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Jurors to hear about violent December 2020 night in Proud Boys seditious conspiracy case, but not BLM flag burning

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled Wednesday that a jury could hear about the Proud Boys' involvement in Dec. 12, 2020, clashes in downtown D.C.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that jurors in upcoming seditious conspiracy trial of five Proud Boys can hear about the group’s involvement in a night of violent clashes in D.C. in mid-December 2020.

Thirty-three people were arrested and at least four were stabbed in downtown D.C. on the evening of Dec. 12, 2020, when confrontations erupted between police, supporters of former President Donald Trump and counter-protestors following the second Million MAGA March after the 2020 presidential election. At the time, then-DC Police Chief Peter Newsham described Proud Boys and anti-Trump groups as “mutual combatants” on the streets of D.C. – particularly near Black Lives Matter Plaza.

At least four churches also suffered property damage that evening, including the city’s oldest African-American church still on its original site, Asbury United Methodist Church. Enrique Tarrio, the former national chairman of the Proud Boys, eventually pleaded guilty to burning the flag and bringing high-capacity magazines into D.C. and was sentenced to five months in prison. Tarrio and four other members of the Proud Boys were indicted in March on charges of seditious conspiracy and multiple other counts alleging they planned to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election on Jan. 6. Tarrio was not in the city at the time, and is accused of directing members of the group from a location in Maryland.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who is presiding over the Proud Boys case, said Wednesday he would limit what jurors could hear about the details of Tarrio’s arrest, which he referred to as “needlessly inflammatory.” He also pushed back on the government’s suggestion that the group’s involvement on Dec. 12 was intrinsically linked to their alleged roles on Jan. 6.

Kelly did say, however, he would permit prosecutors to show other evidence about Dec. 12 to jurors. In particular, he said, prosecutors could show the jury evidence the Proud Boys began to change their view of police after that night.

A key source of that evidence may be Jeremy Bertino, a North Carolina Proud Boy who pleaded guilty in October to seditious conspiracy. As part of his plea deal, Bertino agreed to a statement of facts claiming the Proud Boys had become “more extreme and aggressive” in late 2020 and had begun viewing law enforcement as their opponents.

“Due to a number of negative interactions with law enforcement, including the events of December 12, the Proud Boys increasingly viewed police as the enemy and Proud Boys members increasingly referred to the police as ‘coptifa,’ meaning that they viewed the police as siding with Antifa,” Bertino’s statement of offense reads.

Kelly said jurors should be allowed to consider whether the Proud Boys’ alleged belief law enforcement was aligned with the other side could make them more inclined to conspire to use force against law enforcement.

The judge also agreed to allow other potentially inculpatory evidence into the trial, including selfie videos defendant Ethan Nordean recorded in which he described joining the “storming” of the Capitol and compared to events of the day to 1776. Jurors will also get to hear about a document titled “1776 Returns” Tarrio allegedly received from a female acquaintance. The document included a five-point plan to occupy federal buildings until demands for new elections were met. The Proud Boys’ attorneys have denied any of them read the document, although Kelly said there was evidence Tarrio began to use language included in the plan, specifically the phrase “winter palace,” after receiving it.

Jury selection for Tarrio and his four co-defendants is set to begin Dec. 19, although defense attorneys raised concerns Wednesday about how the planned release of a report by the January 6th Committee could impact that process. One attorney said he had reason to believe the committee would also be releasing an accompanying video that would include detailed footage of the Proud Boys. Kelly, who previously vacated the group’s August trial date over concerns about the committee affecting jurors, said there was little they could do other than question potential jurors about it during voir dire.

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