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‘They Did Not Stand By’: Proud Boys Jan. 6 Seditious Conspiracy Trial Kicks Off With Opening Statements

Enrique Tarrio

Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, leader of The Proud Boys, attends a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, in Miami, Florida on July 16, 2021. (Photo by Eva Marie UZCATEGUI /AFP)

After a nearly three-week contentious jury selection process and a flurry of activity involving one of the defendant’s lawyers, jurors in the Proud Boys Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy case finally got to hear opening statements.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough was the first to speak to jurors about Enrique Tarrio, who he called the “chairman” of the right-wing Proud Boys extremist group, and his co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola. The men are charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol, when mobs of then-President Donald Trump supporters swarmed police and breached the building as Congress was certifying Joe Biden‘s 2020 electoral win.

Prosecutors allege that Tarrio and his top lieutenants Nordean and Biggs — along with up-and-coming members Rehl and Pezzola — plotted to use force to keep Trump in office despite losing the election to Biden.

As Congress began certifying the Electoral College vote that day, pro-Trump rioters violently overwhelmed police and swarmed the building, forcing lawmakers and staff to either evacuate or shelter in place for hours as the mob roamed parts of the building, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

Tarrio and the Proud Boys, the government says, are directly responsible for spearheading much of that violence.

“These Men Did Not Stand Back. They Did Not Stand By.”

McCullough’s opening statements began with the nation’s history of the peaceful transitions of presidential power before turning towards the defendants and saying — while pointing each of them out one by one — that they attempted to disrupt that transition.

The prosecutor put a twist on Trump’s now-famous edict to the Proud Boys during a September 2020 presidential debate.

“These men did not stand back,” McCullough said. “They did not stand by. Instead, they mobilized.”

The prosecutor showed the jury messages from Tarrio sent on Jan. 6, some 30 minutes after the initial violent breach, which prosecutors say was sparked, at least in part, by co-defendant Pezzola’s smashing of a Capitol window with a riot shield.

“Make no mistake … We did this[,]” Tarrio wrote at the time.

McCullough recapped Tarrio’s creation of the so-called “Ministry of Self Defense” (MOSD), which prosecutors say the defendants used — via encrypted chats — to coordinate their effort to keep Trump in office. He said that that the defendants were preparing to keep Trump in power, with claims of a “stolen election” as early as the days immediately after the election, and shared a video of Biggs saying there might be “civil war.”

As the assault on the Capitol was happening, McCullough said, the MOSD chat “lit up,” and showed the jury celebratory messages from other Proud Boys members.

“Oops looks like we stormed the Capitol building” wrote Charles Donohoe, a co-defendant who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and assault and has been cooperating with the government. He is awaiting sentencing after this case concludes.

Jeremy Bertino, who wasn’t in Washington on Jan. 6 because he was recovering from being stabbed during a confrontation at a pro-Trump rally in December 2020, encouraged his fellow Proud Boys to keep going: “F—— do it, man,” he wrote, according to McCullough.

“Storming the Capitol right now,” Bertino wrote in a Proud Boys “boots on the ground” chat group. “Get there!” Bertino has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and has been cooperating with the government.

McCullough then honed in on Pezzola, showing video of the defendant pulling a riot shield away from a police officer, “stripping him of the defense he desperately needed. Pezzola later posted a picture of himself with that very item, which McCullough also showed the jury. The caption: “Got a riot shield!”

McCullough showed the video of Pezzola using the riot shield to break the Capitol window, describing it as the first point of access to the building. Within minutes of that happening, McCullough said, then-Vice President Mike Pence was evacuated from the Senate chamber.

Continuing his focus on Pezzola, McCullough shared a video the defendant took of himself from inside the Capitol, where he was having what he called a “victory smoke.”

Meanwhile, McCullough said, Tarrio wasn’t in Washington, but he was showing his support.

“Don’t fucking leave,” Tarrio posted at 2:38 p.m., according to McCullough. “Proud of my boys and my country.”

