. 6, a device that delivers less damage than a flash bang, Pezzola refuted it. 

Whatever was used, they were used improperly, he said. 

When Kenerson asked Pezzola how he knew this to be true, he elicited that the only training the Proud Boy had received on crowd control was from a few handouts he received while serving in the military. 

He had no training on “sting balls” he conceded, but that didn’t stop him from offering his non-expert testimony on their deadliness. 

“You’ve never worked with police and you have never taken their protocols?” Kenerson asked. 

“No,” Pezzola replied. “But I know police brutality when I see it.” 

“So the standard you’re applying here is the Dominic Pezzola standard?” Kenerson said. 

“You don’t need to be trained to know that an explosive can kill you,” he said. 

Pezzola emphasized again how he was “afraid for his life” and then footage played in court of him hoisting the riot shield in the air—though not defensively over his head—while he chanted “USA! USA! USA!”

Underpinning the prosecution’s charges is its “tools theory,” which argues that Proud Boys activated their conspiracy to stop proceedings by relying on fellow Proud Boys and “normies” or average protesters alike, in large numbers to aid them, wittingly or not, on Jan. 6.

To that end, prosecutors showed Pezzola video from outside of the Capitol near the Peace Monument. Pezzola testified that he heard a “ruckus” near that area while he was near a line of food trucks. He went off to investigate. It just so happened that when he arrived, barriers were knocked over already, he said.

Kenerson pointed out in footage from the first breach near the Peace Monument that quite “fortuitously” Pezzola appeared at the breach with a Proud Boy from New York right behind him identified as “Hooks.” Hooks was grabbing onto Pezzola as they flowed past police. But Hooks wasn’t with him at the food trucks. 

It was a “contained area,” Pezzola said, adding that he was bound to run into somebody he knew.

When New York Proud Boy William Pepe was seen pulling down barricades in video footage and Kenerson started to ask about it, Pezzola deflected immediately to invoking a highly-favored conspiracy theory that it was rioter and former Oath Keeper Ray Epps who told him and others to breach the barriers and go inside the Capitol. 

Pezzola then suggested to jurors that Epps was a government informant. 

“Mr. Pezzola, you have absolutely no evidence that Ray Epps is a government informant, do you?” Kenerson said. 

“I’ve seen no evidence he isn’t,” Pezzola shot back. 

There was plenty of evidence of his fellow Proud Boys “bumping into” Pezzola on the 6th at critical times, however. 

Like when Pezzola was first approaching the scaffolding, he identified himself in a series of frames from this area and then identified fellow Proud Boys William Pepe, Art Lashone (who he came to D.C. with) and again, “Hooks” and other Proud Boys. After he left the Capitol, he would see Greene again at his hotel, he said, and another Proud Boy identified in court as “Ronie.” When someone asked whether “Ronie” had bear-sprayed a police officer, Pezzola couldn’t say whether he recalled the conversation. He also couldn’t remember what he thought or said when Jeremy Bertino messaged Proud Boys around this time either to tell them they “should have gone further.” 

Pezzola’s temper grew most hot when Kenerson grilled him about his reasons for joining the Proud Boys. Where a day before Pezzola had smiled sheepishly and even laughed as he remarked that at 43 years old, he may have been “too old” to be a Proud Boy when he joined, he was downright surly when Kenerson asked him about his convictions that a “civil war was imminent” in the weeks before Jan. 6. 

It was a fact that the “other side” was trying to destroy the nation, Pezzola said. 

He and his way of life were under daily attack, he said. 

In a letter found in his property after his arrest, Pezzola once wrote at length about his hopes and fears, and his anxieties of a takeover of America by “radical socialists” or communists. Prosecutors say the letter was one Pezzola intended to submit to the Proud Boys when applying to join the organization. This was sometimes a requirement for prospects to the organization in late 2020.  

“You wanted to stand first on line to protect those you love and what you stand for?” the prosecutor asked. 

Angry and defensive, Pezzola testified: “That’s correct and that’s in line with standing against this corrupt trial with your fake charges.” 

He called the trial “fake” at another point too when Kenerson brought up social media posts Pezzola had upvoted or liked, including those from Tarrio and others, like one from Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino who said if the government wanted to declare war on the American people, they could have it. 

Pezzola boiled over. 

“At this point, if I didn’t have a case, I would probably bring up things like this too,” he sniped. 

Kenerson nodded passively and brought up a photo of Pezzola on the ground appearing to wrestle a riot shield away from an officer. 

“So is this fake evidence to you?” he said. 

“I say you interpret it fakely… this is a phony trial because of the way you’re trying to push it off,” Pezzola said. 

Like Rehl, Pezzola denied there was any “plan” on Jan. 6. Maybe they planned to storm the liquor store, he said, but that was it. Otherwise, when he got to D.C. on the 5th, he had no idea what to expect. He wanted to hear Trump speak. On the morning of the 6th, Pezzola said at first he didn’t know who was in charge. It was a “mishmash” of people, he testified initially. Then he said he assumed his now co-defendant Ethan Nordean was in charge because he held a megaphone. Then he said when they started marching to the Capitol, he knew that whoever was in front was leading the group. Extensive video footage played for the jury has shown Nordean and Biggs and Rehl were always at the front of the marching group with Nordean and Biggs specifically commanding the marching group consisting of dozens of Proud Boys to stop or go.

With yet more of his machismo to display, Pezzola finally said Nordean was in charge of the group. 

But “not of me,” he said. 

He was in control of himself. 

At trial, prosecutors also worked to pick apart whatever credibility Pezzola may have lent to his testimony by bringing out details about his lies to the FBI in the early days following his arrest.

In March 2021, while he was incarcerated, Pezzola claimed that he witnessed—firsthand—his co-defendant Joe Biggs and another man, Ryan Samsel, speak to each other moments before the very first breach of the Capitol. Pezzola told the FBI he saw Biggs flash a gun—a 9MM Beretta—and then he said Biggs told Samsel he better “defend his manhood” by plowing past police to prove he wasn’t antifa.

In court, Pezzola testified that he lied about this episode to the FBI at least twice because he thought it would improve his conditions at the jail where he was being held before this trial began. Video footage from the 6th shows Samsel and Biggs speaking but it has not yet been made clear what Samsel said to Biggs in that moment or vice versa. Samsel goes on trial later this summer. 

Pezzola said Samsel was detained in the jail cell next to him initially, and told him this story. Right away Pezzola said he knew it was fake but he nonetheless saw the story as a one-way ticket out of solitary confinement or to receiving his medication he was cut off from or for better “soy free” food that he wasn’t allergic to. He was eventually moved. 

Pezzola also told the FBI that when he was at the Peace Circle, he saw a group of Proud Boys harassing a young boy wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt and that he saw Samsel defend the boy and that later, Pezzola even escorted the boy away from the scene. All of that was untrue, all of it a lie. But admitting that it was a lie specifically more than once or twice in court was a visible struggle for Pezzola.  He time and again met Kenerson’s questions about the veracity of his statements to the FBI with the retort: “I wasn’t there” instead of “that’s not true” or “I lied.”

Though Pezzola testified that he believed the lie about Biggs is what ultimately got him moved into better conditions, Kenerson pointed out how self-serving Pezzola had been. He only got a hand up by falsely incriminating Joe Biggs. 

Pezzola seemed offended by the suggestion. Where loyalty to the Proud Boys was often just under or at the surface of his testimony, and he proudly proclaimed that he had refused to cooperate with the DOJ or take a plea deal, two years ago Pezzola seemed to sing a different tune. 

His attorney at the time, Jonathan Zucker, appeared to express interest in a plea agreement for Pezzola, saying that the father of two teenage girls was “consumed with guilt” and wanted to “disavow and seek to sever any relationship and involvement in future activities of the Proud Boys or similar groups.” 


Finally: The first Proud Boy on trial for seditious conspiracy testifies

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

It took more than three months but this week at the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial, the first defendant to step forward and testify was the group’s Philadelphia chapter leader Zachary Rehl. 

Rehl took the stand over two days and emphatically denied that there was a plan to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election on Jan. 6, an argument that shouldn’t surprise any juror that has patiently heard evidence over these last 53 days. 

The violence that consumed the U.S. Capitol was never part of the objective— if there even was an objective Rehl would say, because, after all, there was no plan. He wasn’t in a position to direct what happened, he testified, and at the end of the day, he asked jurors to believe he was just a man who liked to protest and party afterward. 

Rehl has sat at the back of U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly’s courtroom now for months as the evidence in the case against him and his co-defendants Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, and Dominic Pezzola, has stacked up at a punishingly slow pace. 

When Rehl finally sat in the witness box, with a U.S. Marshal seated behind him barely visible to the jury, his speech was often muddled, his hands rarely still. 

The 37-year-old former U.S. Marine at times seemed overeager to get his side of the story out, occasionally speaking over his attorney, Carmen Hernandez as she conducted her direct examination.

After Donald Trump told them to stand back and stand by at the presidential debates—”let’s be real, the biggest platform in the world mentioned the Proud Boys,” Rehl testified on Tuesday—the influx of new recruits had exploded. This was one of the precursors to Henry Tarrio’s creation of the group’s exclusive Ministry of Self Defense, or MOSD, he said. 

At trial, the defense has worked to throw off the allegation that MOSD was a hub for Proud Boy leaders to coordinate a plot for Jan. 6.

Instead, they argue it was a division for chapter leaders to discuss their “marketing” and “operations” for rallies or other events they would attend, and moreover, to establish protocols for self-defense after the stabbing of North Carolina chapter leader Jeremy Bertino on the night of the “Stop the Steal” rally in December 2020. Bertino has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. 

Tarrio, Biggs, and Nordean, Rehl testified, led the MOSD “marketing team.”’ Rehl ran “operations” with fellow Proud Boy John Stewart, also known as Johnny Blackbeard. Stewart has pleaded guilty, Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui let slip in court in October 2022. The only other member of the operations team was a third man that Rehl said he could not recall the name of in court. 

