On Thursday, former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and three other members of the far-right extremist organization were found guilty of conspiring to assault the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to keep Donald Trump in office following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election.
A Washington, D.C. jury convicted Tarrio and three of his associates of seditious conspiracy after more than three months of testimony from numerous witnesses in one of the most severe cases resulting from the shocking Jan. 6, 2021, attack that was broadcast live worldwide.
Dominic Pezzola, a fifth defendant, was acquitted of the sedition charge but found guilty of other serious crimes. The jury was dismissed without reaching a unanimous verdict on some charges, including an additional conspiracy charge for Pezzola.
The convictions mark a significant achievement for the Justice Department, which has now secured seditious conspiracy convictions against the leaders of two major extremist groups accused of attempting to prevent Democratic President Joe Biden from assuming office. The offense carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.
Attorney General Merrick Garland stated after the verdict that the Justice Department will continue to work tirelessly to defend American democracy.
Tarrio, who has been in jail since his March 2022 arrest, showed no emotion as the verdict was announced. He embraced one of his attorneys and shook hands with another before leaving the courtroom. Some of the defendants’ relatives shed tears as the verdict was delivered.
The trial, which lasted much longer than anticipated due to disagreements, motions for mistrial, and revelations about government informants within the group, resulted in the conviction of Tarrio, a high-profile leader who was not present at the riot. This could empower the Justice Department as a special counsel investigates Trump and key aspects of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Recently, Special Counsel Jack Smith has sought testimony from individuals close to Trump, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who appeared before a grand jury last week, potentially providing prosecutors with crucial first-hand information about events leading up to the riot.
Tarrio, a leading figure in the largest Justice Department investigation in U.S. history, headed the neo-fascist group known for street clashes with left-wing activists when Trump famously instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during his first debate with Biden.
Although Tarrio was not in Washington on Jan. 6 due to an arrest in a separate case and a ban from the capital, prosecutors claimed he coordinated and directed the Proud Boys who breached the Capitol that day.
Along with Tarrio, who is from Miami, three other Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. They were also found guilty of obstructing Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory, obstructing law enforcement, and two additional conspiracy charges. The four were acquitted of an assault charge related to Pezzola, who stole a police officer’s riot shield.
Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, stated that her client “continues to maintain his innocence.” Attorneys for Biggs and Pezzola declined to comment, as did Tarrio’s lawyer.
Prosecutors argued during the trial that the group considered itself “Trump’s army” and was ready for “all-out war” to prevent Biden from becoming president. The Proud Boys were “lined up behind Donald Trump and willing to commit violence on his behalf,” according to prosecutor Conor Mulroe.
The government’s case relied heavily on hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys members in the days leading up to Jan. 6, which revealed the group’s promotion of Trump’s false election theft claims and concerns about Biden’s impending presidency.
While Proud Boys members stormed the Capitol, Tarrio encouraged them from a distance, posting on social media: “Do what must be done.” Later that day, in an encrypted group chat for the Proud Boys, someone asked what their next move should be. Tarrio replied: “Do it again.”
In another message, Tarrio wrote, “Make no mistake. We did this.”
Defense attorneys argued that there was no plan to attack the Capitol or hinder the certification of Biden’s victory. Tarrio’s lawyer tried to shift the blame onto Trump, asserting that the former president incited the pro-Trump mob’s attack when he urged the crowd near the White House to “fight like hell.”
Despite the convictions, the legal battles are far from over. Appeals are likely to be filed, and the Justice Department’s pursuit of those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection continues. The outcome of this trial, however, demonstrates that the government is committed to holding those responsible for the attack accountable and ensuring the protection of American democracy.