US says Proud Boys were 'thirsting for violence' as January 6 trial wraps up

25 April 2023 - 09:12
By Andrew Goudsward
A mob of supporters of then-U.S. President Donald Trump climb through a window they broke as they storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021.
Image: REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo A mob of supporters of then-U.S. President Donald Trump climb through a window they broke as they storm the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021.

A US prosecutor on Monday said leaders of the Proud Boys were “thirsting for violence and organising for action” ahead of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, as the criminal trial of five members of the far-right group neared its conclusion.

Assistant US Attorney Conor Mulroe told a jury in a closing argument that the Proud Boys viewed themselves as a “fighting force” for Republican then-President Donald Trump and were “ready to commit violence on his behalf” to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

“For these defendants, politics was no longer something for the debating floor or the voting booth,” Mulroe said. “To them, politics meant actual physical combat.”

Former Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four co-defendants — Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola — are charged with seditious conspiracy and other felonies for what prosecutors described as a plot to use violence to disrupt the transfer of presidential power.

Prosecutors say the group played a leading role in the Jan. 6 riot, when thousands of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's victory over Trump.

An attorney for Nordean said prosecutors did not produce evidence of a violent plot to attack the Capitol but rather relied on chaotic video footage and inflammatory social media posts.

“The government’s entire case is built on this kind of misdirection and innuendo,” attorney Nick Smith said. Closing arguments were due to continue on Tuesday.

Mulroe told the jury that the defendants did not have to have a specific plan to attack the Capitol to be guilty of seditious conspiracy, a rarely invoked charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 year in prison. He said jurors only needed to conclude that they acted on a common goal of disrupting Congress.

Five people died and more than 140 police officers were injured.

More than 1,000 people have been charged so far. Among them are members of the right-wing Oath Keepers group, who were convicted of seditious conspiracy in January.

During the four-month trial, jurors were shown internal messages from Proud Boys leaders discussing civil war and physically attacking left-wing protesters and police.

Prosecutors said Tarrio helped to direct the attack from Baltimore, while Pezzola enabled rioters to enter the Capitol by using a police shield to smash a window. Two defendants, Rehl and Pezzola, testified in their own defence during the trial.

Reuters