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.

Proud Boy Joe Biggs sentenced to 17 years, Zachary Rehl gets 15


I will have a full report to come later for emptywheel but at the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse in Washington, D.C. this afternoon, U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly sentenced Proud Boy and former InfoWars contributor convicted of seditious conspiracy, Joseph Biggs, to 17 years in prison.

Prosecutors called for 33 years for Biggs, so Kelly’s decision came considerably under that total but Kelly did find that Biggs’ tearing down of a metal fence with co-defendant Ethan Nordean that was meant to keep the mob at bay, constituted a terrorism enhancement. It was this deliberate effort, Kelly found, that allowed the Proud Boys to achieve their objective: to stop the certification of the 2020 election by force.

Proud Boy Zachary Rehl’s sentencing hearing began at 2:15 p.m ET. Prosecutors sought 30 years and on Thursday, the court found that because he committed perjury on the stand the guidelines would shift to 30 years to life.

But in the end, Judge Kelly sentenced Rehl to 15 years in prison. Rehl is pictured below pepper-spraying police.

If you want to read through the live-thread I’ve put together for emptywheel, check out the link here.

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. 

“They Spoke Often:” It Took the Fash-Friendly FBI Over Two Months to Document the Lies Their Informant, Joe Biggs, Told them

The most telling detail released in DOJ’s sentencing package for Joe Biggs is this — the first 302 from after he led an attack on the nation’s Capitol, memorializing an interview done on January 8, one day after the first Proud Boy, Nicholas Ochs, was arrested.

DOJ included it — and excerpts from a second recorded interview from January 18 — to substantiate a 2-point obstruction enhancement to his sentence.

Biggs denied being with anyone he knew while he was inside the Capitol. Id. at 19:50 et. seq. (Q: “were you with anybody?” A: “No. I was lost. Like I didn’t know where to fucking go. I was by myself and I was scared shitless.”).

Biggs was asked again later in the interview whether there was anyone else with him. Biggs again claimed that he was separated and didn’t see anyone else he knew until after he left the Capitol. Id. at 25:45 et. seq. (Q: “Was there anyone else in your group that was in the Capitol?” A: [Pause] “Um, I mean, there had to have been.” Q: “You said you got separated, right?” A: “Yeah. I got separated. I didn’t see people until afterwards. I finally found people scraggling [sic] around running, you know, looking for people like me.”)

After initially denying breaking anything, Biggs was asked again whether there was anything else that was “worth sharing.” Twenty-four minutes into the interview, Biggs acknowledged “shaking” a black metal fence, but he claimed that he was only doing it because people were getting “pinned [] against it.” Id. at 24:25 et. seq. (Biggs: “I was shaking [the fence] at one point to get it loose so people could move and wouldn’t get pinned up against it” Biggs: “There was one guy who was pinned up against the fence like literally screaming; the pole was dug into his belly, and there was so much force from all the people around him, he couldn’t even breath . . . I thought that dude was gonna get hurt bad.”)

The sentencing memo suggests that Biggs victimized the FBI with these lies.

But there’s a backstory, one Biggs himself told over two years ago, in a filing submitted on March 29, 2021, in a bid to stay out of pre-trial detention.

As Biggs told the story then — two days before this 302 was finalized — Biggs would routinely reach out to cops before the Proud Boys would stage an operation, much as Enrique Tarrio did with Shane LaMond, a DC cop now being prosecuted for giving Tarrio inside tips about the investigation into him.

The same year, 2018, after the move to Florida, Biggs became active as an organizer, event planner and thought leader in the Proud Boys. He used his platform as a radio and social media personality to promote Proud Boy events and ideas. In particular, he personally planned two major events: rallies in Portland, Oregon in both 2019 and 2020 designed as counterdemonstrations against Antifa, which had been active in and around Portland for over two decades. See generally, MARK BRAY, ANTIFA: THE ANTI-FACIST HANDBOOK (August 2017) (history of Antifa networks in the Americas and Europe by social historian and Dartmouth College lecturer); L. Magelson, “Letter from Portland: In the Streets with Anitfa,” The New Yorker (Nov. 2, 2020 issue). As part of the planning, Biggs would regularly speak with by phone and in person to both local and federal law enforcement personnel stationed in Portland, including the FBI’s Portland Field Office. These talks were intended both to inform law enforcement about Proud Boy activities in Portland on a courtesy basis but also to ask for advice on planned marches or demonstrations, i.e., what march routes to take on Portland streets, where to go, where not to go. Similar conversations were held regularly with local police and FBI personnel for less major events in other cities.

As Biggs described it, rather than cracking down on the right wing group that would go on to lead an attack on the Capitol, the cops could give him “cautionary” phone calls.

By late 2018, Biggs also started to get “cautionary” phone calls from FBI agents located in Jacksonville and Daytona Beach inquiring about what Biggs meant by something politically or culturally provocative he had said on the air or on social media concerning a national issue, political parties, the Proud Boys, Antifa or other groups. Biggs regularly satisfied FBI personnel with his answers. He also stayed in touch with a number of FBI agents in and out of Florida.