The Seattle Times reported that the third member was Proud Boy Robert Fussell aka Rex Fergus from Washington State. Notably, a web archive shows Fussell’s Parler profile photo was once a selfie with Roger Stone, a key player in Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election results. There is no public record that Fussell has been charged with any crimes.

It was “clear as day,” Rehl told the jury this week that the Ministry was only about protecting Proud Boys and nothing further. Yet during proceedings this February, prosecutors showed jurors clips from a Dec. 30, 2020 video conference for the Ministry where Rehl, Tarrio, Nordean, Biggs, and other members discussed the 6th.

Conversation did involve concerns over how they would respond to potential threats from “antifa” or leftists at the looming event. But tucked into the roughly 90-minute meeting (which was one of only two pieces of evidence that Joseph Biggs entered before waiving his right to testify; the other was a mostly biographical stipulation heavy on his military service) were several moments where information about the 6th seemed to be gatekept.

In one segment, Tarrio tells someone who asked for details about Jan. 6 that it would be discussed in a separate chat later and on what would amount to a need-to-know basis for people who would “be on the ground.”

Some of the people who would end up on the ground were the men Rehl brought into MOSD himself including Isaiah Giddings, Brian Healion, and Freedom Vy. Rehl told the jury he agreed to bring a “10-man team” to D.C., and that this was an expectation set by Tarrio for other chapter leaders during the Dec. 30 MOSD meeting.

Prosecutors said this was a “fighting force.” Rehl’s attorney has recoiled at the suggestion during trial. Last month before bringing West Virginia Proud Boy Jeff Finley in for testimony on Rehl’s behalf, she argued unsuccessfully that Finley’s charging decision should be entered into evidence to deflect the government’s claims that Rehl brought a “fighting force” into the Capitol. 

Since Finley pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of entering restricted grounds, and Finley and Rehl had spent time together in and out of the Capitol, this, she argued, should go toward supporting Rehl’s claims of his own peaceful and lawful conduct on Jan. 6. 

On his own time before jurors, Rehl recounted how he drove to D.C. with Healion, Giddings, and Vy. They shared a room at the upscale Darcy hotel on the 5th, “protested” on the 6th, marched and, yes, he admitted, went inside the Capitol. On the stand, Rehl’s attorney didn’t spend much time at all asking Rehl to explain his time inside Senator Jeff Merkley’s office where Proud Boys and rioters congregated and at least one individual smoked marijuana. After he left the Capitol, he said he got drunk with his friends. And when it was all over on Jan. 7, he returned to Pennsylvania, drove his friends home, and spent the afternoon “hungover,” “stressed” and “hungry” he said. 

Rehl’s delivery on this sequence of events sounded confident as he moved through the details rapidly. When they left, the men had purchased beers, a 30-case for each, he said. 

But once off the stand, a source reached out to Empty Wheel to “clarify” that record: the beers were purchased on the way to Washington. So, in effect, it was a pre-game instead of a post-game celebration, a detail that in the grand scheme of the charges he faces wouldn’t seem to matter so much. The “clarification” however, did make Rehl’s testimony seem all the more rehearsed. 

Though Rehl, whose father was a policeman and his grandfather too before him, said he thought the violence of Jan. 6 was a “disgrace” and he testified that he did not and could not have impeded or assaulted officers nor would he condone those who did, a day after the attack on the Capitol, Rehl seemed nonetheless pleased with the role he ultimately played in the greater events of the day. 

“Bad ass pic in DC,” Rehl wrote in a text message sharing this photo on Jan. 7:

His reverential attitude toward law enforcement in court also breaks with what his one-ztime brother in black and yellow, Isaiah Giddings, told authorities about Rehl after Giddings pleaded  guilty to disorderly conduct. Rehl, like Tarrio, Nordean, Biggs, and hundreds of other Proud Boys by mid-December 2020, had turned on police, he said. 

Text messages and videos in evidence have indicated steady animosity from Proud Boys toward police in the run-up to the 6th. And on that morning, video footage shows Nordean, with Rehl and Biggs just nearby, repeatedly stoking fury and zeroing in on law enforcement and their treatment of the group’s head honcho.

“Enrique shows up and gets detained before he gets to D.C. and he’s charged with two felonies, multiple felonies for what?” Nordean shouted through a megaphone to a group gathered around him on Jan. 6. 

Tarrio was arrested in D.C. on Jan. 4 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner that he stole from a historic Black church on Dec. 12. When arrested, he was also charged with possessing two high-capacity firearm magazines. Jurors have seen dozens of text messages where Tarrio’s arrest appeared to throw the defendants and other members, including Rehl, into a tailspin as they worried about whether Tarrio had the wherewithal to delete Proud Boy communications from his phone. 

Later, when Proud Boys in a large marching group passed police on the street who were gearing up, one Proud Boy, Chris Worrell, was heard yelling at officers to “pick a side” and to “honor your oath.” Worrell allegedly attacked police at the Capitol with pepper spray. He’s pleaded not guilty and waived his right to a trial by jury. 

As for Rehl, he wasn’t seen or heard attempting to dissuade Worrell, if he heard him at all, and he wasn’t seen or heard ever attempting to dissuade any Proud Boys from their ugly and often violent rhetoric in their chats. 

When Hernandez asked Rehl about this in court, his tone was particularly pointed and he tapped the desk before him with a single finger to punctuate his words. If he didn’t say anything to someone it didn’t mean anything. He wasn’t there to police the chats, he said. 

“I’m my own person,” the Proud Boy chapter president said. 

Their members were “grown ass men,” he added.

When Hernandez asked him what that meant, he offered testimony that would seem almost too perfect for prosecutors to pass up once they get Rehl under cross-examination next week. 

“It’s someone who takes responsibility for their own actions, conduct, and statements. If a man goes into a chat and says something stupid, that’s on him. Unless a guy is in a chat sitting there and saying he’s going to go attack someone, if he’s got plans—well, it’s just probably bluster anyway.”

Rehl hung a lot of his testimony’s weight on blustering. But prosecutors argue it wasn’t just empty talk but proof of motive and intent. 

That would include a Jan. 7 text stream found in the new MOSD channel that was set up after the old MOSD chat was nuked following Tarrio’s arrest. 

In a stream of those messages shown to jurors this week, one Proud Boy, “E-Geezy” urged members to “have faith… we did our part yesterday.” Another Proud Boy “Joshua Maxstud” responded but his message is missing, something that digital forensic experts have testified indicates they were deleted. 

Rehl replied after the blank text: “I find this hard to believe now. I’m proud as fuck of what we accomplished yesterday. But we need to start planning we are starting planning for a Biden presidency.” 

Rehl told jurors when he said he was proud he was referring to the protest on Jan. 6 generally speaking. 

“What I saw was huge crowds of people waving flags protesting and I was proud to be part of something like that. Like I said, it was a historical moment,” he said. 

And as for his remarks about “planning” for a Biden presidency, Rehl said it was about telling people to “stop with the conspiracies” of a stolen election. 

Just a few weeks before, Rehl seemed more than happy to endorse those conspiracies. And to the point of bloodshed. 

In a Nov. 16 text message, Tarrio voiced his concerns that if Biden “stole” the election, Proud Boys would be “political prisoners.” Nordean, in a text the next day, said the “Spirit of 1776 has resurfaced… good luck to all the traitors…you’re gonna need it.” 

Rehl replied: “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors trying to steal this election from the American people.” 

Rehl told the jury he never intended to go inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 but when he finally decided on it, he testified that he had no idea anyone was inside but Capitol Police officers. At one point he said he thought lawmakers had left and Pence had been evacuated. 

At another point, he told the jury: “Well there was a proceeding going inside, I didn’t want to affect anything going on inside. I wanted the legal process to play… this is the process our country was founded on. That’s what was playing out on Jan. 6 and I had no intention to go into that building if members of Congress were going to be in that building and I didn’t go in there until after I knew they weren’t going to be in there,” he said. 

Police officers weren’t barring any door to his entry when he got inside either, he claimed. 

“At the time, they seemed welcoming to people coming in at that time [sic],” Rehl said. 

The scenes were reminiscent of a crowded “baseball game” or a “concert” with so many people crowded into a single area and heading in a single direction. 

He told the jury it was other Trump supporters who were “rowdy” instigators that knocked over barriers and plowed through police lines. It wasn’t him or the Proud Boys.

“I seen some people shaking some gates over there. Honestly, when that was going down, I knew of protests going on at Capitol grounds. I thought people were trying to get there earlier, some of the protests were being advertised to go on at 1 p.m. It was 12:53… when we collided with that crowd of people, that crowd was really rowdy and when they started shaking the gate, I heard it and I went over there to investigate the scene and see what’s going on,” Rehl said.  “The people shaking barriers must have been just trying to get to a stage, he said. 

“You’re giving me this look,” he then remarked to his attorney, “But it’s the honest God’s truth.”

At 2:49 p.m. on Jan. 6, as some of the worst violence exploded inside the Capitol, records show Rehl sent a text to Proud Boys: “They just broke all the doors and windows open. People pouring in.” 

On his first day testifying, Rehl told the jury he didn’t see any violence toward anyone. He told the jury he didn’t see any Proud Boy engaged in any violence.

“I didn’t think anyone had done anything at all,” he said. 

That included his co-defendant Dominic Pezzola, the New York Proud Boy and member of the Ministry of Self Defense who was seen in video footage bashing open a window with a police riot shield he allegedly stole from an officer during an intense scuffle. Prosecutors allege Pezzola’s actions allowed rioters to stream inside the Capitol, ultimately setting off the first major breach of the day. 

On his second day of testimony, Rehl left Pezzola to swing in the wind. 

“He went off on his own,” Rehl said. 

Pezzola, also a former Marine, had discredited MOSD with his actions.

This was what MOSD was “supposed to prevent,” he testified.

“I guess it made us all look bad,” he added. 

This January, when Proud Boy Matthew Greene testified on behalf of the government, he said he and Pezzola were “openly expecting a civil war” and that this was the commonly held belief among the group. 

