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


From emptywheel: Thanks to past support from readers, we can bring you Brandi’s preview of sedition appeals. To support Brandi’s larger book project on sedition, you can donate at the link here.

With the Oath Keepers’ historic seditious conspiracy trials now in the rearview, a new fight with significant implications is on the horizon. Almost all of the defendants—including and perhaps most unsurprisingly of all, Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes are appealing their convictions.

Between two respective Oath Keeper trials involving seditious conspiracy that played out late last year and early into this one, prosecutors and defense attorneys spent an excess of 16 weeks duking it out in court, poring over mountains of evidence and examining dozens of witnesses including cooperating Oath Keepers. The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial stretched for more than 60 days and with verdicts reached in May, sentencing is expected in late August and early September. 

It is often repeated and rightfully so: seditious conspiracy is one of the gravest charges that can be brought in the U.S., and it is very rarely prosecuted. When it is, it is not often a successful endeavor. The bar is high and narrow given that the line between First Amendment-protected activities and sedition can be razor-thin.

The U.S. has endured major setbacks in prosecuting sedition cases before, so with two sets of juries delivering guilty verdicts on this count for most of the Oath Keepers indicted on it, (and then later for the Proud Boys), these were huge victories for the Justice Department. 

Huge but tempered.

Tempered because a conviction can also merely mark the end of one chapter and the start of another very tricky one once appeals are in the mix.

In a recent interview with NPR analyzing the Oath Keepers sedition verdicts, extremism expert and author Kathleen Belew pointed out that seditious conspiracy prosecutions can be a useful tool to combat extremist violence in society. She argues that it sends the message to extremist and militia groups, or other groups who use force as a movement, that they won’t be treated with kid gloves or prosecuted as lone actors. The risk of prosecuting extremists includes violent retaliation but as Belew also noted, these same prosecutions have the power to rouse people to the realization that their conduct is risky and potentially quite expensive to cope with legally. 

Perhaps most eloquently, Belew underlined that the only way to tamp down on extremism is to confront it, not look away from it.  

Recently, a report by The Washington Post suggested none of the sedition charges may have even come to pass if a reported skittishness to bring them had persisted at upper levels of the Justice Department at the outset of the Jan. 6 investigations. To read it, it would seem that many felt sedition was a bridge much too far or too risky politically. Marcy picked that WaPo report apart already and exposed key gaps and blind spots in the story so I won’t belabor those points here. 

I will, however, belabor others. 

First, Marcy’s unwinding of the Post story isn’t just context for context’s sake nor is it to browbeat a reporter like Carol Leonnig who is esteemed for good reason. (I have a lot of respect for her work and that of others at the Post, for the record). But Marcy does provide useful context by raising questions that, it would appear, the Washington Post seemed to miss or perhaps failed to appreciate when relying on its sources and then sharing those findings with a public largely unversed in the nuances of Jan. 6 and its related investigations. 

In the same way that Belew suggests sedition trials and convictions can act as an important deterrent to possible criminal extremists, it would seem just as vital that non-criminal, non-seditious Americans accurately grasp these serious proceedings, too. Being empowered with the ability to cut through the bullshit being spun by the far right, or Jan. 6 conspiracy theorists, hinges considerably on having a clear understanding, or at least a thorough consideration, of the historical evidence at the trials themselves.  

For my purposes, perhaps most striking in that Post piece was a detail that later needed to be corrected. In the first iteration of its story, the Post incorrectly stated that the Justice Department attempted to prosecute those involved in the kidnapping plot of Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer with the sedition statute. 

But they did not use it in that case; so the comparison wasn’t just incorrect but it wasn’t apt at its inception. What would be more apt would be to mention how prosecutors used it in the Hutaree Christian militia case from 2010. This is a critical distinction because the Hutaree case is deeply relevant as Oath Keepers appeals are underway. With the Hutaree militia, the judge acquitted the defendants of seditious conspiracy after the government closed its case. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts felt prosecutors had failed to sufficiently prove the militia members intended to forcibly resist the U.S. government. It was a just lot of vile talk, she found, but it didn’t rise to seditious conspiracy. 

I will broach more about this later in this piece but first, let’s return to some baseline details on the appeals in progress. 


At his sentencing in May, Rhodes puffed up his chest to deliver a self-aggrandizing diatribe extremely short on remorse and extraordinarily heavy on claims of political persecution by the U.S. government and the “weaponization” of free speech by the Justice Department. His attorneys said early into the trial that if they lost, an appeal would certainly follow. 

And it has. 

Rhodes’ lawyers, James Lee Bright and Phillip Linder, did not return a request for comment to emptywheel this week but for the moment, according to the docket at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Rhodes and almost all of his co-defendants from the first trial group including Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins, have consolidated their efforts to attempt an appeal.

Another batch of Oath Keepers tried, charged, and convicted of seditious conspiracy include Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo, and Joseph Hackett. They were split off into a second trial group for logistical reasons. 

The only Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy as of Thursday who have yet to officially indicate whether they will appeal are Ed Vallejo and Joseph Hackett.

Vallejo’s attorney, Matthew Peed, wrote in an email to emptywheel this week that he felt it was “likely” his client would appeal. Hackett’s lawyer, Angie Halim, did not return multiple requests for comment. (Key to note: An appeal cannot be formally entered until a defendant’s final judgment makes it onto the docket and neither Vallejo nor Hackett’s final judgment has appeared yet.) 

Rhodes’ attorney Phil Linder told CBS recently he expects it will take months to craft an appeal and one can only assume the same would apply to Kelly Meggs’ attorney Stanley Woodward given the demands on his schedule of late. Woodward also represents Waltine Nauta, former President Donald Trump’s valet and alleged co-conspirator in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. Woodward also represents Ryan Samsel, a Jan. 6 defendant who figures prominently in most “fedsurrection” conspiracy theories and he represents Frederico “Freddie” Klein, a former Trump-era State Department official. Klein faces a number of charges including assaulting police on Jan. 6, and he goes to trial in October. Woodward will also represent Trump’s former trade adviser Peter Navarro once Navarro’s trial for criminal contempt gets underway in September. Navarro, prosecutors say, defied a subpoena issued to him by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

Over the next 30 days, the Oath Keepers will continue to get their houses in order. Rhodes’ lawyers, according to a recent letter from the court clerk, have not yet been admitted to practice before the appeals court in but they have until July 12 to get admitted. 


After the massive unraveling of evidence and testimony at trial, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which an appeal, especially one from Rhodes, will contain, well, anything particularly novel. But the far more important factor will be whether his appeal will convince an appellate judge that his speech was not seditious.

Another one of his attorneys, Ed Tarpley, said after Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison that the former far-right leader wouldn’t stop speaking up because it was a matter of principle. 

The Justice Department had “weaponized” the First Amendment and used Rhodes’ own words against him to secure a conviction, Tarpley said. 

Rhodes’ words were “used against him” technically speaking. But it wasn’t just his words that helped get him convicted though jurors did see mind-boggling amounts of evidence featuring his communications. 

They heard speeches and reviewed texts and phone calls as well as a recorded meeting where he called for revolution days after the 2020 election. He decried the election as unconstitutional and fraudulent and promoted disinformation to rile up his group or to entice them to act in concert with him. He directed Kelly Meggs, a Florida division leader, to coordinate operations in advance of the 6th and on the 6th. He oversaw the coordination of the gigantic weapons stash, or a quick reaction force (QRF) with the help of his co-defendants. The cache was set up at a hotel in Virginia, just over the Potomac River from the Capitol. Aware of the gun laws in D.C., Oath Keepers, from points all over the U.S., understood and received directions to drop their weapons at the QRF. Rhodes’ future co-defendant Ed Vallejo would stand by awaiting Rhodes’ orders to haul the weapons in if asked. 

The beginnings of Rhodes’ intent were aired out in trial courtesy of a recorded GoTo Meeting with fellow Oath Keepers on Nov. 9, 2020.. Rhodes didn’t mince words and in fact, his fury was so complete, he scared one Oath Keeper into eventually reporting the call to the authorities. 

They would have to fight to keep Trump in office and this wasn’t a metaphorical “fight.”

“Let’s make no illusion about what’s going on in this country. We’re very much in exactly the same spot that the founding fathers were in like March 1775. Now—and Patrick Henry was right. Nothing left but to fight. And that’s true for us too. We’re not getting out of this without a fight. There’s going to be a fight. But let’s just do it smart and let’s do it while President Trump is still Commander in Chief and let’s try to get him to do his duty and step up and do it,” Rhodes said. 

Trump would not urge his supporters to descend on D.C. until Dec. 19, but prosecutors demonstrated that the Oath Keepers’ seditious conspiracy didn’t simply or only start to exist once Trump called for the “wild” event. 

During that Nov. 9 call, Rhodes’ told members they would need to be willing to travel to Washington and prepare to war with “antifa.” This was something he explained had multiple benefits. 

If they were there to stop “antifa” from attacking Trump supporters, it would give Trump a reason to invoke the Insurrection Act and raise Oath Keepers to his side.

“I’m willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let’s start the fight there, OK? That would give President Trump what he needs frankly,” Rhodes said.

Getting Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act so the “fraudulent” election could be stopped was ideal for Rhodes and as the weeks after the election passed and Trump lost lawsuit after lawsuit challenging the results, his desperation grew. 

On Jan. 6, Rhodes never stepped foot inside the Capitol. He stalked its grounds as he communicated with Oath Keepers on site and just moments before Oath Keepers breached, cell phone data showed Rhodes had called Meggs in what prosecutors argued was an order to get inside the Capitol and plow ahead. Prosecutors said the defendants understood, even without it being said explicitly, that this was a means to stop Congress from doing its duty.  At trial, footage after this call in question appears to show Meggs entering the Capitol as if on cue. 