As Biggs described it, he “regularly satisfied FBI personnel” with his explanations for stoking violence.

He did so even though — as his sentencing memo describes — he was openly calling for violence and attacks on the government.

Perhaps more than any other defendant, Biggs promoted the use of force against the government. Beginning in the days after the election, Biggs declared that the country could face “civil war” because the “left” was “radicalizing people by stealing th[e] election.” Ex. 603-1 and 2. Biggs told his followers that it was “time for fucking War if they steal this shit.” Ex. 603-4. Biggs steadily escalated his calls for political violence. During an episode of the “Warboys” podcast with Tarrio and Nordean in late November, Biggs demonized the “party” that was telling the public to accept the result of the election. Biggs closed his diatribe by saying that “they are evil scum and they all deserve to die a traitor’s death.” Biggs Ex. 1. Biggs’s comment prompted Nordean to calmly lean toward his microphone and say, “the day of the rope.” Id.

Biggs’s calls for political violence escalated throughout the fall, and he consistently called for war while characterizing his enemies (which included government actors such as the police) as traitors. The critical issue to Biggs was the stolen election, and he tied his calls to violence to the election. For example, in late November, in a post on his social media, Biggs warned officers in Michigan (a state won by Biden) that if they stopped electors from casting a vote for Trump, the people would “treat your thin[] blue line like we do antifa . . . get in our way and get walked over.” Ex. 603-33. Biggs declared that the officers would be “tried for treason” and that “[w]e aren[‘]t here to play games. This is war.” Id.

In fact, as Biggs further described it back in March 2021, long after he had become a key figure staging violent confrontations, five months before leading an attack on the peaceful transfer of power, an FBI Agent in Daytona Beach recruited Biggs to be an informant targeting Antifa.

In late July 2020, an FBI Special Agent out of the Daytona Beach area telephoned Biggs and asked Biggs to meet with him and another FBI agent at a local restaurant. Biggs agreed. Biggs learned after he travelled to the restaurant that the purpose of the meeting was to determine if Biggs could share information about Antifa networks operating in Florida and elsewhere. They wanted to know what Biggs was “seeing on the ground.” Biggs did have information about Antifa in Florida and Antifa networks in other parts of the United States. He agreed to share the information. The three met for approximately two hours. After the meeting, Biggs stayed in touch with the agent who had called him originally to set up the meeting. He answered follow-up questions in a series of several phone calls over the next few weeks. They spoke often.

So during the entire period when Biggs and his buddies were planning an attack on the nation’s Capitol, during the entire fall period when (prosecutors describe) Biggs was openly talking about attacking the government, he and this FBI agent?

“They spoke often.”

The FBI claims it had no notice of the terrorist attack on the nation’s Capitol, not even with an FBI agent “speaking often” with one of its leaders and an DC intelligence cop speaking often with the other one.

So now, DOJ wants to hold Joe Biggs accountable for the lies he told to the FBI agent who thought a key leader of the Proud Boys would make an appropriate informant targeting Antifa. But thus far, his handler has not been held accountable for missing the planning of a terrorist attack in DC when while speaking “often” with one of its key leaders.

Notably, the Daytona FBI office is the same one where, after fake whistleblower Stephen Friend refused to participate in a SWAT arrest of a Three Percenter known to own an assault rifle, his supervisor said “he wished I just ‘called in sick’ for this warrant,” before taking disciplinary action against him (though Friend didn’t start in Daytona Beach until after Biggs had already been arrested).

The second of these interviews (but not the first) interview was mentioned in Biggs’ arrest affidavit. It’s possible that investigating agents didn’t even know about what occurred in the first one.

Indeed, it’s really hard to credit the reliability of a 302 written two days after Biggs described his chummy relationship but not this interview in an attempt to stay out of jail.

This is why the FBI didn’t warn against January 6. Because these terrorists were the FBI’s people.

The Challenge of Treating the Proud Boy Leaders as Terrorists

The omnibus sentencing memo for the Proud Boy Leaders — an 80-page document supplemented by another 15 pages for each — describes their crime this way:

The defendants organized and directed a force of nearly 200 to attack the heart of our democracy.


None of this was mere happenstance or accident. In the months leading up to January 6, 2021, they had brought their army of violence to Portland, Kalamazoo, and Washington, D.C. And then they brought that army of violence to the Capitol to exert their political will. In doing so, these defendants attempted to silence millions of Americans who had placed their vote for a different candidate, to ignore the variety of legal and judicial mechanisms that lawfully scrutinized the electoral process leading up to and on January 6, and to shatter the democratic system of governance enshrined in our laws and in our Constitution.

For years, these defendants intentionally positioned themselves at the vanguard of political violence in this country. They brought that violence to the Capitol on January 6 in an effort to change the course of American history, and the sentences imposed by this Court should reflect the seriousness of their offenses.