Rehl wasn’t standing very far from where Pezzola allegedly stole the riot shield from police in a bitter tug-of-war but Rehl testified he couldn’t see anything. Video footage shows Rehl facing in the overall direction of the episode with Pezzola and he can be seen his hands up, gripping a cell phone as he films. Rehl said he couldn’t see anything too far ahead of him in the crowd. 

Rehl denied as well that it was his voice captured by his phone in a video he shot where a man’s voice is heard screaming “fuck them, storm the Capitol!” before an initial breach of police barriers around 10:17 a.m. 

At trial, his wife Amanda testified that she didn’t recognize the voice as Rehl’s. Through a rushed and rambling explanation in court, Rehl said the voice wasn’t his but was from a man just nearby. Prosecutors have tried to draw comparisons for the jury by sharing that footage and another video where Rehl is heard clearly exclaiming that he thinks he can see Trump’s motorcade in the road before he and other Proud Boys finally make it to the Capitol.

Separately, in yet more footage, Rehl can be seen and heard perfectly clearly urging Proud Boys that members of the press or media should be shooed off as they first gather at the Washington Monument on the morning of the 6th. 

He told the jury he didn’t want the press around because he feared being doxxed. Ironically the footage of Rehl saying this is shot by Proud Boy videographer Eddie Block who was live-streaming. 

The defense has argued often that a conspiracy wouldn’t be filmed and conspirators wouldn’t ask media of any kind to follow them or document their activities. 

Jan. 6 was essentially a “photo op,” Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui has argued.

 Other witnesses for the defense have called it a “meet-and-greet” and that’s what Rehl has chalked it up to as well. 

And yet when Block is filming the Proud Boys on multiple occasions on Jan. 6, trying to capture every moment he can while asking for “likes” and “subscribes” on the live stream, he can be heard remarking at various points that he should give Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and others like Charles Donohoe, space or privacy when they would stop along the route to the Capitol and huddle only with each other. 

Donohoe has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding as well as assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers. 

Further potentially hampering Rehl’s credibility, text messages extracted from the defendants’ phones show Rehl telling members of MOSD they have to delete their messages person by person after Tarrio was arrested just before the insurrection. 

Donohoe, who originally gave the instruction about deleting messages to MOSD members after Tarrio’s arrest, replied to Rehl: “Well at least they won’t get our boots on ground plans because we are one step ahead of them.”

In that same vein, Rehl’s co-defendant Joe Biggs on Jan. 5 told members in the newly stood-up MOSD chat he had just talked to Tarrio and “we just had a meeting woth [sic] a lot of guys. Info should be coming out.”

“We have a plan. I’m with Rufio,” Biggs wrote, using Nordean’s handle in their chat, Rufio Panman. 

“What’s the plan so I can pass it to the MOSD guys?” Donohoe asked. 

“I gave Enrique a plan. The one I told the guys and he said he has one,” Biggs replied. 

Outside of the presence of jurors this week, Rehl’s attorney let her anxiety about the Justice Department’s impending cross air out. 

They would “savage” her client once given the chance, she told Judge Kelly. 

It was expected that Rehl would finish his testimony early this week and that prosecutors would be crossed by Wednesday with defendant Dominic Pezzola in the wings to testify right afterward. A scheduling issue with a juror abbreviated the week precluding the jury from sitting on Thursday and Friday. 

Perhaps milking an opportunity to let jurors sit with her client’s testimony over a long break or perhaps trying to avoid the inevitable cross of her client, Hernandez spent the bulk of her direct examination of Rehl asking questions at a grindingly slow pace on Wednesday afternoon. Oftentimes, she would flip through her notes at the podium as the court sat in silence for a minute or two at a time. For at least a half hour, she went down the list, charge by charge, even breaking the sentences apart to elicit a yes or no answer from Rehl. 

“Did you aid and abet anyone with throwing a watter bottle at a law enforcement officer?” Hernandez asked. 

“No,” Rehl testified. 

“Did you aid anyone with throwing a water bottle at a law enforcement officer?” she asked.

“No,” Rehl testified. 

“Did you abet anyone with throwing a water bottle at a law enforcement officer?” she asked. 

“No,” Rehl testified. 

It went on and on like this. 

Jurors in this trial have already been subjected to long and near-daily delays due usually to internecine fights over evidence sparked by the defense (with a lot of the issues already litigated pre-trial). Adding to this, late last month CNN reported that several jurors had been approached by members of the public outside of the courthouse. One juror said she felt she was being followed. 

On Thursday, while the jury was out, a hearing that was meant to be sealed from the public and press was not, and in the process, reporters who had gathered in the media room briefly heard proceedings. CNN reported it was during this time that they learned Judge Kelly would deny a motion for mistrial from all of the defendants sparked by the episode with the jury. 

The defense suggested since the jurors had talked to each other about the confrontations, they couldn’t be impartial. Kelly disagreed. 

Next week, Pezzola is on course to testify. 

Though things came yet again to a grinding halt this week, the parties and judge generally seem optimistic that they could finally get into closing arguments within the next week to week and a half. And then it will be left to the jury to deliberate.


CORRECTION: The initial report stated that Finley cooperated with the government. He did not. He had a plea agreement but he was subpoenaed for his appearance by Rehl’s attorney.

Time is almost up for Proud Boys on trial for seditious conspiracy: Another week gone and another week begins in historic Jan. 6 case

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The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial, after three arduous months, is on the verge of its conclusion. Closing arguments in the historic case unfolding just steps away from the U.S. Capitol could come as early as this week though not before at least one of the defendants may testify. 

On Tuesday, when U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly takes the bench for the 53rd time in the trial’s proceedings, the final contours of the Proud Boys defense are expected to be outlined and any final attempts by the defendants to undercut what has been a massive presentation of damning evidence by the Justice Department will be made. 

If this trial has been a marathon, this is now the final leg, and as the defendants arrive at the finish line, they only have so much time left support their argument that they were not part of a conspiracy to forcibly stop the transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021, nor were their efforts aimed at obstructing Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election. 

Last week, Norm Pattis, a defense attorney for Proud Boy Joseph Biggs, said the former Infowars contributor wouldn’t take the witness stand. To what may end up being his benefit, Biggs has been a largely quiet figure at trial, sitting mostly silently for weeks in a series of gray suits and dark-framed glasses as he occupies a corner of the defense table positioned furthest away from the jury. 

Pattis and his co-counsel Dan Hull have mostly managed to keep Biggs and questions about his specific conduct on Jan. 6, alleged or otherwise, limited. 

When it has come to the cross-examination of government witnesses who suggested Biggs was integral to the breaching of initial barriers on Jan. 6 alongside defendant Ethan Nordean or when it has come to claims that he played a central role in whipping people into a frenzy, Pattis has often worked to refocus the jury’s attention to matters tangentially-related, like philosophical or ideological points around protest, speech or assembly. 

Where that has failed outright or faced disruption through a series of sustained objections from prosecutors, Biggs’ legal team has invoked the suggestion that the violence of Jan. 6 was the byproduct of FBI interference or incitement or just pure herd mentality. 

In court this week, the only evidence Biggs presented was a roughly 90-minute video of a Proud Boys video teleconference meeting held on Dec. 29, 2020. The video, according to the defense, goes toward the claim that Proud Boys had only planned to engage in a peaceful protest and respond to antifa or leftist interlopers accordingly. 

The force of that video’s effect, however, may have been mitigated since Biggs said little in it to start and on top of that, it featured unsavory moments steeped in anti-Semitism and misogyny. 

For example, jurors heard Tarrio and fellow Proud Boys in the meeting laugh as Tarrio discussed wearing a “six-pointed star” on Jan. 6 and making their official colors white and blue, like the Israeli flag. 

As the men laugh in the clip, Tarrio is heard assuring them that Proud Boys would never elect a “small hat” to their elders’ council. A small hat is a presumed reference to a yarmulke. Then, at another unsympathetic moment in the meeting, one Proud Boy is heard recalling how at the Dec. 12 rally in D.C., a woman tried to walk past him in the crowd. 

She told him to “make a hole” so she could squeeze by. In the clip, the Proud Boy recounted what he thought in the moment to Tarrio and crew: “I’m about to make a hole and put you in it you fucking whore,”

The jurors, as such, have mainly been left to acquaint themselves with Biggs through footage of him on Jan. 6 where he is regularly seen exuberantly clutching a bullhorn or shouting angrily about antifa or marching past police barriers with fellow Proud Boys as the melee around them comes to a crashing head. 

The leader of the neofascist network, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, is very unlikely to testify barring any last-minute changes of heart. Though he was absent from the Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors argue the Miami, Florida-based Proud Boy oversaw and coordinated the group’s efforts from afar and had intended to stop the certification for weeks. 

During the trial this February, jurors saw evidence to suggest that Tarrio had by Dec. 30, 2020, possessed and shared a key document entitled “1776 Returns” that contained a detailed proposal to occupy federal buildings in Washington, D.C.

It didn’t mention the U.S. Capitol building specifically and Tarrio has vehemently denied authoring the proposal or knowing the document’s origins. Nonetheless, in text messages shown to jurors last month where “1776 Returns” was discussed, Tarrio is seen vowing that his “every waking moment” consisted of thinking about a “revolution.”

This poked a large hole in the defense’s already-thin theory that Proud Boys only concerned themselves on Jan. 6 with the task of protecting innocent Trump supporters who wanted to rally unmolested by rabid leftists hiding in plain sight.

During trial last week, Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui entered text messages into the record between the Proud Boys leader and Shane Lamond, a D.C. police lieutenant. The messages, according to Jauregi, support Tarrio’s assertion that he informed police of Proud Boys activities and whereabouts regularly and that he didn’t obscure his intent with officers for Jan. 6. 

Almost all of the texts shown in court last week (there were 46) were from points long before Jan. 6. And while Tarrio has painted the relationship he had with Lamond as one of equal input, some of the texts suggest the relationship may have been lopsided and most of his messages to Lamond were short and sweet. 