Rhodes wasn’t indicted for propagandizing. He wasn’t indicted for having an opinion contrary to fact. He wasn’t indicted for wanting Trump to be in office even after Trump lost the election and then lost dozens of lawsuits seeking to overturn the results.

Rhodes wasn’t indicted for writing public letters and posting them online urging Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act in order to stop the “fraudulent” election of Joe Biden, a man Rhodes proclaimed was a “puppet” for communist China. (For the record, Rhodes wrote two of these letters; one was published on Dec. 14 and another on Dec. 23, 2021.) 

And Rhodes certainly wasn’t indicted for merely traveling from Texas to D.C. on Jan. 6 to attend a rally with thousands of other people who showed up to support Trump’s Big Lie. 

Rhodes was charged and convicted of seditious conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, and tampering with evidence because his words, when coupled with his conduct and the conduct of the men he oversaw, far exceeded the protections the First Amendment has to offer. 

Rhodes didn’t simply oversee a bunch of loudmouth oafs hand-painting protest signs in a hotel in Virginia before sauntering over to the Capitol to chant outside of it peacefully. 

When he was en route to D.C. from Texas,  bank statements and receipts showed. Rhodes spent more than $10,000 on firearms and gear like sights, scopes, ammunition, and night vision equipment. On their return to Texas after the 6th, Rhodes didn’t stop spending. In fact, he spent at least another $30,000 on weapons and equipment. Jurors saw maps and cell extraction reports that showed how, when, and where Rhodes coordinated these purchases and communications. Jurors saw how Rhodes coordinated with Oath Keeper Joshua James while returning to Texas and how they worked together to collect firearms and tactical gear. And all the while, Rhodes angled to conceal his movements, using his then-girlfriend Kellye SoRelle as a cutout to communicate with Oath Keepers via text through her and her phone. It was revealed to jurors also that James, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, sent a message to Rhodes as late as Inauguration Day saying, “After this… if nothing happens, it’s Civil War 2.0.” 

When former Oath Keeper Terry Cummings, who traveled with other members to D.C. for the 6th, testified against Rhodes in court, he said not since his time in the military had he ever seen so many guns in one place. 

Rhodes’ defense hinged on the argument that Oath Keepers came to Washington merely to serve as a security force for Trump VIPs attending speeches or rallies. One of those VIPs was ratfucker Roger Stone. Oath Keepers Joshua James and Roberto Minuta were tasked to guard him. Yet they would leave Stone at the hotel and speed towards the Capitol on golf carts as soon as Rhodes called them to his side. Meanwhile, Stone hightailed it out of D.C. 

At other times, the defense claimed Oath Keepers came to Washington to provide medical support as needed. Defendant and former Army medic Jessica Watkins had medical training, that was true, but her defense was undercut by her own admission on the witness stand: She did impede police when she forced her way into the Capitol and pushed past them. 

At sentencing, she wept when she recalled memories of the police officer who was overrun thanks to her conduct.

It seemed at trial the defense’s goalposts shifted depending on which defendant was under questioning or how a witness performed. The disclosed purpose for amassing the weapons cache or going to the Capitol regularly shifted around its edges in the Rhodes trial, and so many stories simply didn’t hold up under the scrutiny of cross-examination or redirect.

Memorably, assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler remarked to jurors during closing arguments in the first Oath Keepers trial that for all the claims of Oath Keepers being an organized security force on Jan. 6,  not one defendant was licensed or insured to provide security services and no one held any contracts for these supposed clients. 

And if the evidence from before Jan. 6 or the day of didn’t sink him, what followed proved Rhodes wanted to overthrow a government where Joe Biden was its executive. On Jan. 10, 2021, while downtown D.C. was still bustling with National Guard left over to protect the Capitol and nearby federal buildings, Rhodes took a meeting in a parking lot in Texas with U.S. veteran Jason Alpers. 

Alpers testified that he had “indirect” ties to the Trump White House but no further description was offered in court. Alpers said he linked up with Rhodes through an associate of Allied Security Operations Group, the same group that led an “audit” of voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. (Michigan, of course, was one of several battleground states where Trump’s lawyers, including Sidney Powell and others, claimed fraud was pervasive. Powell was sanctioned for her role in pursuing such baseless claims in the courts last week.)

The meeting was set so Rhodes could pass a message to Trump. Alpers would secretly record the exchange. Rhodes was furious. He wouldn’t condemn the violence on the 6th but he had other regrets.

If Trump was going to just let himself be removed illegally, Rhodes remarked, “then we should have brought rifles.”

“We could have fixed it right then and there,” he said on the recording before adding that he would “hang fucking [then Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi from the lamppost.”

Furious, he tapped out a message into Alpers’ phone because he expected Alpers would pass it along to his Trump contact. 

Trump would be killed by his enemies if he didn’t act now, Rhodes warned.

‘You must use the Insurrection Act… if you don’t, you and your family will be imprisoned or killed. You and your children will die in prison… you must do as Lincoln did. He arrested congressmen, state legislators and issued a warrant for SCOTUS Chief Justice Taney. Take command like Washington would… Go down in history as a savior of the Republic, not the man who surrendered it… I’m here for you and so are all of my men. We will come help if you need us,” Rhodes wrote. 

He claimed he had 40,000 Oath Keepers backing him and millions of others who felt as they did.

He added: “There’s gonna be combat here on U.S. soil no matter what” and warned that the Biden administration would “disarm us all,” if allowed to take office. 

The message was too extreme for Alpers to pass along. It didn’t help, the veteran testified, that Rhodes’ then-lover Kellye SoRelle, who was also there, was drunk. It put  Alpers off. It was all too unprofessional and his confidence was shaken. On cross-examination, Alpers said he delayed reporting the meeting to the FBI because he didn’t want to get involved any further. 

All of these elements are just slivers of what jurors heard in the weeks-long trial.

There were also several intense days where emotions ran high, including those where the parties started to dig into claims that Oath Keepers went to help Capitol Police after getting inside. 

Meggs, Harrelson, and Watkins attorneys insisted their clients “assisted” U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn who was stationed outside then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Armed with a rifle, Dunn told jurors he knew it wouldn’t take much for someone to grab it off him and make a bad situation worse. He told Oath Keepers to leave, he told them they were hurting police; he told them police were “getting the shit kicked out of them.”

The Oath Keepers wouldn’t leave right away though, they hung around him a bit longer instead. When prosecutors asked Dunn on redirect at trial what would have helped him that day, the officer was succinct: if they left, or never come in, that would help. 

So, to review, here are the convictions from the Oath Keepers sedition cases. (It is worth noting that if Rhodes manages to pull off an appeal, he could also be resentenced.)

On seditious conspiracy:

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Joseph Hackett

On conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding

  • Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschell, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett

On obstruction of an official proceeding

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell, Roberto Minuta, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo

On conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties: 

  • Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson, David Moerschel, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett

On tampering or destruction of evidence

  • Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell, Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett

Impeding officers during a civil disorder:

  •  Jessica Watkins


When the federal judge presiding over the Hutaree matter tossed all of the sedition charges against those defendants, she explained that prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Christian militia members took concrete steps to violently revolt against the federal government with the aid of weapons of mass destruction.

The Hutarees were recorded discussing how police were their enemies and how they wanted to kill them. They discussed how a war against the U.S. government was necessary, too. But Judge Victoria Brown ruled that a conspiracy required a specific plot or a knowing agreement to break the law or a knowing intent to join that effort. Guilt by association was not enough, she said, and neither was repugnant conversation.

A Hutaree defense attorney noted in an interview with The Guardian last October when the Oath Keepers went on trial, that when it came to the Hutaree militia, beyond a lack of a plan, there was also “no action taken.” Hutarees may have shared disdain for law enforcement, communications showed, but, he argued, it pretty much stopped there. 

After the sedition acquittals for the Hutarees in 2012, a law professor from Wayne State University noted to the New York Times that the outcome just went to show how difficult it is to prosecute cases involving groups engaged in political speech. The professor also noted how  Hutarees were “a fairly disorganized group” who may have “talked big” but didn’t seem to be doing much otherwise. 

At the Oath Keepers trial, the defense was insistent that because there was not a concrete plan laying out the Oath Keepers’ precise efforts up to, on, or after Jan. 6, the government’s case was overcharged and amounted to a gross infringement on their First Amendment rights. 

But neither Judge Mehta nor the jury believed that was the case for the Oath Keepers who were ultimately convicted of seditious conspiracy. At Rhodes’ sentencing, Judge Mehta was unequivocal on this point, telling Rhodes he posed an “ongoing peril to democracy.” 

He was the one giving orders, Mehta said. 

“He was the one organizing teams that day. He was the reason they were, in fact, in Washington, D.C. Oath Keepers wouldn’t have been there but for Stewart Rhodes, I don’t think anyone contends otherwise. He was the one who gave the order to go, and they went,” he said. 

When the jury was instructed before deliberations, they were told that a conspiracy was defined as two or more people trying to accomplish some unlawful purpose and in order to sustain a seditious conspiracy charge, they must agree that a defendant conspired with at least one other person to oppose the government by force to delay and impede it; or they reached an agreement to use force in the ordinary sense of the word; or simply that they contemplated using force while at least one defendant actually used it. 

The government had no burden, Mehta said, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an express agreement or an implied one. They just had to prove that the members of the conspiracy met, talked about unlawful objectives, and agreed to some of the details or what the means were by which objectives could be accomplished. The success of that aim was irrelevant. 

Jurors deliberated for three days in the Rhodes trial; jurors in the second trial group took just over a week to reach a verdict. The end results were a mixed bag of verdicts, suggesting that jurors meticulously reviewed each defendant’s conduct. 

