‘Easier to blame Enrique’ Tarrio than Trump, lawyer says as Proud Boys trial begins
Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants led a coordinated attack on “the heart of our democracy” in a desperate attempt to keep Donald Trump in the White House, a federal prosecutor said Thursday at the start of their seditious conspiracy trial.
Jurors began hearing opening statements from lawyers for the trial more than two years after members of the far-right group joined a pro-Trump crowd by storming the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said the Proud Boys knew Trump’s hopes for a second term were quickly fading as Jan. 6 approached. Group leaders therefore assembled a “fighting force” to stop the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden, McCullough said. Tarrio, who is from Miami, saw a Biden presidency as a “threat to the existence of the Proud Boys,” the prosecutor said.
McCullough showed jurors a video clip of Trump sadly telling the Proud Boys to ‘stand back and be ready’ during his first presidential debate with Biden in 2020, a moment that led to an explosion of interest in the band.
“These men did not back down. They did not sit idly by. Instead, they mobilized,” the prosecutor said.
Leaders of the Proud Boys recruited new members “to help them achieve their goals,” McCullough said. On Jan. 6, they gathered at a pre-arranged location and began advancing on Capitol Hill before Trump finished his speech.
“The time to act had arrived,” the prosecutor said.
The lawsuit follows seditious conspiracy convictions of two leaders of the Oath Keepers, another far-right group.
The case against Tarrio and his four associates is one of the most important to emerge from the 6 January riot at the Capitol. The trial will provide an in-depth look at a group that has become an influential force in mainstream Republican politics.
Defense attorneys argue that the group’s notoriety made Tarrio a target for authorities looking for a scapegoat for the riot. His lawyer Sabino Jauregui accused prosecutors of deceptively piecing together offensive online posts and said Tarrio had actually tried to stop his Proud Boys from fighting in talk to the police before the rallies.
“They’re trying to build this conspiracy that doesn’t exist,” Jauregui said. He acknowledged that Tarrio and other self-proclaimed “Western chauvinists” in the Proud Boys shared “offensive” posts, but said it was Trump who sparked the mob that attacked the Capitol.
“It’s too hard to blame Trump,” Jauregui said. “It’s easier to blame Enrique as the face of the Proud Boys.”
Defense attorneys also say there were never any plans to enter the Capitol or stop Congressional certification of the electoral vote won by Biden.
“Time and time again, witnesses have told the government that there is no plan for Jan. 6,” said Nicholas Smith, attorney for Ethan Nordean, president of Auburn’s Proud Boys chapter. , Washington. Nordean entered the Capitol looking for friends and did not damage anything or hurt anyone there, he said.
The defense also accused prosecutors of trying to silence potential defense witnesses. Tarrio’s attorneys did not say whether he would speak in his defense.
His other co-defendants are Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Fla., a self-proclaimed Proud Boys organizer; Zachary Rehl, who was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a member of the Proud Boys from Rochester, New York.
The lawsuit will expose the private communications between them, as well as their public statements, coordinated actions on Capitol Hill and their celebrations of the riot before they attempted to cover their tracks.
A message Tarrio posted on social media before Jan. 6 read: “Lords of War” over a photo of Pezzola with the hashtags “#J6” and “#J20.”
“These warlords united to stop the transfer of presidential power,” McCullough said.
Tarrio’s lieutenants were among the first wave of rioters to enter the Capitol grounds and attack police barricades heading towards the building, prosecutors said.
Jurors saw video of Pezzola using a stolen riot shield to smash a window, allowing rioters to pour into the Capitol. Pezzola took video of himself taking a “victory smoke” on a cigar inside the Capitol, the prosecutor said.
Tarrio was not in Washington on January 6 because he was arrested two days before the riot and accused of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a protest in December 2020. He was ordered to leave the capital, but prosecutors say he remained engaged in planning the extremist group for January 6th.
Watching the riot from afar, Tarrio posted a message urging the Proud Boys to stay at the Capitol.
“Make no mistake about it,” he wrote. “We did that.”
A day after the attack, Tarrio wrote a message that read, “God didn’t put me here for a reason.
“We would still be here,” he added.
The Justice Department has indicted nearly 1,000 people across the United States for the deadly January 6 insurgency, and his investigation continues to grow. Among those are Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and Florida chapter leader Kelly Meggs, who were found guilty of conspiring to block the transfer of presidential power from Trump, a Republican, to Biden. , a Democrat. Three other oath keepers were acquitted of the charge. They were, however, convicted of other serious charges.
The Proud Boys trial is the first major trial to begin since the House committee investigating the insurrection urged the department to bring criminal charges against Trump and his associates who were behind his efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.
Although the criminal referral has no real legal standing, it adds to the political pressure already exerted on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the special counsel he appointed, Jack Smithwho is investigating Jan. 6 and Trump’s actions.
Jury selection in the case lasted two weeks, as a large number of potential jurors said they associated the Proud Boys with hate groups or white nationalism. The Capitol can be seen in the distance from parts of the courthouse, where a second group of Oathkeepers is also currently on trial for seditious conspiracy, which carries up to 20 years behind bars upon conviction.
Tensions flared at times as jury selection slowed and defense attorneys complained that too many potential jurors were biased against the Proud Boys. Defense attorneys have challenged jurors who have expressed support for causes such as Black Lives Matter, saying it could indicate prejudice against the Proud Boys.
The lawyers and the judge clashed in sometimes chaotic pre-trial legal wrangling to the point where two defense attorneys threatened to withdraw from the case. US District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, lashed out after defense attorneys repeatedly interrupted and spoke to him on Wednesday, warning he would find them looked down upon if this continued.