McCullough told the jury that Tarrio had been ordered to leave the District of Columbia two days prior after being arrested for burning a “sign” in an act of vandalism. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly had barred prosecutors from telling jurors that the “sign” was actually from a Black Lives Matter supporter that had allegedly been stolen and set on fire in front of a historically Black church.

McCullough says that the defendants’ private conversations, public statements, coordinated actions, celebration of the group’s activities and attempts to cover their tracks all point to their guilt.

“You will know by the way they took direct aim at the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6 that this was the result of an agreement,” McCullough told the jury.

After McCullough’s opening, which lasted around 90 minutes, Kelly excused the jury for a lunch break — but the courtroom action wasn’t done.

Immediately after the jury left the room, Rehl’s lawyer Carmen Hernandez quickly approached the podium and moved for a mistrial, claiming that McCullough’s opening statement wasn’t just a recitation of facts — it was inflammatory. She criticized the prosecutor’s use of a video that showed the Proud Boys in a confrontation, which she said shows a Black woman on the ground after a scuffle, but doesn’t show that the woman was holding a knife.

Kelly, a Trump appointee, disagreed, and denied the motion.

“This Is the ‘Not Guilty’ Video.”

The afternoon saw opening remarks from attorneys for Nordean, Tarrio, Biggs, and Rehl; Biggs’ attorney Daniel Hull had previously announced that he would not be making an opening statement.

“You will not hear from a single defendant who says he is proud of what happened,” Nordean’s lawyer Nick Smith said. He called the events of Jan. 6 a “national embarrassment.” His client, however, wasn’t part of any plan to stop the transition of power, Smith said, and told the jury that Nordean didn’t have any weapons with him at the Capitol that day and that he didn’t assault anyone.

Smith compared three of the charges against his client to a popular handheld dessert, calling it a “triple-scoop” conspiracy. He illustrated his point with what appeared to be a computer-generated graphic of an ice cream cone with three distinct scoops.

Smith also told the jury that images of Nordean holding up his hand in a fist was actually a signal from his client to get the people around him to “stop.”

Sabino Jauregui, who represents Tarrio, said that the stakes for his client were nothing less than biblical: he told the jury about the origin of the word “scapegoat,” explaining that the “ancient Israelites” had a ritual of using one goat as a “blood sacrifice” and the other to carry their sins.

Tarrio, Jauregui said, is a modern-day scapegoat.

Pezzola’s lawyer Roger Roots — who has previously shared his unvarnished opinions as to the credibility of the jury in this case — made the decision to play the “victory smoke” video of his client no less than four times for the jury.

“I want you to regard this video as the ‘not guilty’ video,” Roots said, explaining that Pezzola wasn’t celebrating stopping the congressional proceeding, as he has been charged. “He defined victory simply as ‘taking this motherf——.'”

Hernandez was the last to make opening statements on behalf of her client. She reminded the jury that Rehl, like all criminal defendants, is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

“When the evidence is all in, it will show that he is innocent,” she said. She added that of all the government’s thousands of messages from the defendants, there is “not a single message that Mr. Rehl intended to or planned to attack the Capitol and disrupt the proceedings.”

She also told the jury that Rehl’s actions on Jan. 6 were the very kind the First Amendment was intended to protect.

“Expressing opinions about politics and politicians is what we do in America,” Hernandez said. “Thank God.”

After Kelly had released the jury for the day but before adjourning, attorney Norm Pattis had an update on his ongoing effort to keep his law license in good standing in his home state of Connecticut.

Pattis, the longtime Alex Jones lawyer representing Biggs in this case, told Kelly that he had received a “stay of the execution of the suspension” of his license, essentially enabling him to legally practice before Kelly in the U.S. District Court. Pattis asked that he be allowed back into the case, and, with no objection from the government or Biggs’ other lawyer, Kelly approved.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include information about attorney Norm Pattis.

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