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Former Misfits singer testifies for Proud Boys defense in seditious conspiracy trial

Michael Emmanuel, who performs under the name Michale Graves, was called as a defense witness by the attorney for Proud Boy Ethan Nordean.

WASHINGTON — The Proud Boys were not a coordinated, fighting force ready to be the “tip of the spear” in a coming civil war on Jan. 6, two members of the group testified Monday, but rather a disorganized group of men planning on photo op and a post-rally party.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday against five members of the group facing charges of seditious conspiracy for their alleged role in planning to incite the violence at the U.S. Capitol Building. Afterward, attorney Nicholas Smith, representing Washington state Proud Boy Ethan Nordean, called musician Michael Emanuel the first of dozens of witnesses expected to testify for the defense.

Emanuel, a former lead singer of the punk band the Misfits who performs under the stage name Michale Graves, said he joined the Proud Boys during the summer of 2020. He met at least three of the defendants – Joe Biggs, Enrique Tarrio and Nordean, who was also known by the nickname “Rufio Panman” – at the same time. He said he traveled to D.C. with the plan of performing for members of the group at an Airbnb on Jan. 5, but that performance was moved to Jan. 6 because of how disorganized the group was. A day earlier, former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio had been arrested in connection with the burning of a church’s Black Lives Matter banner and ordered to leave the District of Columbia.

“Enrique usually coordinated everything and now it was up to Rufio to fill that gap,” Graves said. “Nobody knew what was going on or where anyone was.”

Although Graves was not a member of the Proud Boys’ Ministry of Self-Defense Telegram chat and did not march with the group on Jan. 6, he testified that he was confident they didn’t intent to incite violence on Jan. 6.

“I know for a fact there was not an elaborate plan to take the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said.

Graves said he knew that in part because he knew what the plan was supposed to be: he was going to perform for the Proud Boys at an Airbnb in the afternoon of Jan. 6 after he sang the national anthem at a Latinos for Trump event. 

"We'd contemplated heading back to the Airbnb at maybe 3 p.m. and I'd perform at maybe 7 p.m. in the evening," he said.

On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough attempted to question Emanuel about the gap between the first breach of the outer perimeter at the Capitol — which happened around 1 p.m. — and the plan for him to perform at 7 p.m., but U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly repeatedly sustained objections to his questions.

Smith also called Travis Nugent, a Washington state Proud Boy who traveled to D.C. and did march with other members of the group on Jan. 6. Like Emanuel, Nugent said he wasn’t aware of a plan to do anything other than march that day.

“I kind of perceived the whole thing as a photo op,” Nugent said. “Publicity stunt.”

On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe worked to undermine Nugent’s testimony. He asked him repeatedly about the leadership role Nordean held in the Proud Boys.

“Ethan Nordean commanded a lot of respect, didn’t he?” Mulroe asked. “Guys were willing to follow him because they looked up to him, correct? He was famous for his fighting ability, wasn’t he?”

“Famous? Yes” Nugent said.

Although it was not entered into evidence at trial, Nordean’s star rose quickly in the Proud Boys after a 2017 video of him punching a counter-protestor with a metal baton in Portland went viral. He was later named the “Proud Boy of the Week,” and eventually joined the highest level of leadership in the Proud Boys known as the “Elder Chapter.”

Mulroe also asked Nugent pointedly about a moment on Jan. 6 when he asked Nordean what to do – and Nordean led him toward the Capitol.

“You turned to Ethan Nordean and you asked him, ‘Are we doing this?’ You asked him, ‘Are we going in?’” Mulroe asked. “And he just looked at you. And then he moved toward the Capitol, didn’t he? And you went with him.”

“That sounds about right,” Nugent said.

Nugent and Emanuel’s testimony contrasted that of former Proud Boys Matthew Greene and Jeremy Bertino, both of whom pleaded guilty and testified as government witnesses earlier in the trial. Greene, who was initially charged with New York Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, said the group was “openly expecting a civil war” on Jan. 6. He also testified that by the time they reached the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Proud Boys had become antagonistic and angry toward police.

Bertino, a North Carolina Proud Boy who was stabbed during a violent December 2020 night in D.C., testified that after the presidential election was certified on Jan. 6 he felt “the revolution had failed.” 

“I believed we were supposed to be the leaders of the country, of the right wing,” Bertino said. “The tip of the spear.”

The Proud Boys were expected to call dozens of witnesses in their defense case-in-chief, although it remained unclear Monday whether any of the defendants themselves would take the stand to testify.

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