Lamond is currently under investigation for his communications with Tarrio. He has not been charged with any crime and he has denied any wrongdoing. Lamond has, however, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and has opted against testifying at the trial.  

The texts were varied; mostly showing Lamond asking Tarrio where Proud Boys would be during a rally or other high-profile event. The men were friendly, with Lamond calling Tarrio “brother” and Tarrio calling Lamond “bruv.” They discussed getting drinks. He told Tarrio in November 2020 just a few days before the Million MAGA March in Washington, D.C., that he didn’t want the ringleader of the extremist group to think cops were keeping “tabs” on him or the Proud Boys when they were in town. 

But, Lamond told him,  knowing their movements could help police keep counterprotesters away from them. 

Jurors also saw texts where Lamond warned Tarrio in the days before the Capitol assault, that alerts were going out to police that Proud Boys were on Parler talking about “mobilizing and ‘taking back the country.’” 

And in at least one eyebrow-raising message displayed in court last week, Lamond told Tarrio to text him on an encrypted channel. 

By the time Dec. 19 rolled around, Tarrio told Lamond if Proud Boys came to D.C. at all, it would be in “extremely small” numbers and without their traditional black and yellow colors. 

Ultimately, prosecutors say Tarrio instructed members to hide or delete communications about Jan. 6, and by assuming the role of the group’s “marketing” leader, Tarrio developed a means to control the flow of information about the alleged conspiracy internally and externally. 

Though prosecutors have seemed to concede that Proud Boys were, at least for a time, focused on groups like “antifa” when they prepared for political rallies, they argue that purpose shifted dramatically once Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino was stabbed following the Dec. 12, 2020 “Stop the Steal’ rally. Text messages and witness testimony offered in court have shown Proud Boys airing frustrations about police routinely after that episode. 

Once Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4, 2021, for burning a Black Lives Matter banner in Washington, D.C. a few weeks prior, the animosity had ratcheted up. In video footage from Jan. 5 and Jan. 6, Tarrio’s familiar and a fellow member of the group’s so-called “Ministry of Self Defense,” Florida Proud Boy Gilbert Fonticoba, is seen wearing a shirt proclaiming Tarrio’s innocence in the face of his arrest. 

His shirt read: “Enrique Tarrio Did Nothing Wrong.” 

Meanwhile, in court on March 30, while appearing as a witness for defendant Zachary Rehl, former West Virginia Proud Boys chapter president Jeff Finley flatly denied that the organization held animosity toward the police. His testimony lost some credibility though once prosecutors presented him with a text he sent to the Proud Boys “Boots on the Ground” channel on the morning of Jan. 6. In the message, Finley urged: “fuck the blue.”

He told the jury with little remorse if that’s what the record showed, that’s what it showed. Finley struck a plea agreement with the Justice Department and is in the process of serving out a 75-day prison sentence now. 

As for Fonticoba, he is one of several Proud Boys who falls under the prosecution’s “tools” theory. That theory suggests the defendants relied on each other as well as other members of the network to be their foot soldiers on Jan. 6 so they could forcibly stop the certification. Among the “tools” of the conspiracy activated by the defendants, according to the Justice Department, are Proud Boys like Paul Rae, John Stewart, Gabriel Garcia, AJ Fisher, Nicholas Ochs, Arthur Jackman, James Haffner, Ronald Loehrke, Nate and Kevin Tuck, Eddie Geroge, Dion Rajewski, Briele Boele, James Brett, Zach Johnson, and others. 

Proud Boy leader Ethan Nordean of Washington State isn’t expected to testify before all is said and done. Nordean has had far greater exposure to jurors over the course of the trial in comparison to Biggs and this despite the fact that both of the men are alleged to have led dozens of Proud Boys and other people past police barricades in equal measure. 

Footage of a hard-drinking Nordean has been depicted in court alongside other evidence, including communications where the Proud Boy expresses an intense and unwavering outrage at a “stolen” election. Testifying for Nordean would be particularly risky given his proximity to several “tools” in the conspiracy, like Ronald Loehrke, who prosecutors say he recruited to be on the front lines of the breach. If Nordean were to come under cross, it likely wouldn’t take prosecutors long before they would open a door to questions about his efforts recruiting fellow Proud Boys to the alleged cause. 

Only defendants Dominic Pezzola and Zachary Rehl have indicated they would testify but it is less clear if Rehl will take the risk. 

On top of seditious conspiracy and other charges, Pezzola is alleged to have stolen a police riot shield on Jan. 6 as well. Video footage, prosecutors contend, plainly shows Pezzola using that shield to smash apart a window at the Capitol that would allow rioters to stream rapidly inside. Pezzola’s attorney Steven Metcalf last week said he was confident the Rochester, New York Proud Boy would testify on his own behalf. 

Pezzola’s wife, Lisa Magee, testified on his behalf last week. She was often a sympathetic figure. Pezzola may not have gone to D.C. at all, she recalled, if he had listened to sage advice from her father. 

She told jurors how her father had warned her husband on Jan. 5 to stay home and not go to D.C. And at the time, she recalled as she sighed in court last week, Pezzola agreed to stay home and out of trouble. Less than a month before, she testified, she called her reaction to seeing Pezzola’s face after it was splashed across the Washington Post following the Stop the Steal rally in December. 

She told jurors she recalled telling her husband plainly that he was “a fucking idiot.” 

But on the eve of the insurrection, she went out for a girls-night and Pezzola left for D.C. When she testified, she was convincing when she suggested that Pezzola’s activities with the Proud Boys were mostly kept away from her view. She expressed frustration with her husband. He had changed, she said, after inundating himself with politics and Fox News. He started drinking heavily. The Covid-19 pandemic hit his business hard. He was angered, she said, when protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd bubbled over and turned violent. She told the jury she didn’t know that her husband believed a civil war was imminent or if he was in the throes of a battle against good vs. evil, capitalism vs. communism, or freedom vs. tyranny. 

As a former U.S. Marine, her husband was a man who once devoted to a principle, would go to great lengths to uphold it, she said. 

But this quality can cut both ways. 

For the defense, Pezzola’s purported moral fortitude and ritualistic devotion to American ideals meant he would never dream of conspiring against the United States. For prosecutors, the trait meant Pezzola would act unflinchingly if he felt his version of America was under attack. 

And, prosecutors elicited, once Pezzola returned home from Washington, he got rid of his cell phone and was unable to be reached by his wife until Jan. 9. 

At trial last week, a witness for Pezzola, Steven Kay Hill, tried to give the Rochester Proud Boy and former Marine cover with his testimony. In short, Hill was set to argue that Pezzola did not steal the riot shield by the looks of it, but rather, that he was reacting to an overzealous police force that deviated from a policy that would have kept the mob calm on Jan. 6. It was essentially police who were to blame for the use of chemical irritants and less than lethal munitions, Metcalf argued. 

Metcalf walked Hill, a former police officer and law enforcement training instructor from New Mexico, through a series of video clips from the moments before and after Pezzola got ahold of the riot shield. On direct, Hill testified that the mob became incensed only after police fired a less-than-lethal munition into the crowd and hit a rioter, Joshua Black, in his cheek. 

Jurors saw a gruesome photo of Black moments after he was struck, a hole bored into the side of his face and blood at his feet. 

“They were angry. They were upset. They were pissed because one of their own has just been shot in the face,” Hill testified on April 6. 

Jurors saw footage of Black being approached by a police officer in riot gear after he is hit in the cheek. The officer appears to rest his hand on Black’s shoulder as both of the men are crouched down looking at each other. Hill conceded that while he couldn’t tell what was being said, it did appear the officer was extending aid. 

In video footage, the officer is nodding briefly while speaking to Black and they are flanked on either side by protesters and police. Prosecutors say it was at this moment that the officer was offering to help Black before attempting to take him behind police lines to treat his injuries. 

Hill told jurors this was “a mistake.” 

When the crowd saw the officer try to take Black, they only thought: ‘You’re not taking him. He’s one of ours,” Hill said. 

Black, injury be damned, would fall back in with the crowd and eventually make it all the way to the floor of the Senate. 

This moment played out almost simultaneously to the moment Pezzola “fell” to the ground, Metcalf argued, and incidentally grabbed a riot shield in the fracas. Metcalf stopped short of calling Pezzola’s possession of the shield self-defense but his client’s actions, he argued, could be chalked up to panic, not an intent to steal. 

On cross-examination however, prosecutor Conor Mulroe elicited that long before Black was hit in the face with a munition, the crowd was already at a fever pitch and clashing with police. 

Long before Pezzola got the shield, Hill testified, there was a lot of fighting and yelling directed at officers. For every 50 to 60 police officers on duty, Hill estimated, there were at least 500 to 600 protesters. 

Where the defense said Pezzola acted reflexively, prosecutors say Pezzola was opportunistic. 

Hill also testified that police didn’t fire indiscriminately into the crowd, as Metcalf had insinuated and he agreed that footage from Jan. 6 appeared to show police only targeting those rioters in the crowd who had visibly attacked officers. 

To support this, jurors heard police radio transmissions where officers are heard describing active police assaults in progress as they identify specific assailants in a hectic scene.

In court last Thursday, Hill said he couldn’t tell if Pezzola was being shoved from behind or not as he finally entered the fray. 

As for Rehl, should he testify, he runs the risk of unwinding whatever good favor his attorney Carmen Hernandez may have raised for him over the course of the trial. Hernandez, at the risk of being repetitive, takes every chance she can to remind jurors that Rehl had no weapons on him when he entered the Capitol. Rehl was a servicemember, a graduate, a husband, and a father, Hernandez has said. 

Rehl didn’t celebrate violence, Hernandez insists and he didn’t give anyone any orders on Jan. 6. But prosecutors have showed the jury a less favorable view of Rehl. They have shown the jury a Rehl who deeply lamented Trump’s election loss and worked hard at recruitment efforts. They have shown the jury a Rehl who, instead of retreating as officers were clearly overrun on the 6th, sent updates to Proud Boys in group chats. 

