Multiple leaders of the Proud Boys street gang were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other charges on Thursday over the outsize role they played in the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
After almost a week of deliberation, a jury in Washington, D.C., returned a partial verdict finding Proud Boys Enrique Tarrio — the gang’s chairman — Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl guilty of seditious conspiracy, a rare charge historically brought against terrorists on American soil. A fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola, was found innocent of seditious conspiracy after further deliberation.
The jury was initially deadlocked on the seditious conspiracy charge for Pezzola, along with various other charges lodged against each Proud Boy, including destruction of government property and assaulting law enforcement. Later Thursday, District Court Judge Tim Kelly declared a mistrial on the deadlocked charges, leaving it up to prosecutors to decide whether to retry them later.
All five were convicted of obstruction charges and conspiracy related to delaying Congress on Jan. 6. Pezzola — the first to breach a Capitol window using a riot shield stolen from an officer — was the sole Proud Boy found guilty of robbery and assaulting an officer.
The trial, which lasted nearly four months, was one of the government’s highest-profile cases against leaders of two extremist groups that flooded D.C. in late 2020 to make their final stand for then-President Donald Trump. Several leaders of the Oath Keepers — a self-described militia — were found guilty on seditious conspiracy charges in January.
To prove seditious conspiracy against the Proud Boys, prosecutors had to convince the jury that not only did the gang lead a mob to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, but that they agreed to do so beforehand in an effort to overturn the election. Though several Proud Boys argued in court that they didn’t have a plan to storm the Capitol in the months leading up to Jan. 6, the government built a case suggesting that the conspiracy could have come together at any time — including the day of, as the gang led a march from Trump’s inciting “fight like hell” speech at the Ellipse toward the Capitol steps. Then, prosecutors argued, the Proud Boys used the throng of Trump supporters amassing around them as “tools” to breach the Capitol and ultimately delay the certification of Joe Biden as president.
Messages shown in court between Biggs and Tarrio detailed their desire to recruit more dangerous allies before Jan. 6 — which several defendants referred to as a coming “civil war” — as opposed to the rest of the Proud Boys’ rank and file, whom Biggs referred to as “losers who wanna drink.”
“Let’s get radical and get real men,” Biggs messaged Tarrio on Dec. 19, 2020.
That quote played a key role in the prosecution’s case.
“The Oath Keepers had their rifles. The Proud Boys had their ‘real men,’” prosecutor Conor Mulroe said previously at trial.
The government often drew a hard line between Trump’s rhetoric and the Proud Boys’ mobilization to D.C., including an infamous moment during the 2020 presidential debates in which Trump, asked to rebuff any of the American extremist factions fighting on his behalf, said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
Regardless of Trump’s intent in that moment, the gang took his words as marching orders and began stockpiling cash, equipment and recruits to prepare for Jan. 6.
Several of the defendants’ lawyers attempted to use Trump’s rhetoric as a blanket excuse for the Proud Boys’ mobilization.
“You see Trump, President Trump, told them the election was stolen,” Tarrio’s attorney, Sabino Jauregui, said at trial. “It was Trump that told them to go [to the Capitol]. And it was Trump that unleashed them on January 6. He’s the one that told them to march over there and ‘fight like hell.’”
But prosecutors fired back with mountains of evidence — including video, social media posts and witness testimony — showing the gang was trained, prepared and in agreement to commit violence in an attempt to stop the certification.
The government also secured guilty pleas from multiple Proud Boys in exchange for key testimony. Among them was Jeremy Bertino, a chapter leader from North Carolina, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy prior to trial. He testified in February that he and his fellow Proud Boys were prepared to forcibly overturn the election if nobody else could.
“It was common knowledge that if everything else failed, there was no other option than to go into a civil war, a revolution,” he said in court. “This was a common topic of conversation in all of the chats I was in.”
While prosecutors put together a strong case against these five defendants, several questions about the Proud Boys’ role in the events of Jan. 6 remain unanswered.
Notably absent at trial was a substantial examination of the gang’s connection to longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, and other Trump allies, leading up to the attack. Stone was not only in contact with Tarrio on the day of Jan. 6, he previously admitted that he was a friend and adviser to the gang’s leadership, and coached them through their political — and sometimes criminal — goals. If looking into the Proud Boys’ multi-pronged connections was ever an option for prosecutors, Judge Tim Kelly was adamant from the beginning that they not stray far from the defendants in front of them.
It’s also unclear what chilling effect, if any, the trial will have on the national Proud Boys organization or the growing extremist crisis under the Republican Party. The gang continues to mobilize throughout the country, primarily in response to the GOP’s grievances: Over the past year they’ve held near-weekly rallies at LGBTQ+ events, abortion clinics and demonstrations, and drag queen story hours, introducing violence, harassment, and members of other bigoted factions to otherwise peaceful civic events.
That said, the Proud Boys are facing legal pressure from a variety of sources. Several of their leaders are looking at decades of prison time over the verdict, and separately, some of the defendants and the national organization are being sued for $22 million after the Proud Boys vandalized a number of historic, Black D.C. churches in the month leading up to Jan. 6.