On Thursday, four members of the far-right Proud Boys organization were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The defendants, Enrique Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, and Zachary Rehl, were charged with nine counts in connection with the attack, including the rare charge of seditious conspiracy under a Civil War-era statute.
Dominic Pezzola, another member of the group, was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy.
The jury found Tarrio, Biggs, Nordean, and Rehl guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, while U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly declared a mistrial on that count for Pezzola after the jury said it could not come to an agreement.
Pezzola was separately charged with a tenth count of stealing a police shield, and was found guilty on Thursday.
Pezzola was also found guilty of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers, while the other four defendants were acquitted on that charge.
The trial began in December 2022, and the jury reached a partial verdict after four months, with Kelly declaring a mistrial on several other counts on which the jury did not come to a conclusion.
Jeremy Bertino, a high-level member of the Proud Boys who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in October, testified for the prosecution as part of a plea deal, telling jurors that the Proud Boys believed they “had to do anything that was necessary to save the country.”
Prosecutors argued that the Proud Boys were “thirsting for violence” on Jan. 6 and had organized in advance to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s win by “any means necessary, including by force.”
Defense attorneys countered that the Justice Department was using the group as a scapegoat for the real person to blame for Jan. 6: former President Donald Trump.
During the trial, two defendants testified: Rehl, the head of the organization’s Philadelphia chapter, and Pezzola, a floor installer from New York whom members of the organization called “Spaz.”
Just before Rehl was set to be cross-examined, online sleuths surfaced videos that appeared to show him deploying a can of pepper spray toward officers; Rehl denied it at trial and was not charged with assaulting police.
Pezzola got heated on the stand, bringing up conspiracy theories about another Jan. 6 participant, Ray Epps, and ranting about the “fake” charges and the “phony” trial.
One of the biggest challenges prosecutors faced was convincing a jury that Tarrio, the former Proud Boys chairman, was a part of the conspiracy, given that he spent Jan. 6 at a hotel in Baltimore after being banned from Washington, D.C., the day before.
However, encrypted messages revealed during the trial showed that Tarrio acknowledged receiving a message from someone who wanted to “storm the Capitol” but didn’t directly endorse that plan.
Prosecutors were able to show that Tarrio said he wanted a “spectacle” on Jan. 6 and celebrated the attack on the Capitol after it happened, giving the Proud Boys credit for the breach.
The Proud Boys trial was the third seditious conspiracy case to go before jurors since the Capitol attack.
Six members of the far-right Oath Keepers group, including founder Stewart Rhodes, were convicted on that charge across two trials in November and January.
Several other Proud Boys have pleaded guilty for their actions on Jan. 6, and another went to trial while the larger seditious conspiracy trial was underway.
Who are the Proud Boys?
Founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice, the Proud Boys began as a self-described “pro-Western fraternal organisation” that claimed to be nothing more than an all-male drinking club.
However, their reputation quickly became one of violence and intimidation as they engaged in frequent brawls with left-wing anti-fascist activists in cities throughout the United States.
In a BBC documentary filmed in 2019, Proud Boys members in Portland, Oregon, openly boasted about their arrests and street fighting, further cementing their image as a far-right extremist group.
However, it wasn’t until the September 2020 presidential debate that the Proud Boys achieved mainstream fame.
During a discussion about extremism, Democratic candidate Joe Biden mentioned the Proud Boys by name, prompting Republican incumbent Donald Trump to tell them to “stand back and stand by.”
This statement was quickly seized upon by the Proud Boys as a rallying cry and their response was caught on video and aired in court.
Following the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters, the Proud Boys have become even more notorious.
In the aftermath of the attack, many of the group’s leaders and members were arrested for their participation in the riot, and their national leadership has since fractured.
However, local chapters of the group continue to operate, with a renewed focus on protesting outside drag shows and engaging in anti-transgender activism.