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Jury convicts Enrique Tarrio of the Proud Boys on seditious conspiracy charge

  • By Carrie Johnson / NPR

Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, leader of The Proud Boys, holds an US flags during a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, in Miami, Florida on July 16, 2021. (Photo by Eva Marie UZCATEGUI / AFP) (Photo by EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other members of the far-right Proud Boys group have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy by a federal jury in Washington, D.C.

Jurors also convicted Tarrio and the others of obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their duties, obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder and destruction of government property with value of over $1,000 in one of the most important cases to date stemming from the siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on seditious conspiracy as to one other defendant, Dominic Pezzola, who is well known for taking a shield from a police officer on Jan. 6 and using it to bash in a window at the Capitol.

Judge Timothy Kelly polled the jurors on the charges and instructed them to return to deliberate on other counts for which they have failed to reach a verdict. He excused them at 11:13 A.M.

The verdict amounts to a significant victory for the Justice Department, which has now secured convictions against top leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for their roles in the attempt to keep former President Trump in power and stop certification of the 2020 election.

“Politics was no longer something for the debating floor or the voting booth,” prosecutor Conor Mulroe told jurors in his closing argument last week. “For them, politics meant actual physical violence. … And they liked it and they were good at it.”

Tarrio and the other defendants, who have been held in federal custody in the course of the trial, face as many as 20 years in prison on the most serious charges against them.

Former President Donald Trump has loomed over the trial like a shadow.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers played the jury a video of Trump calling on the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate, a moment that made the club jubilant and produced a flood of new membership inquiries.

Lawyers for Tarrio, who spent Jan. 6 in a Baltimore hotel room, but who monitored the action from afar, argued he was a mere “scapegoat” for the Justice Department and a far easier target.

“It was Donald Trump’s words, it was his motivation, it was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6 in your amazing and beautiful city,” Hassan said. “They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald Trump and those in power.”

But prosecutors reminded the jury that after a mob overtook the Capitol that day, Tarrio sent a message that read, “make no mistake, we did this.”

The sprawling case included 500,000 chat messages, video clips, podcasts and even a police riot shield. FBI special agents, police on the front lines on January 6, and former members of the Proud Boys who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors made up the bulk of the Justice Department witness list.

Two defendants also agreed to testify — with checkered results.

Zachary Rehl, the former leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys, painted himself as a family man only to be confronted with video of him allegedly spraying law enforcement officers with chemicals.

Pezzola, who broke a window in the Capitol that other rioters used to pour into the building, told jurors he took responsibility for his mistakes that day, only to call the case “corrupt” in an outburst during cross examination.

Defense lawyers said there was not a scrap of written evidence that the men had conspired to stop the certification of the election by using force.

“There are no statements in any of those chats regarding stopping the transfer of power … with or without force,” Hassan said.

Nick Smith, an attorney for defendant Ethan Nordean, cited “nearly constant attempts to lure you into rendering a judgment based on anger” about the defendants’ right-wing political views and inflammatory language.

The other defendant is Joseph Biggs, a former military service member who worked for the conspiracy site InfoWars. His attorney, Norm Pattis, told jurors many of the Proud Boys genuinely believed the 2020 election had been stolen.

“Why do I stress the president’s role?” Pattis asked the jury. “He’s not on trial here much though I wish he were. … If my president tells me my republic is being stolen, who do I listen to: the thief or the commander in chief?”

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