Evidence is now piling on at a rapid clip in the seditious conspiracy trial of five Proud Boys, including onetime ringleader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, who prosecutors say led and engaged in a months-long conspiracy to violently stop the transfer of presidential power on Jan. 6, 2021.
Friday marked Day 18 of proceedings at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., where the grueling pace that has unfolded in recent weeks finally gave way to an impressive show of significant evidence: the private communications of Tarrio and his Proud Boy co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joseph Biggs, and Dominic Pezzola.
In this process, jurors have also begun to see startling communications from other key members of the neofascist group like Jeremy Bertino, a close compatriot to Tarrio who was the first to flip and plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in October 2022; and Charles Donohoe, a former U.S. Marine who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding as well as assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers last April. Both former Proud Boy chapter leaders may end up testifying on behalf of the government as the trial goes forward, per terms of their plea agreements.
But only time will tell: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough told presiding U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly this week he expects the trial to stretch at least another three to three-and-a-half weeks.
Proud Boys Telegram Messages by Daily Kos
‘Let’s get radical and get real men’
Former President Donald Trump, who Proud Boys referred to on occasion as ‘Daddy Trump’ in their private messages, is like a shadow hanging over proceedings. It is not a “political trial,” despite protests otherwise from defense attorneys, but nonetheless, Trump and his attempt to subvert the 2020 election, and the dangerous societal upheaval that attempt engendered, is an undercurrent that courses hot through the Proud Boys case.
Admitted into evidence by prosecutors this week was Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020, tweet urging his supporters to “be there” in D.C. on Jan. 6 for a “big” and “wild” protest. The invite, of course, was coupled with a bogus report on voter fraud.
Proud Boys were already keyed up on Trump for months by then; in September, during the presidential debates, when Trump told Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and said political violence was a “left”-wing problem, the defendants were thrown into a “jubilant” frenzy, FBI Special Agent Peter Dubrowski testified on Wednesday.
For defendant Joseph Biggs, it was a green light from Trump to “deal with ANTIFA.”
That left him “so happy,” Biggs wrote on Parler after the debate, because “Trump basically said to go fuck them up!”
RELATED: ‘Jubilation’ when Trump called their name: Sedition trial starts to crack apart Proud Boys texts
But Biggs’ interpretation of Trump’s message wasn’t popular among some Proud Boys, chats have revealed. Nich Ochs, the founder of the Proud Boys Hawaii division who is now serving two years in prison for obstruction of an official proceeding on Jan. 6, didn’t want Biggs to “blow this lead,” he wrote in the group’s private “Skull and Bones” chat that September.
Skull and Bones was one of several chat groups used by Proud Boys but was considered a space for “elders” only. Its participants included Tarrio, Nordean, and other leaders.
Tarrio wasn’t willing to disavow Biggs in September 2020 and that hadn’t changed by December after he and Biggs and their now co-defendants participated in two pro-Trump ‘Stop the Steal’-focused events that ultimately ended in clashing and violence.
In the group’s national forum channel on Telegram—the “Official Presidents Chat”—Tarrio told members increasingly irritated by Biggs’ big mouth that he wouldn’t cut ties with him because the former InfoWars contributor “helps me organize,” Tarrio said.
“While we’re at events I depend on him and Rufio to make decisions,” Tarrio wrote, referencing his now-codefendant Ethan Nordean by Nordean’s moniker “Rufio Panman.”
Around the same time Trump had tweeted about the “big” protest on Jan. 6, private text messages seized off the defendants' devices by the FBI showed Tarrio discussing the Proud Boys’ need to shift the dynamics of their outward reputation.
Tarrio has long described the Proud Boys as a “drinking club” publicly and his defense attorneys have clung to this too as the trial has gone on. Prosecutors, however, have said this is just Tarrio’s “self-serving” way to play down the more unsavory reality of the group.
“The drinking stuff helps mask and recruit,” Tarrio told Biggs in the wee hours of Dec. 19.
“But we recruit losers who wanna drink,” Biggs replied. “Let’s get radical and get real men. And I do mean that in a crazy way… we need to portray a more masculine vibe.”