Watkins was acquitted of sedition but convicted of conspiracy to obstruct a proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties, and impeding officers during a civil disorder. She recruited Oath Keepers and coordinated with them to breach the building and disrupt police on Jan. 6, but the jury, in the end, wasn’t fully convinced her role was central to that of a seditious conspiracist. 

The bar to convict remained high even for someone who recorded themselves breaching the building while actively and repeatedly encouraging others to “push, push, push” because the police “can’t hold us.” Before sentencing her to 8.5 years, Judge Mehta remarked that no one would suggest she is Rhodes or even Kelly Meggs. 

“But your role in those events is more than that of a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that,” he said. 

Will these words haunt an appeal to come? 

When sentencing Rhodes and Meggs, Judge Mehta was far harder on them than their co-defendants also convicted of seditious conspiracy. He handed down an 18-year sentence to Rhodes and 12 years to Meggs with terrorism enhancements applied. The maximum on seditious conspiracy alone is  20 years. Minuta was sentenced to just 4.5 years; Joseph Hackett to 3.5 years. Vallejo and Moerschel received just 3 years. And again, that would include all of the convictions weighed in. 

Mehta emphasized to Rhodes at his sentencing that there was no question he “took up arms and fomented a revolution” on Jan. 6.

“That’s what you did. Those aren’t my words. Those are yours,” Mehta said. “You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You are not here for your beliefs.”

Perhaps this encapsulates the very reason why it matters that the sedition charge was used instead of abandoned early on. The evidence would indicate this wasn’t merely a First Amendment matter. Perhaps it may have been easier for Rhodes or Meggs or other Oath Keepers charged and convicted of seditious conspiracy to wriggle out of an obstruction charge if the focus on sedition wasn’t also on the table to start. 

But whatever the case may be, that’s the recent past. And while important, there’s now an equally if not more important future to ponder just ahead. 

At a time when the U.S. is awash in far-right extremism; when the man who incited the insurrection on Jan. 6 is now twice-indicted yet still running for president and running on a vengeance platform; at a time when he and other right-wing politicians vow to pardon all Jan. 6 defendants if ever given power by the body politic to do it—it will matter what happens with these appeals. 

Will the Oath Keepers convicted of sedition appeal their sentences? Or will they appeal the conviction? Appealing the conviction would seem the likely route given Mehta’s light touch at sentencing for most. And as part of his tough-guy-patriot-against-the-Deep-State-routine, Rhodes has already said he’s willing to do prison time for his beliefs. An appeal on the conviction that could potentially humiliate the U.S. government would seem too tantalizing for a man like Stewart Rhodes to pass up. 

If terabytes of evidence weren’t enough, if hours and hours of video footage weren’t enough, if proclamations and concerted efforts to foment an armed rebellion live on television aren’t enough to maintain the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy convictions, then one must wonder, what will happen if history repeats itself?

ONLY TIME WILL TELL: Seditionist Oath Keepers sentenced amid tears and promises of redemption

When they came to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, and terrorized the U.S. Capitol, the Oath Keepers hellbent on advancing a seditious conspiracy to keep Donald Trump in the White House were self-righteous and self-professed warrior patriots. 

But in the cold light of reality inside a federal courtroom blocks from the U.S. Capitol this past week, some of those self-stylized “warriors,” were rendered to spittling, Kleenex-clutching tearful heaps as they finally faced the consequences of their actions and U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta prepared to sentence them to prison.  

Oath Keepers Roberto Minuta, Edward Vallejo, David Moerschel, and Joseph Hackett went to trial last December and a jury found them guilty in January on multiple counts including sedition and conspiracy to obstruct Congress from certifying the 2020 election. The men were sentenced over two days and roughly a week after leaders of the conspiracy like Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Ken Harrelson were sentenced. 

Roberto Minuta

No longer sporting tactical gear or chemical spray on his hip as he did on Jan. 6 while assaulting and taunting police, Oath Keeper Roberto Minuta appeared Thursday clad in a dark suit with hair neatly coiffed. His eyes rarely lifted to meet Judge Mehta’s as he read from a prepared statement seeking mercy in the face of the Justice Department’s 17-year-sentence recommendation.


Where Minuta had once followed Stewart Rhodes faithfully, in these last moments before sentencing, he sought to set himself apart from him. It was only now, Minuta explained with a calm and even tone, that he realized how profoundly “misled” he had been. 

Rhodes’ leadership was “deranged,” he added. 

When he was seemingly less repelled by Rhodes, Minuta purchased some 5,500 rounds of ammunition in the days before Jan. 6 and while participating in numerous chats where the group’s operations were discussed. It was in mid-December 2020 when he began talking with Rhodes about the need to do something other than peacefully protest if they were to keep Trump in office. He had raved on a Facebook live stream about election fraud and wailed that the “integrity of our democratic system is fucking dead.”

To stand by the results of that year’s election, he continued, would “lead to the boot of the government on your fucking face for eternity.”

For Roberto Minuta, by his own admission, by December 2020, the nation was already at civil war. When another leader of another extremist group, Proud Boy honcho Henry “Enrique” Tarrio posted messages online praising “lords of war” who took to the streets in support of Trump, Minuta posted messages in support online. He would echo similar notions about “war in the streets” on Jan. 6 where he was recorded speeding away from a nearby hotel on a golf cart. He was initially posted up at the hotel as a member of ratfucker Roger Stone’s security detail. 

Minuta’s voice didn’t shake as he spoke to Mehta. He told the judge he had waited a long time to speak to him directly. He told the court he “cringed” at his “embarrassing use of language” and his “display[s] of anger” in the evidence presented.

A line had been crossed on Jan. 6 that destroyed the legitimacy of what he thought was a peaceful protest, he said, and when he taunted police, it was this belligerence that added to their stress. 

Notably, on his way out of the Capitol, Minuta took the time to shove his fingers in an officer’s face as he screeched that “all that is left is the Second fucking Amendment.” 

“The recipients of my verbal belligerence were undeserving and it was misplaced frustration…as a father, I would be embarrassed for my children to see me behaving how I did that day. It would be a perfect example of how not to behave. My poor judgment didn’t stop at belligerence. I entered the Capitol, alarms blazing, chemical irritants in the air, and despite my instincts not to go in, I did,” Minuta said. 

And then, though the 38-year-old Oath Keeper would rebuke Rhodes and disavow the Oath Keepers, he nonetheless propped up a wafer-thin defense that has time and again been blown apart by evidence and dismissed by the courts: on Jan. 6 he was helping police, not harming them. 

“I had an opportunity to help police and I blew it,” Minuta said. “While using my own words as their evidence, it does not look like I was helping police. I failed at assisting police that day and I now perceive myself as an added stressor in what was already a terrible situation.” 

Judge Mehta acknowledged that while Minuta was not necessarily a leader in the way that Kelly Meggs or even Jessica Watkins had been, he nonetheless inspired other Oath Keepers to join a conspiracy analogous to treason.

 It may have only been dozens of Oath Keepers who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, but when they went up the Capitol stairs, they inspired others to do the same. 

But unlike others in the mob that day, Mehta said Minuta clearly understood, at a minimum, that when he showed up, violence was possible. After all, he was prepared to engage in it himself. There was a trail of communications leading up to the 6th proving this and it wasn’t just overheated rhetoric, the judge said. 

He wasn’t charged with seditious conspiracy because he was belligerent. 

“You are not being charged and convicted because of your words. It is because they reflected your state of mind and gave us a window into what you were thinking and why you came to Washington… when you told [Proud Boy] Dominic Pezzola who you just met that Stewart Rhodes thinks the ‘time for peaceful protest is over,’ – the fact that a lightbulb didn’t go off to you at that point to avoid any further contact with Rhodes, to avoid contact with Oath Keepers, or to avoid coming to D.C. on Jan. 6, what inference should one draw?” Mehta said. 

The judge, who is a former public defender with a frequently even-keeled, almost understated delivery, sounded exasperated. 

He sighed deeply. 

Minuta hadn’t simply lost his way on Jan. 6, the judge said. 

Though he empathized with Minuta over the closure of his tattoo parlor during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and even his frustrations over how civil unrest in 2020 metastasized, these factors had still blinded him to better sense. And what was worse, the judge acknowledged, was that despite the show of contrition in court, he still stood before him today contending that he helped police on Jan. 6. 

Opening his eyes wide and looking into Minuta’s face, Mehta said: “You weren’t there to help them. You may have convinced yourself of that but there isn’t any shred of evidence that would be consistent with that intent…and on the way out, you taunted police more. And as you are walking out of the building, after they have laid their own bodies on the line, you don’t thank them. You vilify them some more. There’s nothing that crossed your mind to assist police. You and I will have to agree to disagree on that.” 

The law, he added, also did not permit Minuta to cloak himself in the tradition of the Founding Fathers. Nor does the Second Amendment give him or anyone else the right to battle the U.S. government. 

Given the limited role of his actions in comparison to other conspirators and a lack of evidence supporting claims by the prosecution that Minuta was a leader of Oath Keepers in New York more broadly speaking, Mehta departed significantly from the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation and gave Minuta just 4.5 years. 

Edward Vallejo

Where Minuta was stoic, 64-year-old Oath Keeper Ed Vallejo was overcome with emotion, openly sobbing while speaking to Judge Mehta. Vallejo cut a much different figure in court than he did in footage from the 6th. The wild unkempt beard he sported in 2021 was gone. He appeared frail as his white dress shirt billowed around his torso. His hands shook as he grasped a hard copy of his statement. 

An Army Veteran sober for 40 years after a battle with alcoholism following the loss of his son, Vallejo drove 2,300 miles from his home in Arizona to Washington, D.C. fueled by disinformation. In this way, Mehta acknowledged, Vallejo and others suckered in by disinformation were victims in their own right. 

