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Philadelphia Proud Boys leader Zachary Rehl guilty in seditious conspiracy trial

Philadelphia Proud Boys leader convicted in Jan. 6 riot case
Philadelphia Proud Boys leader convicted in Jan. 6 riot case 00:16

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The former leader of the far-right Philadelphia Proud Boys group Zachary Rehl was convicted of numerous felonies, including seditious conspiracy for their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

A federal jury in Washington, D.C. on Thursday found Rehl, along with one-time president of Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs guilty of conspiring to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and using force and prior planning to hinder the 2020 presidential election certification.

Rehl now faces up to 20 years in prison.

There was no verdict for Dominic Pezzola on the most serious charge, seditious conspiracy, and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. After the reading of the partial verdict, Judge Timothy Kelly sent the jury back to deliberate on these charges and several other felonies that they did not come to verdict on. 

All five were found guilty of several other felonies, including obstructing an official proceeding; obstructing Congress; conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties; obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder and aiding and abetting and destruction of government property. 

But Tarrio, who was arrested on Jan. 4, 2021, and not at the Capitol, was found not guilty of assaulting officers. Only Pezzola was found guilty of that charge. 

They now likely face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. 

Prosecutors had argued the defendants had conspired to unlawfully use force — and the crowds gathered in Washington, D.C. — to keep former President Donald Trump in office. 

Soon after the election, investigators alleged Tarrio began posting on social media and in message groups about a "civil war," later threatening, "No Trump…No peace. No Quarter." 

Proud Boys leaders saw themselves as "a fighting force" that was "ready to commit violence" on Trump's behalf, the government alleged.

Enrique Tarrio
FILE - Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio wears a hat that says The War Boys during a rally in Portland, Ore., on Sept. 26, 2020. The seditious conspiracy trial of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants is coming at a pivotal time for Justice Department's investigation and prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. Allison Dinner/AP

According to charging papers, Nordean, Rehl, Biggs and Pezzola gathered with over 100 Proud Boys near the Washington Monument on Jan. 6, 2021, around the time that Trump was speaking at the White House Ellipse. They allegedly marched to the Capitol grounds and communicated by radio. 

Prosecutors said the defendants were among the first wave of rioters to breach Capitol grounds over police barricades and lead the mob toward the building. 

Some defendants – like Pezzola – were accused of breaking windows at the Capitol, while others roused the mob and pushed through metal barricades and police lines to enter the Capitol. 

Tarrio wasn't in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 because he had been arrested for unrelated charges a day earlier. Still, the Justice Department alleged his planning before the attack, support for the rioters during the assault and comments afterward were sufficient to charge him with seditious conspiracy. 

"Make no mistake, we did this," Tarrio wrote on social media during the riot. 

"The spirit of 1776 has been resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys. And we will not be extinguished," Nordean allegedly wrote in Nov. 2020. "Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people," Rehl posted.

Prosecutors said Tarrio exhorted protesters to violence, posting before Jan. 6, "Let's bring this new year in with one word in mind: revolt." In text messages, he later compared Proud Boys' actions that day to those of George Washington, Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

Defense attorneys countered that the Proud Boys were just a glorified "drinking club" where men shared their anger, and they contended Tarrio and others had no explicit plan to resist the election results or obstruct Congress. Tarrio was merely exercising his constitutional rights, his lawyer argued.

"Did Enrique Tarrio make comments that were egregious? Absolutely," Tarrio's attorney rhetorically asked the jury in closing arguments last week. "You may not like what he said, but it is First Amendment-protected speech." 

The trial, which began on Jan. 12, dragged from winter into spring with dozens of witnesses called by both sides and thousands of exhibits. Witnesses included a documentary filmmaker who followed Tarrio around after the 2020 presidential election, numerous FBI agents who investigated the case, Secret Service employees, and former Proud Boys. 

Only two of the five defendants — Rehl and Pezzola — testified in their own defense. Rehl said he knew of no plans for violence and encouraged no one to engage with police.

Prosecutors showed video of Pezzola using a stolen police shield to smash a window and smoking a "victory cigar" inside the Capitol. He said he acted alone and testified he was not part of any criminal enterprise. Pezzola's attorney, Steve Metcalf, called the government's case a "fairy dust conspiracy,"

Matthew Greene — a former Proud Boys member — testified as a government witness and told the jury he first joined the group to defend against ANTIFA.

He testified there had been no explicit call to violently resist Joe Biden's presidency, but a "collective expectation" that they were to respond if provoked. 

"I can't say it was overtly encouraged, but it was never discouraged," Greene said of violence, "And when it happened, it was celebrated."

Greene, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, was pressed by the defense about whether the violence on Jan. 6 was planned. He said the crowd  was angry, but the violence seemed "spontaneous." However, he testified the mob's actions were "either implicitly or overtly accepted and encouraged by the Proud Boys" on Jan. 6. 

Another cooperating witness at trial, 43-year-old Jeremy Bertino, was considered to be Tarrio's top lieutenant and pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy last year. Like Tarrio, Bertino wasn't at the Capitol during the attack. 

Bertino told the jury the Proud Boys nearly unanimously believed the 2020 election results were stolen from Trump as part of a broad "conspiracy." He testified that the Proud Boys saw themselves as the footsoldiers of the right, calling themselves the "tip of the spear" in the fight. 

And after the attack, Bertino, who was recovering from an injury, messaged Tarrio, "I wanted to be there to witness what I believed to be the next American revolution…I'm so proud of my country today."

But he also told the court under cross-examination, "I didn't have conversations with anybody about going into the Capitol building." In closing arguments, Tarrio's lawyers questioned Bertino's reliability as a witness.

They blasted Bertino as a liar and alleged his testimony had been affected by his agreement with the government. 

Prosecutor Conor Mulroe countered the defense argument that the seditious conspiracy had to be explicitly planned to be criminal.

"A conspiracy is nothing more than an agreement with an unlawful objective," Mulroe said of the law, "A conspiracy can be unspoken. It doesn't have to be in writing, hashed out around the table, or even in words. It can be implicit."

"They were there to threaten and if necessary use force to stop the certification of the election and that is exactly what they did," he told the jury. 

Defense attorneys disagreed. 

"If you don't like what some of them say, that doesn't make them guilty," said Rehls' attorney, Carmen Hernandez. 

The trial was expected to last a few months, but squabbles between attorneys, sealed hearings, and shifting court schedules hampered efforts to expedite the proceedings. 

"We're learning to work together. We have seven very different personalities," defense attorneys cautioned Judge Kelly in January as the trial began. 

At times, the judge's patience particularly with defense attorneys appeared to wear thin as he attempted to stem the tide of objections, sidebars, and interruptions. "For God's sake," he pleaded with one defense attorney as they attempted to speak last month. "Goodness gracious," the judge said, exasperated during closing arguments. The days of testimony limped on. 

The verdict came less than a month before Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes will be sentenced for a conviction of seditious conspiracy. A jury in Washington, D.C., found him and codefendant Kelly Meggs guilty of the high crime but acquitted three others of the charge. 

A group of four more Oath Keepers was separately convicted of the seditious conspiracy count earlier this year, all in spite of efforts by defense attorneys to argue the charge is too extreme and Washington, D.C. jurors too biased. 

Defense attorneys in the trial consistently laid the blame for the riot at the feet of Trump himself, many mentioning the former president in their opening and closing arguments. 

Tarrio's attorney, Nayib Hassan, was even more explicit, telling the jury in closing arguments that "it was Donald Trump's words, it was his motivation, it was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6."

"They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald Trump and those in power," Hassan said. 

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