Then Biggs purchased a ticket to fly to Washington on Jan. 5 and return home to Florida on Jan. 7.
Dec. 19 was a busy day for Tarrio, chat records would indicate. He told Biggs he was on a Zoom call roughly a half hour after Trump sent his “wild” tweet early that morning. Then, in the afternoon he had at least one FaceTime call with Biggs and Nordean. Once the call was over, Biggs shot a text to Tarrio and Nordean saying: “Trumps calling the troops in on the 6th. Might be a big deal.” He sent a link to a Zoom call for elders in the Skull and Bones chat close to midnight. Chat logs show many messages were likely deleted in the chat that evening after a Proud Boy who went by the handle “Turo Knives” posted the message: “Trump is calling for Proud Boys to show up on the 6th.”
Tarrio created the encrypted “Ministry of Self Defense” chat the next day.
“This is the thing. The new thing,” he wrote to Biggs.
The “Ministry of Self Defense” or MOSD, was an encrypted chat where prosecutors have argued Tarrio, Biggs, Nordean, and Rehl ramped up their operations planning for Jan. 6. Defendant Dominic Pezzola, who is alleged to have used a stolen police riot shield to smash open a window at the Capitol before streaming inside, was not a member of the MOSD chat.
MOSD was going to be “completely different,” Rehl told fellow members during a Dec. 31 video conference.
This wasn’t going to be like times before when Proud Boys did “night marches” or “flexed our guns” (muscles) in the street, Rehl said.
In other chats, Biggs is seen saying Proud Boys were going to D.C. as “concerned citizens who hate commies” since “so many pbs [sic] wanna cry about optics.”
Tarrio has insisted that MOSD was set up to teach members how to defend themselves against “antifa” and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement while attending rallies or events where the groups may intersect.
His attorneys, Sabino Jauregui and Nayib Hassan, have suggested at trial that the name of the chat was a coy play on a nickname fellow Proud Boys gave to Tarrio. He was their “Minister of Self-Defense” because of his aversion to fighting, his attorneys claimed.
But in late December, MOSD chats featured discussion of coming to D.C. on the 6th, recruiting members from various chapters to attend and acquiring gear like sealed googles, stab-proof gloves, stab vests, pepper spray, gas masks, helmets, and handheld Baofeng radios. Talk of “antifa” and “BLM” had started to dry up.
There was, however, heavy conversation about how to operate in secrecy and follow rules to avoid detection by law enforcement. That included forgoing wearing the group’s black and yellow colors on Jan. 6 and dressing in all black instead. This would make them hard to distinguish from extreme “black bloc” leftists. Tarrio brushed off concerns from his “boys” about how this choice may work against them.
“Misinformation is a good tool,” Tarrio wrote in the Official Presidents Chat on Dec. 31.
Then, citing the Nazi propaganda minister, Tarrio wrote: “Fuck… Did I just Goebbels this thing?”
The ‘Ministry’ meetings
With less than two weeks to go until the insurrection, prosecutors say planning calls flowed continuously. Tarrio, who also goes by the handle “NobleLead,” asked for a late-night phone call with Rehl and Biggs on Dec. 29; MOSD chat logs show that after Tarrio made that request, it appears at least a dozen messages from that thread may have been deleted.
A recorded video teleconference hosted by Tarrio on Dec. 30, 2020, and played for jurors this week showed how Tarrio, Biggs, Rehl, Donohoe, Bertino, and two other Proud Boy leaders, John Stewart and Aaron Wolkind, worked to organize themselves for the “mission” on the 6th.
In a clip of the meeting entered into evidence this week, Donohoe discusses “escalation of force” and the need to operate in a “strictly defensive mode” while providing a “bodyguard service for the mission” that other members of the Proud Boys “marketing” or front-facing team—Tarrio, Biggs, and Nordean—were poised to undertake.
Jan. 6 was going to be a “strict structure,” Bertino said.
“It’s a fit in or fuck off mentality,” he said. “You’re gonna do what we’re gonna do or you don’t need to be there at all.”