“That doesn’t mean people aren’t responsible for their own actions,” Mehta said. 

In late 2020, Vallejo had faithfully shared an open letter that Rhodes had issued in December calling on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act so Oath Keepers could be raised to help him stay in power. By the 6th, he was tapped to oversee a stockpile of weapons dumped at a hotel in northern Virginia. The cache was transported by Oath Keepers from around the U.S. The hotel, just outside of Washington and across the Potomac River, was dubbed a “quick reaction force” or “QRF.” 

Though at trial Oath Keepers maintained the QRF was a defensive maneuver only and arranged to support their security detail for Trump VIPs and the like, no such evidence to support this claim ever emerged and Judge Mehta summarily and repeatedly dismissed the notion at sentencing. 

Before Vallejo delivered a tearful plea, Mehta reminded Vallejo that on the morning of the 6th, it was he who went on a podcast with fellow Oath Keeper Todd Kandaris and boasted of unloading rifles (albeit indirectly) and then proceeded to speak of the need for “guerilla warfare” and armed conflict if the certification didn’t go as they wanted it. 

It was Vallejo who spoke of the Oath Keepers as the “final check and balance” on the process. He also mentioned on the podcast that the people on the ground in Washington that day were prepared to do more than taunt police. 

Where Vallejo’s defense attorney Matthew Peed argued those words were bloviations from a “goofy” man, Mehta disagreed.

There were multiple texts Vallejo sent to Rhodes during the attack, telling him he was ready to deploy if someone said the word. There were media interviews revealing his intent to advance the seditious conspiracy. There was also witness testimony at trial stating that Vallejo and Kandaris told Oath Keepers supping at Olive Garden after the attack that they were “waiting to be called to the Capitol.” And if that were not enough, Mehta pointed out, instead of leaving D.C. in short order, on the morning of Jan. 7, Vallejo returned to the Capitol and surveilled and probed police lines to see how law enforcement had responded in the aftermath. Messages show the Arizona Oath Keeper told Rhodes he would only return home if the founder ordered it. He was willing to stay on hand to deliver “after action reports” that would begin after the inauguration, he said. 

And when Kandaris asked Rhodes what to do after the 6th, it was expressed plainly that he and Vallejo were excited about the “next steps.”

Mehta speculated last week on why, ultimately, Rhodes didn’t answer Vallejo’s call to activate the QRF and start hauling guns and rifles and ammunition into Washington. 

I think only Mr. Rhodes knows… perhaps he thought it would take too long to get weapons in or perhaps Mr. Rhodes knew, being the Yale law school graduate that he is, it wouldn’t be wise to respond to Mr. Vallejo, saying he can bring weapons in,” Mehta said.

During the prosecution’s allocution, assistant U.S. attorney Louis Manzo asked the judge to consider: What if Rhodes’ mind had ticked a little bit differently at that moment? 

“Is there any doubt in your honor’s mind that Vallejo would have delivered?” Manzo said. 

The confidence he had in January  2021 was missing in action this week. Vallejo wiped his nose profusely as he spoke through tears, his voice quaking. His cries grew slightly deeper while he hung his head and offered an apology to U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and other members of law enforcement. 

Dunn delivered a charged victim impact statement in May along with Metropolitan Police Officer Chris Owens. 

“It hurt me so bad that [Officer Dunn] is going through so much hurt,” Vallejo rasped, crying through his mea culpa. “I would do anything to help console him… my heart went out to him… I wish with all my soul I had never went… I wish I never associated with Stewart Rhodes… I see now how wrong and foolish I was… my life has been destroyed by this catastrophe in so many ways. I doubt I will ever fully recover from it.” 

Vallejo’s wife, who is 70, is unable to care for their rescue animals or their home if she is alone and he is incarcerated for a significant length of time, he said. Telling Judge Mehta he was a changed man who had “sworn off” politics, the internet, and the outside world and that he had started removing tattoos related to the Oath Keepers and his recent past from his body.

“This wasn’t simply a belief that ballots had been miscast or ballots were brought in illegally. You know, Mr. Vallejo, I can appreciate that concern and that people had it and have had it. And you weren’t alone in that. Whether it was because you genuinely believed it based on your own review of evidence or the former president convinced you of it, you still are where you are,” Mehta said.

There is a process, he emphasized. 

Trump went through the courts and failed to prove election fraud. There was nothing there, Mehta said.

But there was a process.

“What can’t happen is a willingness to take up arms when the process didn’t work out the way you had hoped it would. It can’t be that dozens of judges got it wrong. It just cant be. I can’t imagine a single judge didn’t look at it carefully… if you believe in democracy, you take the good with the bad. You take the results you don’t like,” Mehta said. “Go out into the streets and protest peacefully, sure. Hope for a better outcome, of course. But you can’t conspire to undo a result because you and a group of your cohorts believed that process failed you.” 

Though prosecutors sought 17 years for Vallejo, Mehta only sentenced him to 3 years in detention and one year in home confinement after he is released. The departure in sentencing was somewhat expected after the light touch given to Minuta. Unlike Minuta, Vallejo was not at the Capitol and never went inside. His advanced age was also a boon.

David Moerschel and Joseph Hackett

To close out the week, Oath Keeper and former neurophysiologist turned-convicted-seditionist David Moerschel was also sentenced.

Right behind him was Oath Keeper and former chiropractor Joseph Hackett.

It was Moerschel and Hackett who coordinated the transport of weapons to the QRF with Kelly Meggs, a top leader under Rhodes. Moerschel joined a key text channel Oath Keepers used to communicate on Dec. 20, just one day after Trump invited his supporters to descend on Washington via Twitter. By Christmas Eve, Moerschel told Oath Keepers he thought Trump would wait until every avenue legally had been exhausted before he invoked the Insurrection Act but when Oath Keepers showed up, they would have firearms near D.C. if needed. Moerschel had pondered then: why else would Trump call them up? 

On Christmas Day 2020, Moerschel, who reminded Judge Mehta of his devotion to god and missionary work during his sentencing last week, told Oath Keepers in a group chat that he thought then-Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t stand by Trump. It was also here that Oath Keeper Jeremy Brown told him he thought the nation was on the brink of war and Moerschel replied by telling Brown about his guns and how he wanted “extra knockdown power” on the 6th. 

He ended up bringing an AR-15 as well as a .45 caliber handgun to the hotel in Virginia.

“He didn’t do this for any other purpose than to wait for Trump or Kelly Meggs or Stewart Rhodes to tell him to use them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards said Friday. “The safety of our community and balance of our democracy should not hinge on the impulses of madmen. I don’t believe Mr. Moerschel would have ignored someone like Mr. Meggs or Mr. Rhodes should they have said, ‘Go grab the firearms.’”

On the 6th, Moerschel went along with the first stack of Oath Keepers and got inside for just under 15 minutes. Like he had helped provide support with the weaponry, Mehta noted that his presence with the stack contributed to the overall force used to stop proceedings. 

Moerschel rarely lifted his head as his attorney, the judge and prosecutors reviewed the court’s factual findings of his case. Instead, he kept his eyes glued to a paper in front of him. On occasion, the 45-year-old would shift in his seat, clasping closed hands near his mouth as if he was in silent prayer. 

Tall and thin with the contours of his face sharply angular, Moerschel approached the podium and offered a quick preface to his allocution: His wife wasn’t present because they were unable to arrange care for their three children. His voice was clear as a bell as he said this and then, as if on cue with the first word of his prepared remarks, Moerschel’s voice began to quake immediately. 

If there were tears, they were not immediately or as clearly visible, unlike with Ken Harrelson, Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, and Ed Vallejo. Where their faces had flushed, where their tears had flowed, where they were undeniably overcome as they hit random points throughout their remarks—usually triggered by the first mention of a family member they had shamed—Moerschel did not emote as strongly though the sounds of weeping were there, however. 

Moerschel said when he was on the Capitol steps, he had a revelation. 

“I felt like God said to me, ‘get out of here’ and I didn’t and I disobeyed God and I broke laws. I’m not sorry because I’m being punished. I’m sorry because of the harm that my actions have caused other people,” he said. 

 Jan. 6 contributed to a national crisis, he added.

He was sorry for what it had done to his family. In the wake of his indictment, Moerschel lost his job as a neurophysiologist and has since taken work as a landscaper in Florida. (Moerschel, Vallejo, Minuta, and Hackett were granted bond ahead of trial.) 

Mehta remarked on his good upbringing, education, and loving support system. Perplexed how he ultimately ended up on a road to ruin, Mehta told Moerscshel he thought he was a “smart guy” up until the fall of 2020. 

During his remarks, the Oath Keeper riffed to Mehta: he appreciated the compliment but his actions were “really dumb.”

Leaning foward with eyes wide, Moerschel quipped: ”I don’t mean anything bad about Kelly Meggs but he’s a used car salesman and it was really dumb to follow that guy.”

Before rendering the sentence, Mehta told Moerschel that at a time, perhaps his joining the Oath Keepers was rooted in something more noble. He told him he could understand how joining a group of like-minded individuals and then treating that group as a primary source of community, validation, or even “news” could infiltrate one’s thinking. 

“It is something that can suck you in like a vortex,” Mehta said. “And it is very difficult to get out. That is not an uncommon story.”

Moerschel’s lawyer Scott Weinberg argued that but for Trump’s tweet on Dec. 19, his client would have never come to D.C. at all. In effect, Moerschel was taken in by conmen like Rhodes and Trump, Weinberg argued. 

He was “naive,” he said. 

