The walls closed in a little tighter this week on the Proud Boys accused of conspiring to lead the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
A federal judge ordered the two key figures in the conspiracy—Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Washington, and Joe Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida, both major figures in the far-right street-brawling organization—returned to prison to await their trials on multiple felony charges, including conspiracy to “stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”
Biggs was released on pretrial conditions shortly after the men were arrested, while Nordean was ordered released to home detention on March 3. But on Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Kelly, who is overseeing their case, ruled that new evidence produced by federal prosecutors had persuaded him that the men posed a potential threat to public safety prior to their trials, and that they needed to be behind bars.
Kelly acknowledged that there were gaps in the prosecutors’ case so far, but in a remarkable two-hour reading, explained that there was abundant evidence that the two men had planned to create violence and chaos with several others. He also noted that they had coordinated confrontations with Capitol Police forces, and then afterward conspired to conceal encrypted messages they had used to communicate before and during the siege.
“The defendants stand charged with seeking to steal one of the crown jewels of our country, in a sense, by interfering with the peaceful transfer of power,” Kelly said in explaining the decision. “It’s no exaggeration to say the rule of law and ... in the end, the existence of our constitutional republic is threatened by it.”
In ordering the men back to jail, Kelly reversed the earlier rulings releasing them. Nordean’s release, ordered by Judge Beryl Howell, occurred after Howell found that prosecutors’ evidence hadn’t matched their claims, and prosecutors chose not to provide further evidence at the time—mainly because it would be contained in their then-pending release of graver charges against Nordean, Biggs, and other Proud Boys leaders.
After that indictment—outlining the conspiracy by Nordean, Biggs, and two other Proud Boys regional leaders, Zach Rehl and Charles Donohoe—was released in March, prosecutors resumed their attempts to have the men in federal detention before their trials. After hearing their arguments in early April, Kelly ruled in prosecutors’ favor Monday.
The indictment outlined the messages the men exchanged in the weeks, days, and hours before they led the attack on the Capitol, including a warning that “cops are the primary threat” they faced that day.
“We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created,” Nordean wrote online on Nov. 27, according to the affidavit. “The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like the love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.”
Kelly indicated he was as concerned by missing evidence as the material contained in the affidavit. He noted that even though Nordean and Biggs have duly complied with their home-confinement release conditions, there were “two highly troubling things”: Nordean had claimed he couldn’t turn over his passport because he had lost it, and that he only reported one of his firearms stolen belatedly.
All told, the missing passport and gun “seem highly suspect, raising the prospect they have been stashed somewhere or are being held by someone,” Kelly wrote.
Meanwhile, a Proud Boy held in the Washington, D.C., Central Detention Facility where Nordean and Biggs are headed has asked to be released from custody after contracting COVID-19 in the jail. An attorney for Christopher Worrell, accused of pepper-spraying police during the Capitol siege, says his client suffers from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and faces an increased risk of complications from COVID-19.