During the meeting, someone asked what the operational goal was for Jan. 6 and Tarrio replied: “I’m not going to go into too much detail on the 6th. We’re going to have a separate chat, a video chat exactly like this with people who are actually attending the event.”
By Dec. 31, Tarrio started to open up the Ministry of Self Defense to more members and created a new MOSD Ops group. Though Pezzola hadn’t appeared in the previous chat, Tarrio invited him to this one.
Special Agent Dubrowski told jurors this week that all of the defendants appeared to be participants in the MOSD ops channel.
“This week is going to be historic,” a member, “Russell Eide,” wrote.
In the same chat group, on Jan. 4, jurors saw how John Charles Stewart aka “Johnny Blackbeard” lost his cool when a fellow member turned the conversation away from the coming “mission” and raised concerns about unaffiliated people mixing in with Proud Boys on Jan. 6 or misrepresenting the group.
“This fucking group has a mission, either get with it or fuck off, alright? We’re not fucking hunting edge lords… We’re not changing our fucking mission. We’re not going to D.C. to identify people who wore a fucking shirt that triggers you. If you don’t like it, fuck off, seriously,” Stewart said in a voice chat. “This fucking group isn’t about your personal vendettas. Get the fuck over yourself. We’re here for a reason.”
“Focus,” Tarrio warned.
Stewart, who shares Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui, has reportedly pleaded guilty. Jauregui let the detail slip during a public hearing last October that promptly went private.
Jurors also heard testimony this week about a document titled “1776 Returns” that federal prosecutors said Tarrio used to flesh out his own plans for Jan. 6.
1776 Returns by Daily Kos
Text messages introduced this week show that Tarrio received the document from a woman identified in chats as “Eryk-A.” Eryk-A is reportedly Erika Flores, a woman Agent Dubrowski said Tarrio was romantically linked to. The document contained details and plans on how to storm federal buildings and distract law enforcement. The Capitol was not specifically listed in the document, however, and defense attorneys have seized onto this point.
The author of the document is unclear, but a former State Department staffer, Sam Armes, told the January 6 Committee last year that he didn’t author the document but some of his “war gaming” concepts he had discussed with a friend ended up in it. That friend was Flores. Flores told the select committee that Armes wanted Flores to give the document to Tarrio. Armes said Flores was “blameshifting.”
“The revolution is important [sic] than anything,” Eryk-A wrote on Dec. 31 before sharing the document with Tarrio in a text.
“That’s what every waking moment consists of,” Tarrio said.
“WellC. [sic] If you don’t like my plan, let me know. I will pitch elsewhere. But I want you to be the executor and benefitor [sic] of my brilliance. If not, stop playing games with me,” Eryk-A wrote.
”I’m not playing games,” Tarrio replied.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Nick Smith for Ethan Nordean, Agent Dubrowski conceded that the document did not specifically mention the Capitol, nor was it even circled on a map included in the memo. The document also didn’t call for interfering with congresspeople.
But the inferences were there, he testified.
In that vein, on direct examination led by prosecutor Conor Mulroe, Dubrowski testified that Proud Boys in the group chats asked questions to leadership about strategy on Jan. 6. What would happen, for example, if “normies” would push past police lines and storm the Capitol on Jan. 6? Did Proud Boys leadership react or respond to that question?
There was “no disapproval,” Dubrowski said.
And when another Proud Boy asked what might happen if “a million patriots stormed the Capitol” and bodies ended up being “stacked” on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, what did the Proud Boys leadership say then?
Tarrio didn’t reply—but John Stewart did.
“Police would do nothing because they could do nothing,” he wrote.
Tarrio wasn’t at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was arrested two days earlier on Jan. 4 for charges related to his burning of a Black Lives Matter banner in December. Tarrio has claimed in the past that he knew he was to be arrested on Jan. 4. Phone records shown to jurors show Tarrio and Biggs sharing two phone calls before his arrest and then a text.
“Whatever happens, make sure its a spectacle,” Tarrio said.
“Yup,” Biggs replied.
Tarrio and his co-defendants have all pleaded not guilty.
The trial will resume on Monday. For more, check out the Daily Kos live blog available here or the blow-by-blow on Twitter.
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