Moerschel was sentenced to just 3 years in prison though prosecutors sought 10. Mehta explained this was because Moerschel came to the conspiracy later than other members, was inside the Capitol very briefly, and did not appear to personally shout at or accost officers. He noted too that Moerschel disassociated with Oath Keepers and had no further dealings with the group after the 7th.

Fellow Oath Keeper Ken Harrelson, who received a 4-year sentence, did not do this. He kept talking to Meggs after the fact. 

“Look, sentencings are—each person is unique and the reasons for sentences are unique to each individual. But I want to say something I haven’t said so far: Sentencings shouldn’t be vengeful or such that it is unduly harsh for the sake of being harsh… different periods of incarceration apply to different people for various reasons,” Mehta said Friday. 

Oath Keeper Joseph Hackett, once a chiropractor with a flourishing practice, was sentenced to 3.5 years though prosecutors sought a 12-year term. 

Wearing a light gray suit and somber expression, Hackett grew emotional and like Vallejo, was overcome though his voice was soft and quiet. He hadn’t realized, he told the court, just how much damage he had done on the 6th, or how many people were scared of him.

It wasn’t until police officers testified that he realized the “full measure” of his actions, he added. He also admitted: he had been too busy thinking of the damage he had caused his own family. 

“I have destroyed my life,” Hackett said. 

He hated himself, he said. And he really hated himself for hurting his daughter and wife who had received death threats since he was first exposed as a rioter at the Capitol.

“I am the reason we are not enjoying a happy and normal life,” he said. 

Angie Halim, Hackett’s defense lawyer, called Hackett a “head-burier” who didn’t get involved with Oath Keepers to be extreme or political. The Oath Keepers didn’t get extreme until the country got extreme, she argued. Trump was saying the election was stolen, high-ranking politicians were too, and, she added, some media outlets failed to dispel the lie, not helping matters. In a flowery blame-shifting plea for her client, Halim beseeched Mehta to “trudge through the layer of human complexity” as he weighed a sentence. 

Hackett, she said, was “scared of his own shadow” and had been for the last two years. 

Hackett was no Rhodes. He was no Meggs either. But he was a recruiter for Oath Keepers who wanted to join the fray on the 6th. 

Mehta acknowledged this as well as the fact that Hackett brought at least one gun on his trek to DC. While evidence wasn’t concrete at trial, according to the Justice Department, Hackett also very likely added an AR-15 to the QRF.

Though Hackett wasn’t inside the Capitol for long, he still showed up in tactical gear and then once inside, ended up lurking outside of then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.

In a statement seeming to signal a direct rebuffing of those who claim the Oath Keepers acted properly under the First Amendment, Mehta made a point to note that he agreed with prosecutor Alexandra Hughes’ take on Hackett’s involvement with the organization: 

To the extent that the Oath Keepers were a lawful organization with lawful intent, it would have been fine for Hackett to participate. But the lawfulness component changed while he was an active party and “in it” for some time.

Hackett sat up straight in his chair as he heard his sentence. He nodded almost imperceptibly as Judge Mehta reviewed the terms of his supervision. His face didn’t look tense. He looked passive, almost accepting of his fate. In the clatter of his last moments in the courtroom, as lawyers began to gather their things, Mehta told him though his words might sound hollow, he hoped the life he lived before the fall of 2020 was something he could one day reclaim. 

“Make your wife, daughter, and country proud,” Mehta told him. 

Hackett smiled at the judge warmly, closing his eyes for a moment before nodding and mouthing subtly: “Thank you.” 


OATHS BROKEN, OATH KEEPERS BOWED: Sentences for 2 more in marquee Jan. 6 conspiracy case

Raw emotions positively dominated a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. this week as the Justice Department secured significant sentences for two more Oath Keepers involved in a larger conspiracy to forcibly stop America’s transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021. 

On the heels of an 18-year-sentence delivered to a defiant Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right group, and a 12-year-sentence handed down to Kelly Meggs, Rhodes’ deputy on the 6th, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced Oath Keeper Jessica Watkins, once the founder of the Ohio Regular Militia, to 8.5 years and Kenneth Harrelson, a ground team leader on the 6th, to four years. Both were acquitted of the sedition charge in this case but they were found guilty of multiple felonies including serious obstruction charges. Sedition itself is rarely prosecuted in the United States and rarer still are these prosecutions successful since the bar to prove this sort of conspiracy is set so high. 

This week marked a victory for the Justice Department, the rule of law, and the victims of Jan. 6 even if Donald Trump, the man who started it all, has yet to bear any real legal responsibility for his role in inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol to stay in power. 

That day may come. But in the meantime, the willing pawns in Trump’s betrayal of the U.S. Constitution and common decency alike will now begin to serve their time. 

Underlining the severity of events, prosecutors initially sought an 18-year sentence for Watkins noting the jury’s conclusion that her true objective on Jan.6 was to storm the Capitol, use her body—and the bodies of her recruits—to violently obstruct the certification of the 2020 election, and intimidate Congress and impede police. 

Judge Mehta told a highly emotional Watkins in court Friday that though she was acquitted of the most serious charge, at the time of Jan. 6 she was nevertheless a self-professed Oath Keeper who conspired to mar and disrupt democratic proceedings and lead recruits who, he believed, wouldn’t have been there but for her leadership. That would include, Mehta noted, Oath Keepers Bennie and Sandra Parker. She also led Donovan Crowl and Graydon Young into the fray. 

Watkins was on the Nov. 9, 2020, GoTo Meeting with Stewart Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, where, Judge Mehta described, the origins of a violent conspiracy began to emerge. Before sentencing, the judge told her she “knew exactly what Rhodes had said, [and] was listening carefully on the call.” 

In that meeting, Rhodes said he had abandoned all hope of a peaceful way to keep Trump in office or stave off a civil war. There was “nothing left but to fight,” and “we’re not getting out of this without a fight,”  he said in November 2020. 

He was primed for violence and ready to issue orders. Watkins was ready to take them. 

Jessica Watkins

She would ask Rhodes then about providing weapons for Oath Keeper events, Mehta noted, pointing to a discussion about transporting altered, weaponized pool cues. She and Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl called them “nightsticks.” 

The foreseeable violence of Jan. 6 was evident in her constant willingness to prepare for it in the days and weeks leading up to the certification, Mehta said. And on that day, Watkins used an “aggressive, assaultive” posture and was “purposeful” as she coursed through the Capitol. Communications between her and others like Oath Keeper Donovan Crowl showed she wasn’t in D.C. merely to provide a security detail for Trump VIPs or to protect Trump supporters attending speeches like she and her defendants argued at trial.

She understood why Oath Keepers had set up the arsenal of weapons they dubbed a “quick reaction force” or a “QRF” at a hotel in northern Virginia, Mehta said. She brought an AR-15 from her home base of Ohio to Winchester, Virginia on the 6th. At trial, she said she decided to leave it at Crowl’s property there because she worried cleaning staff at the hotel outside of D.C. (the QRF) would “freak out” if they saw them. 

In court Friday, Mehta told Watkins he believed she would have gone to get weapons if Rhodes had asked her and it was “small comfort” that she had left her own personal weapon further behind. 

In any event, it is unlikely Watkins would have needed to drive hours back to Winchester anyway: The arsenal at the hotel in Arlington, Virginia, was just over the Potomac River from the U.S. Capitol, and it had more weapons than Oath Keeper Terry Cummings had seen in one place since his time in the military, he testified in October.

Watkins was part of the first stack, or line formation, inside of the Capitol. Leading the group on the ground was Kelly Meggs. He was sentenced to 12 years for seditious conspiracy earlier this week. Watkins used Zello, a walkie-talkie messaging app to communicate her maneuvering inside the Capitol and Mehta said there was no doubt that she pushed her way past police and headed toward the Senate. She could be seen and heard in footage urging “push! push! push!” and encouraging rioters to overrun police. 

Watkins kept some of her communications tied to Jan. 6 intact but others she deleted, and this, both the jury and Judge Mehta concluded, indicated an intent to conceal her activities and obstruct an investigation into her crimes after she was identified in press reports in the wake of the attack. He told Watkins he didn’t know if there was a direct connection between Rhodes’ orders to Oath Keepers to delete communications after the 6th and her decision to remove her own communications but he considered it obstruction nonetheless. 

Mehta agreed to a terrorism enhancement sought by the Justice Department but still went below the guidelines. He was sympathetic to her and her background. Watkins is transgender and she had a difficult upbringing in a strict religious household. Once in the Army she temporarily went AWOL because of harassment from a bunkmate who discovered her online searches involving gender identity. Her military service didn’t earn her any special deference at sentencing. 

“I don’t think you’re Stewart Rhodes. I don’t think you’re Kelly Meggs. But your role in those events was more than a foot soldier. I think you can appreciate that,” Mehta told her in court Friday. 

She nodded slightly as he spoke to her. 

Watkins was racked with emotions during the sentencing hearing. She burst into tears the moment she took the podium and it was her chance to ask for mercy from the court. After somewhat composing herself, she spoke loudly though often her voice would quake as her tears flowed. She clutched a tissue for a few moments as she spoke. Her face flushed.

 I wrote this letter to you today to express my feelings of remorse considering my participation in Jan 6. As I said previously, my actions and behaviors that fateful day were wrong and as I now understand, criminal. This is what has brought me before you today and why you must hold me responsible. The events of Jan. 6 are unfortunate and while I believe in peaceful protest and redress of government, violence is never the answer,” Watkins said.

She expressed her “strong” frustration with people who assaulted police and told Judge Mehta since she had been incarcerated she had studied video evidence online and emphatically claimed she had “solved the crime” of a police assault on Jan. 6 unrelated to her case.

She also said she accepted that “her actions in and around the Capitol inspired those people to a degree.” 