To that end, as a horde of rioters breached the building that afternoon, Rehl wrote, “Civil war started.” 

He pushed past barricades and broke into Senator Jeff Merkley’s office with other rioters and Proud Boys, including some members who prosecutors have said are “tools” of the conspiracy. 

Not one week in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial has passed by smoothly and last week was no different. Apart from routine objections launched by the defense to even the most mundane of issues and separate from the unending series of motions for mistrial, last week featured a new and unwelcome variable: the sealed hearing. 

A sealed hearing, or a hearing closed to the public and press, is typically held when sensitive or classified matters are being discussed by the parties. Trial days were stopped and started three times last week for sealed hearings that stretched for more than an hour. A press coalition moved to unseal proceedings on at least one of those days but was promptly denied by Judge Kelly for reasons he failed to describe on the record. 

Though the exact reason was not disclosed by the court (nor would one expect it to be at this point), CNN reported that multiple sources said the sealed hearing was prompted after a juror raised concerns that she was being followed. Another juror has said they were “accosted” but no further details were available.

Pride before the fall? Testimony from witnesses in seditious conspiracy trial leaves weaknesses in defense wide open

From emptywheel: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

The end of the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial may be growing closer but the hole the defendants seemingly dug themselves into this week with yet more testimony from their own witnesses has grown larger.

Testimony continued briefly this week with Tarrio’s witness George Meza. Meza is the self-proclaimed rabbi and former third-degree Proud Boy who described Jan. 6 as ‘the most patriotic act” in a century in a gushing, white power-hand-gesture-wielding video post mere days after former President Donald Trump incited a mob to descend on the U.S. Capitol. 

As a witness for Tarrio, Meza was meant to credibly convince jurors that while he was admittedly once part of a rowdy, reactive brotherhood unbound by social mores, it didn’t mean that he or fellow members of the group, including its national leader, were ever part of a violent conspiracy to stop Congress from certifying the election in 2020. 

Their support of Trump was prolific but to hear Meza insist upon it, it was only in a wholesome patriotic fashion, the way that any American might exercise their right to free speech and assembly.

But Meza’s claims collided, in the final hour of his appearance before jurors, with the cold reality of the prosecution’s evidence against the defendants. Impeaching Meza was often done with a sober tone from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough. 

When Meza, also known as “Ash Barkoziba,” insisted he had been ousted from the exclusive text channel at the heart of the charges; Tarrio’s so-called “Ministry of Self Defense” or MOSD, by Jan. 3, McCullough presented evidence where Meza’s frantic rantings about the 6th had continued into chats dated Jan. 9. 

“I can’t tell what chat this belongs to,” he said, speaking fast. “It’s hard to believe they would let me back in after they kicked me out…The average Proud Boy didn’t even know this chat existed. I question this statement if I made it at all in this chat.” 

Jan. 6 was “mass hysteria” Meza later told the jury. People were simply “emoting,” he said. He denied having any understanding that police were under extreme duress when he was near the Columbus Doors seconds before they were forced open. He denied attacking the door or being part of the breach there. 

And though suspicions had been raised about the truthfulness of his testimony for a little more than a day, before he left the stand he told one of Tarrio’s attorneys, Nayib Hassan, that he never received instruction from the Proud Boy leader to go to the Capitol. There wasn’t even a discussion about going there, Meza testified. 

Hassan worked to elicit testimony through Meza that seemed intent to portray Tarrio as all flash and no substance, or a showboater who simply enjoyed to “razzle dazzle” the masses or antagonize the media. But objections over the scope and relevance on this count were sustained, leaving an already thin argument more impotent.

Battered by Meza’s testimony, it was followed with a First Amendment heavy defense from fourth-degree Florida Proud Boy Fernando Alonso that was rich in controversy.

Like Meza, Alonso was a member of MOSD and told the jury when he joined the chapter on Dec. 31, 2020, it was his understanding that the local D.C. division of Proud Boys didn’t want “any heat” and the Vice City member learned that other chapters of the extremist group were warned about coming to Washington on Jan. 6. 

Nonetheless, Alonso came on the 5th. 

And when he did, it wasn’t because there was a plan arranged to storm the Capitol, he said. Any suggestion otherwise, Alonso repeated through a gruff, often heavy accent, was “just ludicrous.”

He knew to meet at the Washington Monument, however, having consulted the MOSD chat that day, he testified, but there was “no objective” discussed. Alonso told the jury he didn’t know what was going to happen and when a video of Proud Boys shooing press away from their group as they congregated near the Capitol was played in court this week, Alonso said this wasn’t about hiding conduct. 

It was because Proud Boys didn’t want to be “doxxed” and didn’t want attention on their club. 

Though Alonso testified on direct that the Proud Boys weren’t doing “photo ops” on Jan. 6, another defense witness, Proud Boy Travis Nugent, said that’s exactly how he perceived things. At trial, Alonso insisted Proud Boys were “peacekeepers” on Jan. 6. 

“The objective was we were going to walk towards the Capitol, stop somewhere along the line, and say a prayer. That was the only objective I knew of at that point,” he said.

Tarrio always contacted law enforcement before Proud Boys rallied, he told defense attorney Sabino Jauregui, “as he should.”

But when pressed, he testified that he never saw any messages about that himself, and he admitted to the jury, that while he considered himself a “good friend” of Tarrio who understood the ringleader’s intentions, he also never saw a single private message between Tarrio and Proud Boy elders or leaders like Nordean or Biggs.

 If he had even an inkling that the plan was for Proud Boys to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 and stop the certification, well, that would have been an affront so severe to Alonso’s sensibilities, he told the jury, “I would have left right there and then.”

Alonso elaborated on how offended he was at the suggestion that Proud Boys would incite violence. They did charity work and hurricane relief. 

It “insulted” him, in fact, that people could think Proud Boys would even ponder the idea of storming the Capitol.

But in court, jurors heard and saw a different side of Alonso.

In an audio clip, he is heard breezing right over the news that a woman (Ashli Babbitt) had been shot inside the Capitol. From the grounds as people around him exclaim, he is heard only asking if then-Vice President Mike Pence had “betrayed” Trump and whether the vote had been certified. 

“Going on the 6th is not about fighting lefties. It’s about joining patriots on the Capitol steps and awaiting the outcome of history that affects us all,” Alonso once wrote under the handle “Deplorable51” in a message to fellow Proud Boy Michael Priest, also known as Al Tourna, on Dec. 20. Priest was brought into the Ministry of Self Defense by Tarrio, according to application records for the “ministry.”

When Tourna, who used the handle “AL PB,” told him that Jan. 6 would be the moment people would need to “take DC” and then warned that it “may not be peaceful,” Alonso didn’t shrink away. 

Unlike much trial testimony from other defense witnesses who vowed the Proud Boys focus was grounded in defending the Trump-loving masses from antifa, Alonso told Priest going to the Capitol on Jan. 6 “is not for antifa.” 

They were going “as patriots to stand with normies together united awaiting the outcome… when we are amongst them they feel safer and the purpose is what will happen that day…” he wrote

“It’s not a meet at Harry’s [bar at] 8 p.m. to go hunt antifa,” he added. 

Alonso had attended the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C. in December 2020 with fellow Proud Boys, and on his application form for MOSD, he said he had “provided intel” to members of the extremist group while they were on the ground in D.C. for the Million MAGA March a month earlier. He stayed in Florida for that event.

Proud Boys engaged in violent clashes with counterprotesters after both of those rallies. After the rally in November, a Black woman with long braids brandishing a knife and surrounded by Proud Boys was knocked unconscious by a man who cracked a helmet over the crown of her head prompting her to crumple to the ground immediately.

Prosecutors say Alonso greeted that violence merrily.

“‘Put up the video of that predator bitch,’” Mulroe said in court, quoting Alonso’s texts found in a Miami Proud Boys channel that counted Tarrio as a member.  Alonso denied writing it. 

It didn’t sound like him, he said. 

But Alonso joked about that violent episode and others, Mulroe told presiding U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly this week as he fought off objections from the defense that this evidence was prejudicial and irrelevant to impeaching one of Tarrio’s few witnesses. But Mulroe convinced Judge Kelly that this show of force, appearing sanctioned by Tarrio, encouraged Alonso to return to the next pro-Trump rally in December and later, to join his fellow Proud Boys in January after Trump’s “wild” invite to Washington. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe presented evidence spread out over a series of text messages where Alonso excoriated law enforcement roughly a week before he would officially be invited into the Ministry of Self-Defense by Proud Boy Gilbert Fonticoba, an intimate of Tarrio’s. 

Police in D.C. backed antifa, Alonso wrote on Dec. 23. So too did the FBI. Police had turned their backs on Proud Boys when one of their brothers, Jeremy Bertino, who has already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, was stabbed at the Dec. 12 event.

Weeks later on Jan. 6, when defendant Ethan Nordean spoke to a mass of Proud Boys and others gathered at the Washington Monument with a megaphone, it was he who encouraged them to “back the yellow.” Jurors saw this footage of Nordean invoking the Proud Boys black and yellow “colors” in the same way pro-law enforcement groups may invoke their slogan “back the blue.”

Nordean told the crowd just before 11 a.m. on Jan. 6 that police had let the people who stabbed Proud Boys get away last time. Tarrio had been arrested unfairly just two days before, Nordean wailed. Video footage played for the jury on March 7 showed Nordean passing the bullhorn off to defendant Joseph Biggs next. 

Excitedly speaking to the crowd, Biggs told them it was their “goddamned city” and started chants of “fuck antifa.” But once Biggs would reach the location of what would be the first barrier breach of the day, Alonso testified in court this week that Biggs used the bullhorn again. This time as Proud Boys and non-Proud Boys alike were gathered near the Peace Monument less than 100 yards away from the Capitol, Biggs led chants of “Whose House, Our House” and “1776,” Alonso testified.

