Jurors in Proud Boys trial hear start of seditious conspiracy case
A federal prosecutor told jurors in the seditious conspiracy case against members of the far-right group Proud Boys that the defendants stepped up “and took aim at the heart of our democracy” on January 6, 2021.
Assistant US Attorney Jason McCullough described Proud Boys President Enrique Tarrio as ‘the leader of the conspiracy to stop certification’, with the help of trusted lieutenants on the grounds of the US Capitol that day .
“These defendants were not going to let Joe Biden become president without a fight,” McCullough said.
The prosecutor released video of a 2020 presidential debate in which then-President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys to “step back and stay away.” The Justice Department said the defendants took that message seriously — and later bragged online about what they had done to storm the Capitol.
McCullough said during the trial the jury could hear from Proud Boys who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, including John Stewart, Jeremy Bertino and Charles Donohoe.
Tarrio did not enter the building on January 6. He had been arrested a few days earlier for set fire to a Black Lives Matter banner at a local church the previous month, and had been banned from entering Washington, DCthe day of Trump’s speech and rally after police found two high-capacity magazines in his car.
The other the defendants understand Dominic Pezzola, perhaps best known for allegedly swept away a police shield and smashed a window in the Capitol on January 6, which allowed other rioters to pour into the building; Joseph Bigg, who was featured interacting with the first rioter who pushed through the police barricades in a video produced by the House Select Committee which investigated the siege; Zachary Rehl, who ran the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys; and Ethan Nordean.
The Justice Department said several of the defendants sprang into action hours after Trump tweeted on Dec. 19, 2020, about an upcoming rally in DC, which Trump said “will be wild.” A day later, Tarrio and others allegedly created the “Ministry of Self-Defense”, which prosecutor McCullough said was “ultimately exploited” to attack the Capitol.
Defense opening statements
Defense attorneys said Thursday that their clients had no plans to attack the Capitol building or delay the vote count that day. They also argue that the Justice Department was overstating the case.
Nordean’s lawyer, Nicholas Smith, used his opening statement to argue that the Justice Department’s filing is logically flawed, and that it’s not because there was a riot after a protest on Jan. 6 that his client foresaw the events to unfold. as they did. Smith encouraged the jury to view the case as doctors would, detached and unemotional, he said.
“After that doesn’t mean because of that,” Smith said, using the analogy of a rooster crowing and the sun rising — the second thing wasn’t caused by the first.
Smith said a witness, Michale Graves, would testify for the defense at trial to say Nordean had no plans to storm the Capitol this afternoon because Graves, a member of a group called The Misfits, was supposed to meet Nordean at an AirBnB in DC to listen to music on the afternoon of Jan. 6.
Tarrio’s lawyer, Sabino Jaureguisand his client was used as a scapegoat by the government. He argued that someone must be blamed for the insurgency and that Tarrio was the “easy target” rather than intelligence and law enforcement agencies, even though they had information about potential threats to the government on January 6.
Questioning of potential jurors extended for 10 days as lawyers probed their knowledge of the far-right group and whether they had any biases about the Proud Boys. In the end, the judge seated a jury of seven men and nine women, including four alternates. A juror has already been removed from office after contracting covid.
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