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

Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, shown here at a protest in support for Cubans demonstrating against their government in Miami on July 16, 2021.
Eva Marie Uzcategui
/
AFP via Getty Images
Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, shown here at a protest in support for Cubans demonstrating against their government in Miami on July 16, 2021.

Updated May 4, 2023 at 4:33 PM ET

Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other members of the far-right 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 found defendant Dominic Pezzola not guilty of seditious conspiracy. Pezzola 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.

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

"Today's verdict makes clear the Justice Department will do everything in its power to defend the American people and to defend democracy," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a brief statement at the building's headquarters.

He praised the skill and courage of the prosecutors who have worked on the Jan. 6 cases and said they had secured more than 600 convictions. Garland said that work would continue.

"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.

Judge Timothy Kelly said he understands the jurors were not able to return unanimous verdicts on 10 other charges, resulting in a mistrial on those charges. He thanked the jury for its diligence and patience.

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," defense attorney Nayib 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 Jan. 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?"

The jury took just seven days to deliver a verdict in the grueling and choppy case. Jury selection began last December, when prospective jurors were informed the trial would last as many as seven weeks. Instead, it dragged over four months, amid bickering among the defense teams, the judge and the prosecution.

Outside the courthouse, after the verdict, Tarrio's lawyers said they respected the jury's decision but planned to appeal. A lawyer for Biggs called the verdict "a manifest miscarriage of justice" earlier Thursday and said Biggs would "place his hopes in the appellate courts."

The judge asked both sides to file a plan for how to proceed by May 11. The judge said the defendants may be sentenced sometime in August.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.