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Proud Boys wanted 'revolution' on Jan. 6, prosecution says in seditious conspiracy trial opener

Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and four other members of the group are accused of plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol Building.

WASHINGTON — The Proud Boys came to D.C. on Jan. 6 with revolution on their minds and a plan to attack the Capitol in place, a federal prosecutor told jurors Thursday during opening remarks in the trial of five members of the group.

The five defendants – former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola – face multiple charges each alleging they plotted to stop the certification of the 20202 presidential election on Jan. 6, 2021. All five face three counts of conspiracy each, including the same seditious conspiracy charge of which two members of the Oath Keepers were convicted in November. The Proud Boys have denied any role in planning the violence at the Capitol.

According to the government’s theory, presented in brief to jurors Thursday, former President Donald Trump’s statement that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by” during a September 2020 presidential debate energized the group. When Trump then lost the election to President Joe Biden, prosecutors argue, the Proud Boys began cementing a plan to prevent him from losing power.

“They saw the world as dividing into two camps,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said. “Those who were against them were enemies. They were traitors.”

All five defendants were members of a special chapter of the Proud Boys dubbed the “Ministry of Self-Defense” formed after the group’s participation in a violent Dec. 12, 2020, night in D.C. in which North Carolina Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino was stabbed. Messages obtained by investigators from the members of that group are expected to play a key role in the government’s case along with the testimony of Bertino himself, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in October.

Jurors saw a preview of some of those messages Thursday, including one sent Nov. 27, 2020, by Nordean, telling other Proud Boys, “The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced…”

“Let’s bring this New Year in with one word in mind,” Tarrio wrote on Jan. 1, 2021. “Revolution.”

On Jan. 6, prosecutors allege the Proud Boys – with the exception of Tarrio, who was ordered to leave D.C. following his arrest two days earlier – assembled at the Capitol with the intention of agitating other protestors to attack the building and stop the certification.

“They hoped the ‘normies’ – that is, the civilians – would burn the city to ash,” McCullough said.

The government says a video released in June 2021 shows members of the Proud Boys joining the crowd in charging police lines. One of the defendants in the case, Pezzola, is accused of using a stolen police riot shield to break out two windows that created the first breach of the building. After that, McCullough said, the Proud Boys were in a “state of euphoria” about having achieved their goal.

“All that was left to do was a victory smoke,” he said, referring to a video Pezzola recorded of himself inside the building.

All five defendants have denied joining in a conspiracy to stop the transfer of power. During his own opening statements Thursday, defense attorney Nicholas Smith, representing Nordean, promised to call government informants who were embedded with the Proud Boys to deny knowledge of any plan to attack the Capitol.

“You will see impeachment evidence that the government was told over and over and over that there was no plan on Jan. 6,” Smith said.

It was unclear whether any of the five defendants intended to testify on his own behalf, or whether Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, who is not charged in the case and has not been accused of having a role in Jan. 6, would be called as a witness by the defense.

Like the Oath Keepers trial that preceded it, the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial was expected to take at least five-to-six weeks and involve dozens of witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. If convicted of the most serious charges against them, the defendants could potentially face years in prison.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

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