Prosecutors contend that Proud Boys relied on “tools” of the alleged conspiracy to pull it off and that included Proud Boys as well as non-members, the  “normies” at the Capitol. In sum, the Justice Department argues Proud Boys believed they could whip the “normies” into a frenzy and this would aid them to breach barricades, subsequently overwhelm law enforcement and get inside the Capitol to stop the certification.

After the Stop the Steal rally just three weeks before the insurrection, positive attitudes toward law enforcement among Proud Boys had dried up, prosecutors allege, and the group’s anger morphed and hardened into a multi-layered paranoia: Trump’s “victory” was stolen. Cops in D.C. had sided with “antifa.” The Democrats and radical left needed to be stopped. 

In a text chat seized off Tarrio’s phone dubbed “Croqueta Wars,” Tarrio and other Florida Proud Boys including Gabriel Garcia, George Meza, Pedro Barrios, and others, shared messages about efforts to keep Trump in power. On Dec. 17, Alonso forwarded a message to the group that laid out a “plan” for Trump to win. He had “dueling electors from 7 state legislatures [and] he has VP Pence as final arbiter of the ballots to accept,” Alonso’s friend “Tim Moore” wrote in the forward. The message was rich in conspiracy theories invoking Julian Assange, Seth Rich, and Sidney Powell’s “Kraken.” 

In the transcript from Alonso’s testimony, during a sidebar with Judge Kelly, Nordean’s defense attorney Nick Smith objected to the introduction of evidence indicating Michael Priest had something a “little less complex in mind” than the theories Alonso forwarded to the Croqueta Wars chat.

While Smith argued it was irrelevant, Mulroe managed to convince Judge Kelly to let in Alonso’s exchange in the next sequence. Priest, as a member of the Ministry of Self-Defense and “tool” of the conspiracy—something Kelly agreed with during the sidebar—was fed up. 

“Unleash the Kraken. Trust the plan. Blah. Blah. Blah. When do we start stacking bodies on the White House lawn?” Priest wrote. 

“Jan. 7,” Alonso replied. 

When Priest told him they would stack the bodies of “RINOs,” or “Republicans in Name Only” first and make Democrats watch, Alonso affirmed in court this week that he said “yes.” But it was just “locker room talk, if you will,” he said. 

In the Ministry of Self-Defense chat on Jan. 3, a day before Tarrio would be arrested and three days before the insurrection, Gabriel Garcia shared a message with MOSD members. It was a blog post from the Hal Turner Radio Show promoting the false claim that a “1776 flag” was flying over the White House that night. But the image wasn’t new. Trump White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino posted an image of a colonial-era flag over the White House in June 2019 though that image was doctored too.

But Garcia seemed to believe it was realand so did others in the Ministry like one Proud Boy identified in chats only as “BrotherHunter Jake Phillps.” When Phillips asked whether the “normies and ‘other’ attendees” were going to “push thru police lines and storm the capitol buildings,” and invoked the violence that unfolded in D.C. on December, Alonso replied: “cue in the music… let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor.” 

On direct, Alonso told Jauregui the “bodies” were “regular people” not the police. The police, he said, were going to make people hit the floor at the Capitol. On cross, he told Mulroe it was just a song. It was just locker room talk. It was all just a joke. 

Norm Pattis, for Biggs, argued during a bench conference that Alonso’s comments were protected under the First Amendment and “no more prohibited than saying you’re going to line up capitalists against the wall and shoot them.” 

At the end of his testimony on Tarrio’s behalf, Fernando Alonso said under oath that as far as overtaking the U.S. government was concerned or storming the Capitol, he had no part in it or wanted no part in it. It was a reprehensible suggestion. That was behavior that wouldn’t make him proud. 

Yet, Mulroe pointed out to him, he sat in court today with a yellow shirt bearing the Proud Boys laurel on its chest, hiding just beneath his fleece. And he didn’t seem insulted when Priest talked about storming the Capitol. No one else seemed put off by the suggestion in MOSD either, that Alonso could recall. And though he had claimed he knew Tarrio’s intent, he wasn’t ever a witness to meetings or calls or chats that Tarrio may have had with elders, leaders, or even local police in advance of a Proud Boys official event. 

There was no indication one way or the other to Alonso, Mulroe elicited, that Tarrio had even told local police Proud Boys would plan to meet at the Monument on the morning of the 6th. And he certainly had ample opportunity: Tarrio was arrested on the 4th and ordered by law enforcement to stay out of Washington after his release on the 5th. 

Yet, Mulroe elicited, there was no indication that law enforcement was hipped to the Ministry of Self-Defense’s plan to gather at the Monument with what Alonso said was at least 100 men.

Alonso never went into the Capitol on Jan. 6. He never went with the defendants or anyone else that day to hear Trump, their man of the hour, speak at the Ellipse. When people were breaching the Capitol, he told the jury he thought it would be “too extreme” for anyone to go inside or past police lines. Police could shoot them, he testified.  Alonso, like other Proud Boys on Jan. 6, carried a radio but like other members, he claimed “there was no communication” on it. He downplayed evidence of him railing over Proud Boy Eddie Block’s decision to circulate  footage from Jan. 6 just a week after the insurrection. The wheelchair-bound Block, he told Mulroe, was doxxing them. 

“Crip or not,” Alonso wrote in a Proud Boy chat. “Snitches get stitches.” He added later: “That fuck needs to be duct taped to the National Mall, his scooter placed at the top of it.” 

Congress went into recess on Jan. 6 ultimately stopping the certification for several hours after the mob had rushed past police barriers, subsumed the Capitol steps, tunnels, archways, and inaugural scaffolding before streaming through broken windows or doors like the 20,000-pound Columbus Doors that were ripped from their hinges. 

Tarrio, it appears now, is unlikely to testify on his own behalf. 

Following suboptimal testimony from Tarrio’s witnesses this week, defendant Ethan Nordean squeezed in witness testimony from an FBI confidential human source and Proud Boy who appeared in court using only his middle name, “Ehren.” 

Unfortunately for the defense, “Ehren,” testified under cross-examination that he was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6 as an FBI informant in any meaningful sense. He was there, he affirmed, as a member of the Proud Boys. Though the spelling of his name was not reported into the record, “Ehren” would appear to be the individual that Jan. 6 internet sleuths have identified as “TrackSuitPB.”

In video footage, jurors could see how “Ehren” entered the Capitol carrying zip tie cuffs he said he acquired incidentally as a memento of sorts. At another point, he appears in capitol CCTV  footage flanked by Kansas City Proud Boys like William “Billy” Chrestman, Chris Kuehne, and others, as he helps place a podium under an interior electric gate to keep it from closing while others set chairs in the way. Police are seen working over and over to drop the barrier as rioters advanced.

Poking holes in the defense’s direct and indirect suggestions over these many weeks of trial that the FBI was responsible for guiding the violence of Jan. 6, “Ehren” admitted he wasn’t instructed by the bureau to obstruct the gate. Or enter the Capitol. Or impede police. In hindsight, he admitted, he shouldn’t have helped prop open gates police were trying to lower at all.

While he testified, evidence was also presented to strongly support the government’s claim that he was playing up the “informing” he offered to the FBI. 

“Ehren” texted his handler on Jan. 6 at 1:02 p.m. ET just as barriers were overrun: “Pb did not do it, nor inspire. The crowd did as a herd mentality. Not organized. Barriers down at capital [sic] building crowd surged forward, almost to the building now.” 

During his interviews with the FBI in the summer of 2021, he claimed he was standing 100 people back from the front of the first breach. In court, however, footage showed him more like 20 or 30 people back. He was also close to defendant Zachary Rehl at one point as Rehl filmed from the fore of the crowd.

FBI Agent Nicole Miller testified earlier in the trial that in this particular clip shot by Rehl, she was able to identify the Philadelphia chapter president’s voice screaming “Fuck them! Storm the Capitol” moments before Proud Boy William “Billy” Chrestman is seen scrambling over snow fencing and outnumbered police start to run backward. “Ehren” told the jury he followed Chrestman. The crowd’s chants of “fight for Trump” reverberated as they ran closer to the Capitol. There were hundreds of people behind them, he affirmed. 

When he approached the terrace of the Capitol, he said in court that he saw people topple barricades. 

And yet, he told his handler that the Proud Boys didn’t inspire the breaches.

“Ehren” said he had sent his text vouching for the Proud Boys to his handler earlier than the handler received it but bad cell service caused his message to go through on delay. His testimony around the timing of the message changed over two interviews with the FBI and diverged again once he appeared in court this last week. 

“Ehren” told Nordean’s attorney on direct that his handler urged him: if he saw a crime committed and was asked to talk about it, he was to be truthful with the bureau. 

On cross, he testified under oath that the FBI never “embedded him” with the Proud Boys. He was tasked to report on “antifa” or leftist violence, then a focus for Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr. “Ehren” was never part of MOSD or the Boots on Ground chat created just for Jan. 6. He said it was his local chapter president who told him to go to the Washington Monument on the 6th and not to wear Proud Boy colors. He never saw messages from Bertino or Tarrio suggesting otherwise but it would seem that information was passed down to him nonetheless.  When he arrived that morning, it was clear, he testified, that Nordean was in charge. 

Proud Boys were to blend in, he said, making themselves identifiable only to each other by slapping a piece of orange tape on their shoulder or arm. Antifa would infiltrate the crowds on the 6th, they believed, “Ehren” testified, and the orange tape allowed so-called Proud Boys brothers to identify each other.

Adding further ammunition to the prosecution’s “tools” argument, “Ehren” also said that Three Percenter Robert Geiswein approached him that morning and asked to march with the Proud Boys to the Capitol. “Ehren” said he told Geiswein he could stick around for a bit but once his brothers started to get on the move, he would have to go his own way.

On redirect by Dominic Pezzola’s attorney Roger Roots, “Ehren” said “Geiswein “didn’t listen very well about staying back once we met with other Proud Boys.”

Indeed, Geiswein would be spotted shoulder-to-shoulder with Pezzola on Jan. 6 just outside of the Senate Chamber. 

