WASHINGTON — Five members of the far-right Proud Boys, including former leader Enrique Tarrio, face decades in prison after being found guilty for their role in the January 6 US Capitol riot.
Four were convicted of seditious conspiracy, and all five were found guilty of obstructing official proceedings, alongside other felonies.
The most serious charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
More than 100 members of the far-right, all-male group joined the Capitol riot.
All five defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to prevent officials from discharging their duties, obstructing officers during civil disorder, and destruction of a fence protecting the Capitol.
A mistrial was declared on a total of 10 charges against the men where the jury failed to come to a conclusion, after a complex trial that took nearly four months – more than twice as long as planned.
The Proud Boys were steadfast supporters of Donald Trump who marched several times in Washington DC after the 2020 election, often clashing with far-left anti-fascists.
Their protests culminated on 6 January 2021, as the election results were due to be certified by the Congress.
Unlike his co-defendants, former Proud Boy chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio was not in Washington that day.
He was arrested two days earlier for previously burning a Black Lives Matter banner and weapons charges. He was ordered by a judge to leave the city and ended up watching events from a hotel room in nearby Baltimore.
Tarrio’s co-defendants included Ethan Nordean, 31, of Washington state, who goes by the alias “Rufio Panman”.
Nordean was active in Proud Boy street protests and brawls with anti-fascist activists in the Pacific Northwest. In video from January 6, he was seen leading members of the group around the Capitol along with co-defendant Joe Biggs, 38, of Florida, a US Army veteran and former broadcaster for Alex Jones’s Infowars.
Zachary Rehl, 36, a former US Marine and leader of the Philadelphia branch of the Proud Boys, was also part of a group that stormed the building.
A fifth defendant, 44-year-old Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York, was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy.
Pezzola, also a former US Marine and at the time a relatively recent recruit to the group, took a riot shield from a police officer and smashed a window. He was one of the first people inside the building and lit a cigar in celebration.
However, while testifying in his own defense he said he was acting alone and had not met his co-defendants prior to that day. He was convicted of assaulting a police officer while taking the riot shield, while the others were found not guilty on that charge.
Rehl also testified in his own defense, but the others did not take the stand.
In court, prosecutors introduced a large volume of text messages, social media posts and videos to prove that the group’s actions amounted to a coordinated plot to try to stop the certification of the 2020 election result.
The Proud Boys repeatedly posted a number of violent threats online. For instance, in November 2020, Tarrio wrote on a post by Joe Biden: “YOU need to remember the American people are at war with YOU. No Trump… No peace. No quarter.”
Others posted about civil war, firing squads and “traitors”.
The trial was delayed by slow jury selection, motions for mistrial by defense lawyers, numerous arguments over witnesses and evidence, and concerns about possible juror intimidation.
Lawyers for the defendants argued that the group was poorly organized, mostly non-violent, and that there was no preconceived plan to storm the building.
They also noted that Tarrio, a long-time police informant, was in touch with Washington DC police before January 6 and informed an officer of the group’s plans for the day.
In closing arguments lawyers for the defendants placed the blame on Mr Trump, saying they merely followed his suggestion to show up.
“‘Be there, it’s going to be wild,’ the commander-in-chief said. And so they did,” said Norm Pattis, an attorney for Biggs, referencing one of Trump’s tweets.
The Proud Boys were founded in New York City in 2016 by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of Vice who left the media company to embark on a career as a right-wing commentator and podcaster.
They describe themselves as an all-male drinking club or a “pro-Western fraternal organization”.
But they became better known for their frequent brawls with left-wing anti-fascist activists in cities across the US.
Under US law, seditious conspiracy is defined as a plot to overthrow the government or use force “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States”.
It is a rarely used law that dates from the US Civil War. Last year two leaders of the Oath Keepers – one of the other major organized groups present at the Capitol riot – were convicted in the first successful prosecution for seditious conspiracy since 1995. Three other members of that militia were acquitted of the charge during last year’s trial .
Seditious conspiracy is less serious than treason, which is the only crime specifically spelled out in the US Constitution and requires a high standard of proof—the testimony of at least two witnesses in open court or a confession. Treason can also be punishable by the death penalty.
The government’s case in the Proud Boys trial relied in part on another Proud Boy, Jeremy Bertino, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and testified for the prosecution. BBC