“They saw me there and that probably fired them up,” she said, noting how Oath Keepers were pat on the back as they ascended the Capitol steps. 

“At trial, I said I was an idiot for going in there. But idiots can be held responsible and this idiot must be held responsible,” she said. 

Watkins cried as she left the stand, saying she still loved her country and that it was never her intent to harm it or anyone. She regretted that Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Owens was not present Friday. She wanted to personally apologize again though she aired the same sentiments at trial while he was in the courtroom. Owens, who was on the receiving end of Watkins’ push inside the Capitol, issued a poignant and painful victim impact statement two days before her sentencing. She was present for it but unable to address him then.

Judge Mehta’s empathy for Watkins was substantial. She had overcome a lot, he said. And in a tone that sounded stern yet near fatherly, the federal judge looked at Watkins earnestly, telling her he believed she was someone who could one day be a role model for others. 

“I’m happy you have found someone who loves you. You and he tried to make a go of it with your own business… you served as a firefighter and a medic, and frankly, I do believe that the purpose of the Ohio State Regular Militia was not to battle our government,” Mehta said. “But somewhere along the line, that all got waylaid and perverted. I don’t know what it was. Whether it was Alex Jones or other corners of the internet you found yourself in; you clearly began to have delusional thoughts about what the risks were if the other guy won and what you would need to do to ensure the safety of your countrymen.” 

No one with a “human bone in their body,” Mehta added, could hear Watkins’ life story and not feel some degree of compassion.

“You have overcome a lot. You are resilient. You are someone who could serve as a role model. I say that at a time when people who are trans are so readily vilified and used for political purposes. It makes it all the more hard for me to understand why there is still a lack of empathy for those who suffered that day. Maybe it’s part of the process, the journey,” Mehta said. 

The “lack of empathy” the judge referred to was tied to Watkins’ remarks in private calls reviewed by prosecutors and raised at sentencing. In one call, she had derided police who came under attack on Jan. 6 and spoke publicly of their post-traumatic stress. 

“‘Boo hoo, poor little police officers got a little PTSD, wah! ‘I had to stand there and hold the door open for people. Wah!'” Watkins had said, according to prosecutor Alexandra Hughes.

Her attorney, Jonathan Crisp, said Watkins had undertaken efforts at deradicalization. She’s been detained for two years. Mehta did raise the question with Crisp of how he could reconcile her seeming callousness in the phone call with her more remorseful presentation in court. The lawyer, who is a JAG and served in Iraq but did not see combat, admitted, “it may sound evil,” to make the comment but it came from an opinion that any wearer of any uniform in law enforcement or military service should expect that risk, danger and sacrifice effectively come with the territory. Crisp argued that wasn’t to diminish the unique circumstances of Jan. 6 and the unexpected conditions police were under, but that was the opinion, deluded as others may perceive it to be.

At her sentencing as well as at Rhodes and Meggs’ sentencing and later, at Harrelson’s, the judge made it a point to underline to each that their sentences would need to reflect the role they played and how serious it had impacted not just people of the United States but also the very people who defended the Capitol with their lives, forsaking their own families, self-interest and self-preservation instincts. 

Mehta said it was an officer’s job to expect sacrifice though this did not diminish their heroism in the face of something that, “I would dare say, even a police officer would have expected [on the 6th.]”

Roughly an hour after Watkins, her co-defendant Florida Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson was sentenced by Judge Mehta to four years in prison. Prosecutors initially sought 15. Much like it was with Watkins, Harrelson was deeply emotional before the judge. 

He was acquitted of seditious conspiracy. He was also acquitted of conspiracy to obstruct proceedings and destruction of property. The jury convicted him on just two of six counts that he faced: obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging his duties. He did not testify at trial whereas Watkins, Rhodes, and co-defendant Thomas Caldwell, did. 

Harrelson was somewhat enigmatic in court. He was reserved throughout roughly 30 days of proceedings; reading from paperwork ceaselessly, his head down and face close to the pages before him. His lawyer, Bradley Geyer, while certainly not a shrinking violet when he would speak before the jury, was among the least chatty attorneys at trial, seemingly preferring to let Harrelson fade into the background. 

Harrelson wasn’t a prolific texter or user of social media and very few of his messages emerged in evidence. He deleted most and deleted Signal off his phone. The extent of his communications around the 6th is something that will remain a mystery for prosecutors for sometime and maybe forever. 

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler said in court Friday. 

Prosecutors considered Harrelson a “ground team leader” who took orders from Meggs. Another fellow Oath Keeper, Jason Dolan, told the jury in October he considered Harrelson to be his superior and it was Dolan who also helped transport weapons to the QRF in Arlington. Harrelson also participated in firearms training with Meggs and was close with Rhodes in the days leading up to the critical Nov. 9 GoTo meeting. Like Watkins, Harrelson heard Rhodes call for violence if Trump wasn’t permitted to stay in the White House (despite his defeat). 

At sentencing, Judge Mehta was unwilling to add leadership enhancements to Harrelson’s sentence because while he thought there were elements of Harrelson’s role that could fall into the leadership category, what he reviewed he didn’t consider dispositive proof that the Florida man “controlled” anyone in a significant sense on the 6th.

Harrelson went up the Capitol steps in the first stack led by Meggs and once atop, turned to wave at others to come inside. Once in, he and Dolan screamed “treason!” at police officers and “This is our fucking house!” Dolan told the jury when he was on the stand this was done to put fear into lawmakers preparing to certify the election. 

Kenneth Harrelson

When law enforcement came calling for Harrelson after the 6th, he hid the AR-15 he brought to the D.C. area as well as the rifle case. He failed to tell investigators about several photos he took on the 6th during the melee. 

And, Nestler noted, he didn’t show any remorse in the days afterward. Quite the contrary: he continued to speak with Meggs, Rhodes and Oath Keeper and Roger Stone security goon Jeremy Brown

Mehta told Harrelson he believed he was just as responsible in many ways for the conspiracy as his cohorts on Jan. 6, including his superior Kelly Meggs. He knew the QRF was packed to the gills with weapons, for one, and his time in the Capitol—while fleeting—was not unimportant since it advanced the group’s mutual attempt to stop Congress from its work.

Oath Keepers like Caleb Berry testified at another Oath Keeper trial that Harrelson had bubbled over after leaving the Capitol because he had patted down an officer at one point and made a tantalizing revelation.

“It was clear as day in the video that you did pat down Officer [Ryan] Salke as you are leaving the building and if that were not enough, we had [Oath Keeper] Graydon Young who testified you did pat him down and Caleb Berry said you told him you did the pat down and said you were surprised at how little armor they had,” Mehta said. 

Mehta noted too how Berry, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding in July 2021, said Harrelson was “pumped” at this and excited. Then the men talked about how they could have been more effective if they would have brought gas masks and firearms. 

At the trial and at sentencing, Geyer emphasized how rioters burst into singing the National Anthem on the stairs. And while Geyer and the defendants had invoked that moment with a type of romantic patriotic reverence in court last year, on Friday, Mehta’s tone was pointed when he told the Army veteran” video may have indeed shown rioters singing the National Anthem on the Capitol steps as the Oath keepers ascended and burst inside,  but it, more importantly, showed him walking through the crowd to the landing. 

“And you are the first one. You were the first one to get close enough to see what was happening at the doors and what was transpiring there. Nevertheless, you enter and you immediately start recording and the words “treason!” are being uttered” Mehta said. 

Harrelson claimed once inside, he and Meggs attempted to “help” U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn after coming upon him in the small rotunda near then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office.

A jury may have agreed that as Harrelson made his way through a Capitol under siege, the Florida Oath Keeper would have, at the bare minimum, clearly understood this was not the place to be. The judge said he would only guess that the jury acquitted him of the conspiracy to obstruct charge because they didn’t agree beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually understood how Congressional proceedings actually worked. (Harrelson voted once his entire life and in a state election; had no political interests prior to his involvement with Rhodes and the Oath Keepers and had a very hardscrabble upbringing with a “junkie mom,” his attorney said, and an absentee father.) 

Harrelson has a one-point terrorism enhancement on his sentence because he did intimidate officials: staffers were trapped inside the office he stalked outside of; police inside, like Officer Dunn had been fighting off the mob, defending colleagues, helping people who were overcome, when Harrelson and Meggs came upon him, adding to his already crushing burden. 

When he spoke on his own behalf, Harrelson cried several times, sniffing hard with his body tightening up as he delivered remarks to the court. 

“I got into the wrong car at the wrong time and I went to the wrong place with the wrong people,” Harrelson said before going to explain how he got to D.C.. and was told to report to Michael Greene, a designated Oath Keepers operations leader on the 6th. Greene was acquitted of conspiracy at the third Oath keepers trial in March.

“I have no gripes with the government… I shouldn’t have been there. I should have paid more attention to what was being said [and] on my phone…to Officer Harry Dunn: I would like to truly apologize. when he came up those stairs and expressed that they were killing his friends and carrying out his buddies on stretchers,  all I said was ‘really’? I didn’t know what was happening on the west side…I didn’t know I was hurting anyone and I could have done more and I apologize. I think about that a lot,” he said, choking through tears. “I know I should have done more. I apologize.”

Harrelson continued on to say that he had “demolished” his life, loved his wife and children, was scared for them, and apologized to them as well. 

After Mehta sentenced him, and after the terms of his supervision were read and the Oath Keeper left the courtroom in his prison-issued jumpsuit, he turned his head to the pews and blew his wife a kiss. 

(Coming up this week at the federal courthouse: Oath Keepers and co-conspirators Roberto Minuta, Edward Vallejo, Joseph Hackett, and David Moerschel— all of whom were found guilty of seditious conspiracy—will be sentenced on June 1 and 2.)

