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Prosecutors make opening statements in Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial

Proud Boys leader charged with conspiracy
Proud Boys leader charged with seditious conspiracy for alleged January 6 crimes 01:37

Five days before some of his lieutenants attacked the U.S. Capitol building in an alleged plot to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posted an online message to his social media followers. 

"Let's bring this new year in with one word in mind…Revolt," Tarrio wrote.

Now, two years after the halls of Congress were breached, Tarrio is one of five co-defendants in the Justice Department's third seditious conspiracy trial following the Jan. 6, 2021 attack. 

After spending weeks screening jurors, federal prosecutors and defense counsel presented their opening arguments in Washington, D.C. over whether Proud Boys members Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct the joint session of Congress tasked with counting the 2020 election's electoral votes. In addition to seditious conspiracy, the defendants are accused of obstructing law enforcement and destroying government property during the riot. All have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The government's seditious conspiracy charge — originally enacted to prosecute insurrection after the American Civil War — was most recently used to secure the convictions of Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, leaders of a different far-right paramilitary group. 

In their opening, federal prosecutors told jurors that the Proud Boys too anticipated civil war.

"On January 6th, they took aim at the heart of our democracy," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough, who delivered the government's opening, said. 

During their presentation, jurors were shown text messages and social media posts by Proud Boys, including one advertising their January 6th gathering as the "Lords of War." Later, McCullough presented a video of Biggs, after the attack, comparing Jan. 6 rioters to the Founding Fathers.

"Look, we started this country this way and we'll [f******] save it this way," Biggs said. On the day of the attack, Biggs was seen speaking to the crowd with a bullhorn as they moved toward Capitol grounds. "People tend to forget that our Founding Fathers were considered terrorists. They were considered traitors. They were considered the worst of the worst."

Defense, meanwhile, claimed the government's characterization of the Proud Boys was overstated. "The Proud Boys are basically a drinking club," said Sabino Jauregui, Tarrio's attorney. "Either they start drinking early or they definitely end up drinking a lot," Carmen Hernandez, Rehl's attorney, concurred later. 

Tarrio himself was not in D.C. on the day of the attack, having been arrested and ordered to exit the district days prior.

According to defense counsel, the blame for the Jan. 6 attack lies not with their clients, but with then-President Trump, who misled the Proud Boys and other rioters by claiming the election had been fraudulent. "President Trump told these people the election was stolen. Trump told them to go there," Jauregui said. "But he's not on trial here today."

Federal prosecutors, however, contend the Proud Boys were involved in "every critical breach" on the day of the attack. "Dominic Pezolla, using a stolen police riot shield, busted out two windows of the Capitol," McCullough said. "Within minutes, Congress was forced to stop its proceedings."

The government will proceed with its case-in-chief tomorrow.

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