The justice system’s response to January 6 will impact whether January 6 becomes an outlier or a watershed moment. “By nearly every measure, political violence is seen as more acceptable today than it was five years ago.” Adrienne LaFrance, The New Anarchy: America faces a type of extremist violence it does not know how to stop, THE ATLANTIC, Mar. 6, 2023 (citing a 2022 UC Davis poll31 that found one in five Americans believes political violence would be “at least sometimes” justified, and one in 10 believes it would be justified if it meant the return of President Trump). Left unchecked, this impulse threatens our democracy.

The defendants in this case sought to capitalize on this undercurrent in our society to change the result of a presidential election. They called for using force, intimidation, and violence to get political leaders to stop the certification of the election. They recruited others to this mission. They organized and participated in encrypted messaging groups and meetings to further their plans. Such conduct in leading and instigating an attack like January 6 demands deterrence. It is critical that this Court impose significant sentences of incarceration on all the defendants in this case to convey to those who would mobilize such political violence in the future that their actions will have consequences.

That language is a succinct statement of the terrorism committed by the Proud Boys.

But the document as a whole is a testament to how the asymmetrical treatment of terrorism in the United States makes it much harder to hold men like Enrique Tarrio and Joe Biggs accountable for attacking the Capitol that it would be if they were Islamic terrorists, rather than right wing Trump supporters.

The reason why the government had to dedicate 80 pages to justify sentences of 30 years for the core leaders of the January 6 attack is because it requires massaging the sentencing guidelines to treat white (or Afro-Cuban, as Tarrio identifies as) person terrorism like the US has long treated Islamic terrorism.

Here’s what DOJ had to in order to justify calling for these sentences:

  • Ask for consecutive sentences, effectively stacking some sentences on others
  • Adopt the treason sentencing guideline for sedition (which doesn’t otherwise have one), even while the maximum sentence for sedition is just 20 years
  • Ask that Judge Tim Kelly use the conspiracy convictions to apply the conduct of each defendant against the other, to apply the assault and property damage done by Pezzola against the others and the sedition conviction against Pezzola
  • Use enhancements for property destruction, substantial interference in the vote certification, and extensive planning on the obstruction charges
  • Use leadership or management enhancements for everyone but Pezzola
  • Ask for additional departures from the guidelines for “conduct [that] resulted in a significant disruption of a governmental function” and an “intent to frighten, intimidate, and coerce” federal lawmakers
  • Dismiss challenges (led by Nordean attorney Nick Smith over two years) to the treatment of the vote certification as an official proceeding that can be obstructed
  • Ask for a terrorism enhancement for the destruction of property (tied to the window Pezzola broke and some bicycle racks)
  • Ask for terrorism enhancement based on the clear political intent of all these crimes, including sedition, which is explicitly political
  • Add enhancements for Biggs, Tarrio, and Rehl for obstructing the investigation or trial (which is why Nordean’s proposed sentence is lower than the other guys’)
  • Describe the Oath Keeper as late-comers to sedition, by comparison
  • Laugh at any claim these men accepted responsibility for their crimes

The sentences make sense — particularly when you compare the damage these terrorists did against the aspirational Islamic terrorists who have been sentenced to even longer sentences. But in the scope of the sentencing guidelines as they exist, it all comes off as funny math.

Update: I probably should have explained in the post why this happens. Because domestic terrorism is not a crime unto itself, but instead an enhancement (which is the way it is being used with the destruction of property here), it is not finally used as a label until sentencing. Prosecutors have, in fact, been calling the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys terrorists throughout their prosecution in detention memos (relying on the same destruction of property). I addressed this in this post and this one.

Update: Here’s a post I wrote in 2015 about this asymmetry.

Note: The image accompanying this post is a challenge coin for January 6 introduced as an exhibit in Christoper Worrel (who has skipped bail as he awaits sentencing). The Proud Boys literally made the attack on the Capitol into a coin of their terrorist group. Update: Added the image to the body of the post, too, bc I confused people by referencing it w/o including it. 

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.


Where Is The Proud Boys Verdict?

Friday has come and gone without a jury verdict in the Proud Boys case in front of Tim Kelly in DC District Court.

Couple of days ago, somebody asked me when I expected a verdict. That is fools’ play, but I said probably Friday because juries want to get on with their lives, and not come back, yet again, the next week.

Apparently I got that all wrong. Go figure.

So why did the PB jury blow past an obvious chance to be done? I do not know that either, but there is a fair chance it is not about ultimate guilt or innocence, but about multiple defendants and the complexity of the seditious conspiracy charge so many people (even here) have long clamored for.

Sometimes you get what you asked for, and that may be the case here. Counts, charges and jury instructions matter. I hope that is not the holdup here, but very much fear it could be. And that is what happens when you do not keep things narrow and strong.

We shall see.

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

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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

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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.”