‘NOTHING HAS CHANGED, MR. RHODES, NOTHING HAS CHANGED’: Seditious Oath Keeper Elmer Rhodes sentenced to 18 years

After expressing zero remorse and heralding himself to a federal judge as a “political prisoner” who “like Donald Trump only committed the crime of opposing those who are destroying our country,” Oath Keeper Elmer Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role leading and orchestrating a seditious conspiracy to stop America’s transfer of presidential power by force on Jan. 6, 2021. 

It would have been surprising if Rhodes took any other tack when it was his chance to speak. 

But Rhodes offered no surprises at the Prettyman courthouse in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. 

He was unrepentant, just as he was at trial when he testified on his own behalf for a little over a day. Even then, as a jury actively held his fate in their hands, he publicly smeared proceedings in jailhouse interviews while comparing himself to Nelson Mandela. And just four days ago, in yet another interview from jail, Rhodes kept up The Big Lie. 

The 2020 election was fraudulent, he argued, and the U.S. government had launched a “terror campaign” on Jan. 6 defendants. Four days ago he called for “regime change” and in words that could haunt any appeal of his conviction in the future, he added: “We’re going to have to stop it, the American people” and “It’s not going to stop until it’s stopped.” 

In his bright orange jumpsuit on Thursday, Rhodes gripped the sides of the podium as he read eagerly from his lengthy remarks, perhaps soothed by the sound of his own voice. 

“All Jan. 6 defendants are political prisoners. They are grossly overcharged. A steep sentence here won’t help or deter people, it will make people think this government is even more illegitimate than before,” Rhodes said.

He continued on to issue what sounded like a veiled threat with his voice moving from even and calm to more emphatic as his tone was slightly raised. 

“Characterizing Trump supporters as racists, fools and led down the primrose path by Trump as fools doesn’t help either,” Rhodes exclaimed. “My goal will be to be an American Solzhenitsyn to expose the criminality of this regime.”

He said his guilt was “preordained” and told presiding U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta claims that he is a white supremacist should lead him to “sue for defamation.” He said the “regime change” he hoped for a few days ago meant he hoped Trump would win in 2024. He went on a tear about leftist violence and antifa. Rhodes may impress himself or his supporters with such diatribes, but Judge Mehta appeared thoroughly unimpressed. (Mehta has presided over three Oath Keepers trials alone in recent months and his familiarity with this defense is arguably second to none.)

So long did Rhodes’ defiant remarks ramble on that Mehta actually interrupted him at one point and quite politely reminded him that his time speaking was finite. 

When Rhodes was finally done, Mehta looked at the Oath Keeper leader. On Thursday, Rhodes met Mehta’s eyes only sometimes. He frequently jotted down notes as Mehta spoke. 

“Mr. Rhodes, you are convicted of seditious conspiracy. You are a lawyer. You understand what that means,” Mehta said. 

For those who are not, Mehta provided a background. It was true, he said, neither Rhodes nor his conspirators assaulted police. It was true there were those who “did worse” in this regard on Jan. 6 than Rhodes specifically or members of his organization. 

But Rhodes is unique nonetheless. The seditious conspiracy he led against the United States is the most serious crime one can commit against this government, Mehta said. 

“It is an offense against the government to use force. It is an offense against the people of this country,” Mehta told Rhodes. 

The Oath Keeper founder looked right at the judge at this comment. 

“This isn’t confined to one day or how you reacted… it is a series of acts in which you and others committed to use force, including potentially with weapons against the government of the United States as it transitioned from one president to the other. And what was the motive? You didn’t like the new guy. I get it. But let me be clear to you, Mr. Rhodes, and anyone else who is listening: In this country, we don’t paint with a broad brush, and shame on you if you do,” Mehta said.

He continued: “What we cannot have, what we absolutely cannot have is a group of citizens who because they did not like the outcome of an election and don’t believe the law was carried out in the way they believe it should be, for them to take up arms and foment a revolution. That’s what you did. Those aren’t my words. Those are yours… you are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes. You are not here for your beliefs or because Joe Biden is president or because you supported the other guy.”

The evidence presented to jurors was convincing beyond a reasonable doubt, Mehta underlined. And though Rhodes has been quick to whine about unfair jurors, Mehta reminded him Thursday that it was this jury that acquitted him of multiple other counts. 

“But they found you guilty of sedition. That was a jury of your peers. Make no mistake about it,” Mehta said. 

Telling Rhodes the enduring legacy of Jan. 6 belonged to the police and people working on Capitol Hill that day who “protected this democracy as we know it,” Mehta emphasized how law enforcement officers “laid their bodies on the line.” 

“You talk about keeping oaths? No one is more emblematic of that than those police officers. Their heroism, their stamina, their courage. But for their acts, it could have been a far uglier day than it already was and it is one of the blackest stains on our country. People shouldn’t forget that,” he said. 

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, Rhodes convinced dozens of people to come to Washington, D.C. simply because he called on them to do so, the judge said. 

“You sir, present an ongoing threat and peril to this country and to the fabric of this country. You are smart, charismatic, and compelling and that is frankly, what makes you dangerous,” Mehta said. “Anyone think for a moment that Joseph Hackett would come to D.C. with a weapon to fight in the streets? That only happens because of you, Mr. Rhodes.”

Everyone Rhodes called to D.C. for Jan. 6 was a victim of the “lies and propaganda” he shared. It would have been one thing, the judge noted, if Rhodes had looked at what happened on Jan. 6 and said anywhere in his communications with Oath Keepers or in public that it wasn’t a good development. But he didn’t. He celebrated the carnage. 

And just three days after the attack on the Capitol, Rhodes wasn’t dialing it back. 

At trial in November, Jason Alpers, a military veteran and government witness, testified that he met with Rhodes on the night of Jan. 10 in a parking lot outside of an electronics store. Alpers said he was asked to meet with Rhodes by one of Alpers’ former employees. Rhodes, Alpers said, wanted to pass a message to Trump.  

Uneasy about the meeting from the outset, Alpers secretly recorded Rhodes. The recording was played for jurors. 

“If he’s not going to do the right thing, and he’s just going to let himself be removed illegally, then we should have brought rifles,” Rhodes told Alpers. “We could have fixed it right then and there.”

Rhodes said he would have hung then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from a “fucking lamppost.” 

The Oath Keepers defense has hinged almost entirely on the claim that members did not come to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to foment violence, but to act as a “security detail.” 

After the judge read Rhodes’ own words back to him from that Jan. 10 meeting, Mehta noted: “Doesn’t sound like you were there for a security detail.” 

Mehta pointed to Rhodes’ comments during a “Freedom Corner Rally” broadcast from the jailhouse four days ago and how Rhodes said, “at the risk of another charge, I’m going to leave it at that” after he mentioned finding a “way to fix this” situation for Jan. 6 defendants.

With just a hint of exasperation, Mehta told the 58-year-old: ”Nothing has changed, Mr. Rhodes. Nothing has changed.”

“The reality is, based on the words we hear you speak, the moment you are released, you will be prepared to take up arms against your government. Not because you think the wrong president is in office but because you think that is an appropriate way to have redress of government when the law is applied in a way you don’t think it should be,” Mehta said. 

And then perhaps encapsulating the very gravity of his decision, Mehta told Rhodes that when the Oath Keeper found himself in a bad place, “everyone else did too, leaving everyone as objects of his willingness to engage in violence.”

“And we just cannot have that in this country,” Mehta said.  

In an interview during a break in proceedings Thursday, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told me it was clear that Rhodes had no remorse. 

“He didn’t care how much time he got,” Dunn said. 

The sentence brought him little comfort, he said. 

Rhodes is “misguided,” and he is fixated on assigning himself labels, Dunn said. Rhodes picked “political prisoner” as his label because he certainly wasn’t going to choose the more accurate one of “insurrectionist,” Dunn said. 

If Trump is elected in 2024 or Ron DeSantis wins the White House or there is any political candidate that has sympathy for seditionists, Dunn expects there could be pardons for Oath Keepers in the future. DeSantis has already said he would consider them. Including one for Trump. 

“That’s why we need to make sure they don’t get the opportunity to pardon them. That’s why we have to have people vote for people who aren’t insurrectionists or seditionists. There is a possibility it could happen we have to make sure it doesn’t. We the American people,” Dunn said. 

Rhodes’ sentence gave him little solace. Dunn said while it was abundantly clear to him that Mehta understood the threat Rhodes poses to society until there is also accountability for Trump, lawmakers, or even some of the influencers involved with undertaking or promoting the violence and destruction of Jan. 6, he genuinely worries about what is ahead.

“My heart and mind still wander about this looming threat. It’s hard to find comfort knowing this threat still exists,” Dunn said. 

A day prior, when Dunn delivered a victim impact statement to the defendants, Rhodes rarely looked at Dunn. He was writing notes most of the afternoon. On occasion, he did look up though his face was expressionless. 

Dunn described how the violence on Jan. 6 upended his life and left him, nearly 900 days later, “a shell of his former self,” Rhodes didn’t look up then. Then Dunn uttered three words that snapped the extremist leader right to attention: “real oath keepers.” 

Dunn was describing how on the day he testified at the Oath Keepers trial, he was originally scheduled to speak to first responders. But instead of talking to them—“real oath keepers, real victims”— he had to testify instead and tell the jury about “what actually happened” on Jan. 6. 

Dunn turned to look right at the defendants when he said this. Rhodes looked back at Dunn. His head was already cocked to one side but the “real oath keepers” remark prompted Rhodes’ neck to crane downward even further. He didn’t blink. He seemed to bristle instead, though he kept it just barely under the surface. 

Tasha Adams, who recently won her divorce after a years-long estrangement from Rhodes, told me in an interview Thursday that she thinks Rhodes is “incapable” of feeling remorse. 

