WASHINGTON (AP), -- A jury will soon decide if the former leader of the Proud Boys extremist organization is guilty in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Closing arguments may be held as soon as next week, before jurors decide whether or not to convict Enrique Tarrio, national chairman of Proud Boys, and four lieutenants for seditious conspiracy in what prosecutors call a plot to stop the transfer of presidential powers from Republican Donald Trump into Democrat Joe Biden following the 2020 election.
Although the trial lasted twice as long than expected, there has been little information about the Jan. 6 attack on Congress that stopped Congress from certifying Biden's victory. Tarrio, however, could be found guilty of inciting violence and planning, even though he was not in Washington, D.C. at the time.
As the Proud Boys, an neofacist group that disrupts storytelling sessions at LGBTQ events across the country and brawling with left-wing activists on the streets, are nearing the end of their case, it is now likely that a new problem will be brewing.
Tarrio, the group and two other defendants are also being sued in a separate multimillion-dollar case. A judge will decide how much they have to pay Washington's historic Black church for Proud Boys' destruction of a Black Lives Matter sign in a pro-Trump rally that descended into violence in December 2020. Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church seeks $22 million in punitive damage, claiming it was an attempt to intimidate people who fight for racial equality.
Tarrio was not in Washington on Jan. 6, because he had been detained two days prior for his involvement in the burning of another Black Lives Matter banner from Asbury United Methodist in Washington. Tarrio was told to leave the city following his arrest.
The case against Washington's federal court for seditious conspiracies began in January with opening statements. However, the process was slowed down by bickering between defense and judge attorneys, repeated requests to a mistrial, long cross-examinations and other legal maneuvers. Jurors were often left waiting in the wings rather than hearing the courtroom testimony.
Tarrio is defending Ethan Nordean (Proud Boys chapter leader), from Auburn, Washington, and Zachary Rehl (proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs), of Philadelphia. Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member, is also on trial.
It is not clear if any of them will testify prior to the defense rests, and jurors hear the closing arguments of attorneys.
The government's case rests on a collection of messages that Proud Boys leaders exchanged privately via Telegram before, during, and after the Capitol riot. With each failure of Trump's lawyers in challenging election results in court, their online rhetoric became more angry.
Tarrio posted Nov. 16, 2020, "If Biden steals the election (the Proud Boys), will be political prisoners." "We won't be silent... I promise.'
Tarrio, who was a victim of the mob attack on Capitol, posted on social media: "Don't (expletive). Leave."
A Proud Boys member asked Tarrio, "Are you a militia yet?" Tarrio replied in one word, 'Yep', to a Proud Boys member.
Tarrio wrote, "Make no mistake." "We did this.
Defense lawyers argue that there is no evidence to support the Proud Boys' plan to attack the Capitol on January 6.
They stressed that Proud Boys had FBI informants within their ranks, who didn't raise any red flags regarding the group prior to Jan. 6. To show jurors Tarrio tried to avoid violence, they also demonstrated how Tarrio communicated frequently with an officer who monitors extremist groups' activities in Washington. Tarrio advised the officer about the group's plans during the weeks prior to Jan. 6.
Oath Keepers members and leaders who were previously convicted on seditious conspiracy charges also argued that the riot was spontaneous, not a result of premeditated planning. Although prosecutors claimed that the Capitol attack was a way to stop the OathKeepers from transferring power, defense lawyers repeatedly argued that there is no evidence that OathKeepers planned to storm the Capitol.
Prosecutors managed to get Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, and five others convicted in the seditious conspiracy trial. Three other defendants were also acquitted. However, the other Oath Keepers were convicted of serious felonies. Next month is scheduled for Rhodes and other Oath Keepers sentencings.
Prosecutors could use evidence from the Oath Keepers case to show that a cache of guns was found at a Virginia hotel to prove they intended to use force to prevent the transfer of power.
Only Pezzola, one of the Proud Boys accused, is charged with violence or destruction following being filmed smashing a Capitol window using a riot shield.
Proud Boys prosecutors have claimed that Tarrio and others selected and mobilized loyal foot soldiers (or 'tools) to provide the force required to execute their plot.
Defense lawyers claim that this is an unusual and flawed legal concept. They also believe their messages were misinterpreted. Tarrio was also portrayed as a victim of the riot by the defense attorneys. Trump's speech to supporters right before the march to the Capitol was a perfect example of this. Pezzola's lawyers tried to subpoena Trump but it didn't work.
Trump's testimony could have an impact on the jury's decision. Jurors were shown a video from the 2020 presidential debate in which Trump instructed the Proud Boys "stand back and watch," an event that drew a lot of attention and prompted many membership requests.
"These men didn't stand still. They didn't stand by. They mobilized instead,' Jason McCullough, Assistant U.S. attorney, told jurors.
Two former Proud Boys members were key witnesses in the prosecution. They cooperated with government officials in order to get lighter sentences. Matthew Greene, one of the Proud Boys' key witnesses, said that Proud Boys members expected a civil war after 2020's election. Jeremy Bertino, the other witness, said that Proud Boys considered themselves to be 'the tipof the spear.
Bertino is not the only Proud Boy to have pleaded guilty in a seditious conspiracy case. Both claimed they didn't know about a plan to storm Capitol Hill, but Bertino stated they wanted to prevent Biden becoming president. Greene stated that group leaders had celebrated the Jan. 6 attack, but did not encourage members to use force.
Prosecutors told defense lawyers that the woman who was expected to testify in Tarrio’s defense had secretly been an FBI informant following the Jan. 6 attack. This briefly interrupted the trial. The defense attorneys were alarmed that the woman had been in contact with the defense team. However, prosecutors stated that the informant was never given any information about defendants or their lawyers. Tarrio's lawyers decided not to call her as witness.
The judge in the civil case brought to you by Metropolitan AME is scheduled to hear the final arguments of the church on Tuesday. The Proud Boys are being sued as an entity along with Tarrio Biggs, Nordean and Bertino. Judge has already ruled that they will be held liable by default for failing to respond to the lawsuit and participating in the case. Only question is what amount, if any, they will have pay.