 As for “Ehren,” he wouldn’t leave the Capitol until after police told him a woman had been shot. Prior to that moment, he said, he didn’t attempt to de-escalate the situation because he figured if there was an “emergency situation” he “might be asked about it” by his handler. But this testimony ran up against video footage of “Ehren” also pumping his fist in the air in celebration after breaching. 

He rather sheepishly conceded that, in the moment, it all seemed “funny” and “exciting.” 

Witnesses for defendant Zachary Rehl didn’t fare much better this week, save for the largely innocuous testimony of Rehl’s wife, Amanda. Cutting a sympathetic figure, her voice was gentle as she testified and admitted to Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, that she was nervous. They married after Rehl graduated from Temple University; she told jurors how three of her uncles were policemen and his father and grandfather were policemen, too. Jurors saw pictures of Zachary’s father and grandfather in their uniforms, including one photo of a young Rehl in tow. They also saw a photo of her child with Zachary, a cherubic-looking little girl of maybe two or three years old. 

On Jan. 6, her husband, she said, left out for D.C. with Isaiah Giddings, Brian Healion, and Freedom Vy. She didn’t come. On the witness stand, Amanda Rehl said she couldn’t distinguish her husband’s voice in the video he shot from the first breach at the Peace Circle. She could hear someone say “Fuck them! Storm the Capitol” but if it was her husband’s, she couldn’t say. 

Testimony from Rehl’s next witness, former West Virginia Proud Boy chapter president Jeff Finley followed. 

Finley was easygoing on the stand with responses neatly tailored on direct. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering restricted grounds in last April and was sentenced to 75 days. Finley’s first reporting to prison was delayed so he could appear at the trial on Rehl’s behalf. 

Though not a member of MOSD, he was part of the Boots on the Ground chat using the handle “El Jefe.” Finley was often in close proximity to Biggs and the co-defendants on Jan. 6 including at the west terrace where some of the worst fighting of the day occurred. He couldn’t recall whether any police officers asked him not to come inside the capitol that day, however, and he couldn’t identify any of the  Proud Boys Rehl had brought to DC from Philly when Hernandez asked. 

But, he testified succinctly, “no,” he didn’t do anything that day to stop legislators from certifying the election. He was in and out in 10 minutes, he said. 

Finley was a fourth-degree Proud Boy deeply invested in the club—he has a tattoo etched across his chest declaring him a “West Virginia Proud Boy” jurors learned. And in the run-up to the insurrection, prosecutors brought out texts and video showing Finley looking to Nordean as the leader. In his guilty plea, he said as much to investigators and from the witness stand, Finley testified that while Proud Boys marched on the Capitol, it was Biggs, Nordean, and Charles “ Yut Yut Cowabunga” Donohoe, who would sometimes break off from the group for chats he was not privy to. Rehl, Biggs, and Donohoe did the same, he testified. 

Donohoe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding a year ago this week. 

Finley told the jury he never saw any of the defendants throw projectiles at police and didn’t hear any conversations that led him to believe a plan to stop the certification was in place. He presented Jan. 6 as an opportunity he seized on to “make my voice heard” about potential discrepancies in the 2020 election. 

Yet, prosecutors presented pages of text messages to the jury where Finley urged Proud Boys to delete their communications. Some of the messages showed Finley was furious with Eddie Block for filming, just like Alonso had been. In the weeks after the attack, Finley steadily discouraged Proud Boys from saving information or from having mementos, like challenge coins commemorating Jan. 6, mocked up.

“It would just place you in D.C. give more ammo against you,” he wrote on Jan. 12.

 He deleted his own socials after the 6th but not before making a podcast appearance where he told the interviewer he didn’t know a single Proud Boy who was remotely close to being in the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

“But you were a Proud Boy and you went in with Rehl and three other Philadelphia Proud Boys?” prosecutor Nadia Moore asked Finley in court on March 30. 

He did, he admitted, but in the podcast, the host wasn’t a member of law enforcement so he was in no way obligated to tell the truth. 

When the trial resumes starting Monday, it is expected that defendant Joe Biggs will start to come into focus as his attorneys, Norm Pattis and Dan Hull, make their case. Dominic Pezzola’s attorneys Steven Metcalf and Roger Roots shouldn’t be far behind. While it seemed that Biggs would likely take the stand earlier in the trial, after grueling days for the defense without any immediately obvious pay-off, that likelihood now seems low.

It may behoove Pezzola to try his luck or admit to charges that will be the hardest for him to beat because of compelling video evidence compiled by prosecutors, including video footage of him smashing open a window and allegedly stealing a police riot shield. In the first Oath Keepers case, which in many ways is quite similar to this one, defendant Jessica Watkins admitted to jurors that she impeded officers. In the end, her remorse from the stand may have helped her. She was convicted for impeding officers during a civil disorder (and conspiracy and obstruction) but she evaded a destruction of property charge despite being in the thick of a quite brutal push into the Capitol. She also was not convicted of seditious conspiracy. 

The light is now visible at the end of the tunnel in this three-month-long trial and this week, parties are expected to hash out jury instructions. If there are any Hail Mary moves to be made by the remaining defendants, the window to make them is inching closed.

When things turned to ‘Ash’: Henry Tarrio’s first witness appears; plus a fight over informants ensues at Proud Boys sedition trial

From emptywheel, 4/2: Thanks to the generosity of emptywheel readers we have funded Brandi’s coverage for the rest of the trial. If you’d like to show your further appreciation for Brandi’s great work, here’s her PayPal tip jar.

The first witness for Henry Tarrio at the now 43-day-old trial was George Meza, a former Proud Boy turned self-professed rabbi who also goes by “Ash Barkoziba.” Meza was discharged from the U.S. military after going AWOL for over six months. These days, as prosecutors elicited, Meza offers prospective converts to Judaism medical exemptions for the Covid-19 vaccine online. 

If the aim of Meza’s testimony was, in some fashion, meant to persuade jurors that the Proud Boys as an organization were tolerant, ideologically passive, or nonviolent or further, that Tarrio’s oversight of the group meant greater standards were enforced that put checks on members who engaged in bigotry or hate, then Meza was unsuccessful. 

Appearing before jurors wearing angular dark-rimmed glasses and a long button-down shirt, Meza’s testimony was often contradictory. On direct examination, he told Tarrio’s counsel Nayib Hassan that he became a third-degree member of the extremist organization but he couldn’t recall when. He told the January 6 committee he joined the group in September or October of 2020.

He told Hassan the Proud Boys were a “reactionary movement” aimed to protect patriotic Americans from communist leftists and flag-burners. Anyone who held supremacist views would be kicked out of the Proud Boys or “should have been,” he said. 

When he was a member and participated in the Ministry of Self-Defense (MOSD) group chat he said he policed it for anti-Semitic and racist commentary. It was a responsibility he took upon himself, he admitted, because the group didn’t “do enough” to eject bigots from its ranks. 

They did, however, eject Meza. 

He was cagey about why he was ousted, his memory foggy on the finer points. During a pointed exchange with prosecutors during cross-examination, Meza also could not remember the exact date he was ousted but insisted it must have been prior to Jan. 3, 2021. Incidentally, Jan. 3 was the same date that members like Proud Boy Gabriel Garcia of Miami texted Tarrio, Biggs, and other members in MOSD that “yes sir, time to stack those bodies in front of Capitol Hill.” 

Prosecutors say evidence shows Meza was in the MOSD chats through Jan. 6 and wasn’t kicked out until after the insurrection. 

When he was an insider, Meza was a member of MOSD as well as the group’s Boots on Ground channel yet another text forum where, according to prosecutors, Tarrio and his now co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola (as well as a host of other Proud Boys charged in separate indictments) coordinated efforts directly or indirectly aimed at disrupting Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. 

The defendants claim the groups were innocuous and largely served as spaces where members could sketch out methods of self-defense against antifa and other perceived enemies of patriots like Donald Trump or his supporters when pro-Trump events were underway. 

The mission of MOSD was about ensuring the “safety of other Proud Boys,” Meza testified.  There was talk of Jan. 6 in MOSD, he said, but he couldn’t recall specific discussions. He also brushed aside suggestions that the group used the space to do things like find “real men” willing to confront police when Jan. 6 rolled around. 

MOSD, he said, was a place where leadership could work toward things like the “thinning out” of members who were unable to curb binge drinking or other unruly behavior at rallies. But at the same time, Meza said Proud Boys did not shy away from taking matters into their own hands when they felt under duress.

After two pro-Trump events in D.C. in November and December 2020 —the Million MAGA March on Nov. 14  and the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on Dec. 12—the Proud Boys were keyed up. Members had been stabbed during street brawls with antifa, he said. But, he admitted, he didn’t see the stabbings with his own eyes or who started it. 

People got bored. Bored and drunk. And stabbings occurred, he said.

But, he testified, this boys club also sincerely believed it was in the middle of a civil war with antifa. Meza described it as “somewhat of a peaceful civil war… for the most part.” 

Yet, he downplayed the Proud Boys as a drinking club akin to a “fraternity” where “locker room talk” flowed. When one member in MOSD discussed breaking people’s legs or hunting antifa down, for example, Meza said it was hyperbole. 

“It was always reactionary,” he volunteered to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough. “It was a lot of poetic hyperbolic statements.” 

“When you’re on the receiving end of violence, does it feel better if it’s just hyperbole?” McCullough asked. 

Defense attorneys objected before he could answer. 

By the time Jan. 6 arrived, Meza testified that he was specifically focused on providing security for Latinos for Trump founder Bianca Gracia. He had been admitted to MOSD after the December 12 rally, he said. Text exhibits indicate Meza was a participant in the MOSD Main chat when Tarrio first out an invitation for a critical video conference hosted on Dec. 29, 2020. 

Ahead of that meeting, defendant Joseph Biggs eagerly told members in MOSD they would soon discuss the “need to make sure guys understand the chain of command” for Jan. 6. In clips from the teleconference played for the jury this February, Proud Boy Charles Donohoe—who has already pleaded guilty conspiracy to obstruct proceedings—is heard emphasizing a need for secrecy among MOSD’s operations.

