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4 Proud Boys Leaders Convicted of Seditious Conspiracy in US Capitol Attack

Written by on May 4, 2023

A federal jury in Washington has convicted the former leader of the far-right Proud Boys and three associates of seditious conspiracy for their role in the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and regional leaders Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean and Zach Rehl also were found guilty Thursday of conspiring to obstruct Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

But the jury failed to reach a verdict on both conspiracy charges against a fifth defendant in the case, Dominic Pezzola.

Pezzola is a former Marine and boxer who joined the Proud Boys after the 2020 election but held no leadership position.

The five defendants faced a total of nine charges related to the attack on the Capitol, including obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent Congress and federal officers from discharging their duties. They were found guilty of most.

Pezzola was also convicted of an additional charge of robbery for stealing a police officer’s riot shield to smash a Capitol window.

The verdict marked a major victory for the U.S. Justice Department as it probes the deadly rampage that left five people dead, wounded more than 100 police officers and sparked one of the largest criminal investigations in U.S. history.

Prosecutors faced a daunting challenge in the case: to build and prove a seditious conspiracy charge that is notoriously difficult to prosecute.

Seditious conspiracy is a rare charge that dates to the early days of the American Civil War. The law defines seditious conspiracy as plotting to use force to overthrow the U.S. government, oppose its authority or “prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.”

“This is a significant win for DOJ and lends further credence to Attorney General [Merrick] Garland’s commitment to following the facts of the case wherever they lead and to proceed in a deliberate fashion,” Jordan Strauss, a former Justice Department official who now works at the risk consultancy firm Kroll, told VOA.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The verdict followed five days of jury deliberations and a complex trial that lasted four months and featured dozens of witnesses and numerous legal fights.

The convictions marked the third time members of an extremist group involved in the attack of January 6 had been convicted of seditious conspiracy.

In two earlier cases, juries convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and a top lieutenant of seditious conspiracy in November and found four other members of the anti-government militia guilty of the charge in January. They have yet to be sentenced.

In all, 14 members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys have now been either convicted of or pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The Proud Boys, a self-described group of Western chauvinists known for their anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, emerged during the 2016 presidential campaign and became among Trump’s most fervent supporters during the 2020 race.

The group caught national attention when Trump declared during a September 2020 presidential debate: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by!”

After Trump lost the election and refused to admit defeat, he launched a relentless campaign of lawsuits to overturn the outcome.

But as his legal efforts floundered, he rallied his supporters to come to Washington on January 6, the day Congress would confirm Biden’s win.

In an infamous tweet repeatedly referenced during the trial, Trump wrote on December 19, 2020: “Be there, will be wild.”

The Proud Boys took that as a call to arms, prosecutors alleged.

To prepare for January 6, Tarrio assembled a group of comrades that he dubbed the “Ministry of Self Defense.”

Under the guise of organizing protests, the group acted as “a violent gang that came together to use force against its enemies,” prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe said in his closing arguments that the Proud Boys saw themselves as a “fighting force” for Trump and were “ready to commit violence on his behalf” to overturn the election results.

Defense lawyers countered that there was no evidence of a coordinated plan to attack the Capitol. They said the Proud Boys were so disorganized that they couldn’t plan a trip to McDonald’s.

Prosecutors, the defense argued, failed to show any evidence of a conspiracy to use force against the government.

The defense also tried to shift responsibility for the events of January 6 to Trump.

Nayib Hassan, Tarrio’s lawyer, told the jury that his client was not in Washington on January 6 and that prosecutors were using him as “a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power.”

In the end, however, the defense team “failed to generate reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors,” Strauss of Kroll said.

The unprecedented assault on the Capitol set off one of the largest and most complex criminal investigations in the Justice Department’s history.

As part of the probe, the FBI has arrested more than 1,000 people and says it is seeking information about more than 260 others suspected of committing violence on the Capitol grounds.

More than 500 defendants, including members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, have pleaded guilty to various federal charges, while dozens have been convicted at trial.

 

By Masood Farivar / VOA

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