“He only ever adjusts his version of reality to fit into his personal storyline. He believes he has done nothing wrong, that he has been wronged himself, and that someday he’ll get even,” Adams wrote in an email. 

In court Thursday, Rhodes was “speaking to get the attention of DeSantis and Trump,” she said. 

“He is in this for the pardon and the long game, even if that is not 2024. Even if it means 2028. He is not sorry. He is only sorry it wasn’t bigger,” she wrote. 

As for Adams, there is closure with the sentence.

She has been outspoken about her now ex-husband as she watched the trial from afar. She has publicly described his history of abusing her or isolating her. And when the government submitted its sentencing proposal, prosecutors included excerpts of an interview with Adams where she described the depths of Rhodes’ abuses against her and their children. 

“There was always violence in little ways. If he was really mad over something, he would want to do what he called martial arts training which included sticks and knives with a dulled edge or a knife with its edge taped. He would usually hurt us when he would do this training and it would always wind up with whoever he was angry at at the time. It was never just rough training or when he was happy with you… I don’t know if you can see all the scars on my arms. That’s from knife training. He would keep me pinned down in a chair….and he would hit the chair or sofa next to my head when he was upset with me,” she told Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy. 

“[I have] closure in that I know at least we have a couple of years of peace. I’m more focused on getting passed this next election, but at least we are all in the clear for a while.  It is also a statement. It says that Stewart is definitively not a good guy. Which is extremely powerful to me, after decades of people telling me what a good man is and how lucky I am,” Adams said Thursday.

Today, her children are happy and relieved, she said. 

“They were of course hoping for 25 years. But 18 is pretty solid. I think they’re mostly glad to just not have to think about him for a while,” Adams wrote. 

I also asked Adams what the big takeaway was for the day or what she thinks society can do to move away from extremism. 

“That is a very big question. I wish we could find a way to move away from the fear of change. I really believe that is what extremism is deeply rooted in. Extremists are a group of people whose self-worth is completely entangled with a way of life that society has grown up and left behind. We don’t need those old belief systems of race, and gender and control anymore. And yet they truly they believe they will cease to exist in any meaningful way without them. I don’t know if there is a way to solve it, beyond time and communication (whenever possible,)” she wrote. 

Judge Mehta also sentenced Rhodes’ 54-year-old co-defendant Kelly Meggs to 12 years in prison on Thursday. Meggs was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, too. (Rhodes was also convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents and proceedings. Meggs was also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct a proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their duties, and tampering with documents or proceedings.)

Meggs cried several times as he spoke in court, reeling at the pain he said he caused his family. Many of his family members, including his sister and son, attended the hearing. No one showed up for Rhodes. The moment Meggs’ sister, Crystal, approached the podium to provide character testimony, Meggs began to weep. His face turned red and his shoulders shook as he cried. A marshal handed him a box of tissues. 

“I truly apologize for being here,” Meggs said, choking through tears. “It has not only ruined my life but the life of my entire family.”

Meggs’ son, Zachary, asked Mehta to show mercy on his father. His father put him through college and employed him at a car dealership, he said. Without his father at home, he fears he won’t be able to keep the family’s house.

Meggs’ wife, Connie Meggs, was tried separately and found guilty in March for obstructing an official proceeding. Connie was one of several Oath Keepers who breached the Capitol in a stack formation on Jan. 6. 

Zachary is getting married soon and he told Judge Mehta he “would really like to have my father at the wedding.” 

Meggs’ lawyer, Stanley Woodward, also represents Connie Meggs and as such, didn’t find it prudent to read a letter she wrote in support of her husband in court. Meggs, as he cried, said his “deepest regret is the pain I’ve caused my wife.” 

“I have failed her. I have caused my wife more pain than she should ever deserve, incarceration and home confinement for two years all because of me,” he said. 

Meggs also lamented how he lost his life as he knew it, including things like cars and retirement accounts. 

“Everything has been taken away… I’ve been taken away from my family for 828 days. I want to apologize to everyone I’ve let down,” Meggs said amid tears.

Meggs also addressed Officer Dunn who was seated in the pews behind him. Though Mehta said neither the jury nor he ever found any evidence to support the claim by Oath Keepers at trial that they were “helping” Dunn on the 6th, Meggs nonetheless circled around that unsupported claim once more Thursday.

Then he apologized. 

“Officer Dunn, if my presence in any way affected you, I do apologize, sir,” Meggs said before a U.S. Marshal quickly approached him and told him to turn around and address the judge. Defendants are not allowed to turn to address people in the pews. 

During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors a patch Meggs wore on Jan. 6.  It read, “I don’t believe in anything, I’m just here for the violence.” 

Before he was sentenced, Meggs said yes, he did wear a patch that said “I’m just here for the violence.” 

“I wasn’t there to cause violence or instigate violence. I was there to keep the violence from happening to anyone. It’s what I had done so many times before and what I was doing that day,” Meggs said. 

Whether he forgot or omitted it for convenience, Meggs did not mention the front half of the slogan: “I don’t believe in anything.” 

Meggs admitted the language he used in numerous texts and Oath Keepers communications was vile, but he chalked it up to hyperbole. 

And as to his own public comments about the trial—which have included the assessment that it is “bullshit” and that the jury is biased—Meggs said only: “I don’t blame them for having bias. I would too if my town had been locked down for some violent event but I still think they were biased.” 

In truth, the jury was vetted for bias extensively by both prosecutors and the defense, and in the end, the final verdicts were a mixed bag of acquittals and convictions. 

Mehta addressed Meggs directly before sentencing him. 

There may have been dispute by the defense about whether Meggs was looking for Nancy Pelosi once inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, for example. But while on this day he called that language unfortunate and hyperbolic, nonetheless, “there was a lot of it,” Mehta said. 

Witnesses at trial described how Meggs went searching for Rhodes on Jan. 6 and turned to him for direction and leadership. Meggs also led efforts to coordinate and establish a huge arsenal of guns to be held at a hotel in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. This was what Oath Keepers dubbed a “quick reaction force” or QRF.

Mehta was at times incredulous with Meggs’ defense.

If Oath Keepers were there for security, why did they need the QRF? If the Oath Keeper talk was bombast and just bombast—well, Mehta said, he could understand a person believing that to be the case with one message.

But two? Or three? 

“I don’t know how anyone can stand here today and say this is just bombast. You were telling others on this ‘OK FL hangout chat,’ you were prepared to die and that’s what patriots did by the thousands,” Mehta said. 

And like he told Rhodes during his sentencing, it didn’t sound like Meggs was part of any security detail; the jury didn’t believe that and neither did he. Meggs didn’t even step foot in the area he claimed he was slated to be in to provide security, the judge added. And it didn’t help matters that Meggs had discussed bringing Proud Boys to D.C. to act as force multipliers on the 6th. 

The former chapter leader may disagree with the jury’s decision and that’s fair, Mehta acknowledged.

“But we have a process like this for a reason. In the mind of the 12 people in that jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, you committed conspiracy offenses in many ways that day,” Mehta said. 

The pain Meggs expressed in court was tangible and the judge said he felt it deeply.

“I have felt it deeply with every sentence I’ve made in connection to [Jan. 6] cases,” Mehta said. 

He added that he still finds it “astonishing how average Americans somehow transformed into criminals in the weeks before Jan. 6.”

“In contemplating violence to prevent the transfer of power: maybe you were just under the spell of Mr. Rhodes. I don’t know. Even today, I get it. I don’t really blame you for it. Unlike Rhodes, who I think poses a real threat, you’re not in the same category but you do continue to say things that are not consistent with reality,” he said.

This February, Meggs said in a media interview that police had invited people inside the Capitol and that he thought it was acceptable for him to walk through the door. Mehta also underlined the absurdity of Meggs’ claims that somehow if there was just more closed-circuit footage from the 6th made public, he would be absolved. 

That blurs the fact that there was access to every single hour of his conduct that day, Mehta said. 

In the end, Meggs still opposed the U.S. government by force.

“We have a process,” Mehta underlined. “It’s called an election. If your guy or gal loses, you hope for better results next time. You don’t take to the streets or join in for a war in the streets. You don’t rush into the U.S. Capitol with the hope of trying to stop the electoral count.”

On Friday, Rhodes’ and Meggs’ co-defendants Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson will be sentenced. Fellow co-defendant Thomas Caldwell’s sentencing date was originally set for this Wednesday but it was vacated on Monday as Judge Mehta awaits a ruling from the circuit in another Jan. 6 case that will provide a definition of the “corruptly” requirement in the obstruction of an official proceeding statute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it came to me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarrio’s smiles came easily in that courtroom. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He chuckled as he took his seat.

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

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

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

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

Neither is the Justice Department’s.


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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever happens, Make it a spectacle.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just the ones they believed were against them. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then she offered an example, free of legalese.

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

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

It could happen at the last second. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZACHARY REHL: “Not that I recall.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Rehl said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added that he was being “ironic.” 

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

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

“Oh no no no,” Rehl said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No further questions,” Kenerson said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehl called much of this talk “street language.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup,” Rehl replied 24 minutes later. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DOMINIC PEZZOLA: “Corrupt trial… fake charges”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was upset,” Pezzola said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Correct,” Pezzola said. 

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

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

“At this moment? Correct,” Pezzola said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pezzola boiled over. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

But “not of me,” he said. 

He was in control of himself. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He went off on his own,” Rehl said. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Rehl testified. 

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

“No,” Rehl testified. 

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

“No,” Rehl testified. 

It went on and on like this. 

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

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

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

Next week, Pezzola is on course to testify. 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this quality can cut both ways. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hill told jurors this was “a mistake.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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