There would be no social media posts about MOSD, Donohoe urged and at the meeting, Tarrio reiterated this point. Even in the MOSD text channel jurors saw this point was one of several Tarrio listed in a reminder post that was pinned at the top of the channel. When FBI Special Agent Peter Dubrowski testified about the Dec. 29 teleconference, he said while Tarrio, Biggs, and other leaders on the call did not discuss a strategic objective for January 6 that he heard, there was interest for those details expressed by other members. 

Tarrio just wouldn’t come out with it openly, Dubrowski said. He opted to keep information siloed. There was more than one teleconference for MOSD members in the run-up to Jan. 6, Dubrowski testified, but investigators were unable to successfully locate recordings of those videos if they existed. 

As for Meza, he would arrive in Washington on Jan. 5 to stay at the Phoenix Park Hotel.

His mission, he told the jury, was to escort Gracia and others in her entourage as a representative of the Proud Boys on Jan. 6. 

He was to ensure she got to and from the hotel and to the group’s rally. Tarrio, he said, was meant to speak at the Latinos for Trump rally from 10 a.m. to noon though he admitted, Tarrio’s name was never listed on the Latinos for Trump publicity flyer for the 6th. 

The Proud Boys ringleader was arrested on Jan. 4 and promptly received an order to stay out of  D.C. from law enforcement. 

Despite being tapped as security for the high-profile pro-Trump event that the very leader of the Proud Boys was supposed to speak at, Meza testified that he and Tarrio never had any communications about it before Jan. 5.

Further stretching the limits of logical belief, in addition to security for Gracia, Meza told jurors he was there on Jan. 6 as an “independent licensed journalist.” Putting aside the fact that there is no license issued to journalists independent or otherwise, McCullough elicited from the former Proud Boy turned rabbi that he was also interviewing people on the 6th who had never met Proud Boys before. 

The prosecution has alleged that the Proud Boys activated fellow members of their organization on Jan. 6 to breach police lines but further, that they understood their success in applying force to stop the certification would hinge also on raising the hackles of “normies” or everyday people at the rally in Washington. These “normies” were “tools” of the conspiracy, at times, almost as much as some members of the organization were, the government contends. 

McCullough pressed Meza on this point asking him several times if he was positive that he was ousted from MOSD prior to Jan. 3. Presenting a MOSD text chain to the jury, McCullough showed him where a Proud Boy using the handle “BrotherHunter Jake Phillips” told MOSD members: “So are the normies and ‘other’ attendees going to push through police lines and storm the capitol buildings? A few million v. a few hundred coptifa should be enough. I saw a few normie groups rush police lines on the 12th.” 

“Ever see that?” McCullough asked. 

“Never seen it,” Meza said. 

Meza also testified that he didn’t see another comment where “BrotherHunter Jake Phillips” asked, “what would they do if 1 million patriots stormed and took the capitol building. Shoot into the crowd? I think not.” 

Meza did not meet with Proud Boys, including some of the defendants, who gathered at the Washington Monument on the morning of Jan. 6. He told the jury he did not march with any of them when they descended on the Capitol. He said too that he had no cellphone communication with any of them and carried no radio. McCullough, however, showed Meza a picture of himself where a radio is clearly visible on his chest. He stands next to a Proud Boy from Miami he identified as “The Greek.” Also appearing alongside them in the picture is Josh Macias, the co-founder of Vets for Trump. 

This jogged his memory, Meza said. They had radio for the Latinos for Trump event, he said. But they never used them. Someone had given the radios to him but he couldn’t recall who and he said, in any event, they “never figured out how to use them.” 

Former Proud Boy Matthew Greene—who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding already—testified this January that he was tasked to program radios for Proud Boys on Jan. 6 but it wasn’t Tarrio, he told Nayib Hassan, who set him about this project.

When Nick Smith, defense attorney for Proud Boy leader and defendant Ethan Nordean, asked Greene whether those radios were ever used to plan an invasion on the Capitol, Greene also said no. 

Though he said he heard no specific plan for Jan. 6 if it existed, Greene said Proud Boys had steadily grown angrier and angrier as the day approached and members, by December, fully and openly expected a civil war was imminent. 

When Greene traveled to D.C with defendant Dominic Pezzola in a two-car caravan (Pezzola rode in a separate car, Greene rode with New York Proud Boy William Pepe), that hadn’t changed. When things finally clicked into place in his mind, he said, was when he saw Proud Boys lead rioters over barricades for the first time on Jan. 6. 

“Oh shit, this is it,” he recalled thinking.

“I personally had an abstract feeling that Proud Boys were about to be part of something, the tip of the spear, but I never heard specifically what that could be. But as people moved closer to the Capitol, I was in the moment, putting two-and-two together and saying, well, here it is,” Greene testified on Jan. 24. 

Like Meza, Greene was not a high-ranking member of the Proud Boys. 

Greene stuck close to defendant Dominic Pezzola on Jan. 6 as they breached barriers and ascended scaffolding around the Capitol. 

At one point on the 6th, when Greene saw Pezzola clutching a police riot shield, Greene said it was then that he started to question what he was really doing there. Greene stayed close enough to Pezzola long enough to watch him have his picture taken with the riot shield, Pezzola’s hand making the “OK” hand gesture that extremist experts say is associated with the white power movement. Meza told the jury Proud Boys were instructed by the group’s leadership to use the hand signal to antagonize the media. 

Other testimony from Meza was likely just as unhelpful for the defendants.

As video footage played in court from a violent breach of the Columbus Door near the East Rotunda, police clearly struggling to keep the mob at bay, Meza testified that he was escorting two women out of the Capitol after the door was breached. He never saw it breached, he said. He was walking away and three seconds later, the door was open. He asked jurors to believe he never saw protesters stream through that same door 10 to 15 seconds later because things were “so densely populated.” 

He understood the purpose of going to D.C. on Jan. 6 was to “stop the steal,” he testified. And when McCullough asked him plainly whether he believed that the people who went inside the Capitol were “heroes”, Meza was unabashed. 

“Yes I do,” he said. 

Meza’s testimony will resume on Monday since his cross-examination did not conclude Friday. And much to the defense’s chagrin, presiding U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly has agreed to admit evidence into question that will tie the Proud Boys ever closer to the sedition charge they each face. 

The government wants to cross Meza on a series of key details around Jan. 5 at the Phoenix Park Hotel in downtown D.C. 

This was the same hotel where Tarrio would meet that night with Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in November, Bianca Gracia, Joshua Macias, former Oath Keeper attorney Kellye SoRelle and others, in an underground parking garage. 

Prosecutors argue that Meza’s proximity to Gracia as well as his testimony on his stated purpose—security guard for Jan. 6 related events—should grant the government the right to question him about what he heard or what he saw happen in Gracia’s hotel room. 

Judge Kelly was not initially inclined to let this line of examination run, suggesting it was beyond the scope and that conversations in the hotel room prior to a rally were First Amendment-protected activity. But McCullough kept at it. 

“It squarely refutes the idea this is all done for First Amendment [reasons], your honor,” McCullough said. “He is in a room with the head of the Oath Keepers, with the Latino for Trump folks who have just met with Tarrio in a garage earlier that evening and now he is continuing to engage with Bianca who we have heard on direct is thick as thieves—[strike that]. They are very close is what we have heard. That is relevant. There is a connection with this individual when this is all supposed to be about Latinos for Trump and ‘we’re going to a rally from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.’.”

In a text message extracted from Proud Boy Gabriel Garcia’s phone after Jan. 6, McCullough said Meza said he told other Proud Boys things were “planned in our hotel room the night before by Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. 

In the sentence just before this in the text message, Meza writes, “I’m thrilled with what happened and don’t know why people keep saying it was antifa [or] BLM.” 

Ethan Nordean’s attorney Nick Smith argued this was exculpatory since it appeared to rest responsibility on other extremist groups. But these were Meza’s statements, Kelly found, and therefore, he now agreed with the government: they were relevant and Meza could be questioned about them because “at least,” Kelly said, it was an “implication” that Proud Boys planned to stop the certification with the other groups. 

Tarrio’s next witness is teed up for Monday after much commotion: FBI informant Jennylyn Salinas, also known as “Jenny Loh.” 

Loh’s anticipated appearance threw proceedings into disarray last week as defense attorneys claimed they had no idea Loh was an informant. Loh maintains she told her handlers nothing about her interactions with the Proud Boys and that once the government became aware that she could be called to testify in the case, her informant relationship ended completely. Prosecutors say Loh, who was associated with  Latinos for Trump, was an informant from April 2020 through this January and only received a single payment from the bureau after sharing footage with agents of people harassing her at home. Loh has said that her communications with the FBI were not about Proud Boys but the threat that antifa posed. 

Sabino Jauregui, another defense attorney representing Tarrio, told Judge Kelly on Friday that Loh would be able to testify that in at least 100 different Telegram channels or group chats with multiple Proud Boys, she never saw any chatter of plans to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. How relevant that will be remains to be seen. There’s no indication that Loh, even if she was a member of dozens of Proud Boy channels, would be hipped to information closely guarded by leadership. 

The government has maintained that Loh never informed on Proud Boys specifically. Jauregui insisted she would often talk to her FBI handler about Biggs and Tarrio in particular. Defense attorneys claim Loh tried to convince one of the defendants to get rid of his attorney.

McCullough offered to share a 36-minute recorded interview with Judge Kelly involving Loh and her FBI handler where, the prosecutor said, it would become clear that Loh was not reporting on Proud Boys.

Kelly has been treading carefully around informant issues that continue to arise in the trial. The defense has issued subpoenas to several witnesses who they say are confidential human sources that would vindicate the Proud Boys. For example, Judge Kelly recently quashed a subpoena from the defense for  Massachusetts Proud Boy Kenny Lizardo. Lizardo attended the meeting with Tarrio and Rhodes in the parking garage at the Phoenix. 

Lizardo, Kelly found,  had a “reporting relationship” with the FBI and intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment right if called.