A high-ranking member of the “Western Chauvinist” Proud Boys group has broken ranks, pleading guilty to the charge of seditious conspiracy and agreeing to cooperate with the government.
Jeremy Bertino, 43, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy on Thursday, the Justice Department said in a press release. He is the first member of the group to do so. He had joined the Proud Boys in around 2018 and had served as vice president of his local chapter in South Carolina.
According to Bertino’s plea agreement, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio invited him to join the group’s “Ministry of Self Defense” (MOSD) chapter. Members of the group, using encrypted messaging applications, had “openly discussed plans for potential violence at the Capitol.”
“Bertino encouraged these discussions and preparations,” says the Statement of Offense, which sets for the facts on which Bertino’s guilty plea is based. “Bertino believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping Congress from certifying the Electoral College Vote,” the document later says.
Tarrio was charged with seditious conspiracy in June. He was added as a co-defendant to a case against Ethan Nordean, Dominic Pezzola, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl — all of whom now face the same charge, believed to be the most serious allegation levied yet in the government’s expansive investigation into the Jan. 6 breach.
A sixth co-defendant, Charles Donohoe, pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers.
Bertino himself was not in Washington on Jan. 6, when Donald Trump supporters violently clashed with police and forced their way into the Capitol building as Congress was certifying the results of President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win. He had been stabbed during a pro-Trump demonstration there on Dec. 12, 2020. The event featured speeches from former White House Security Advisor Michael Flynn, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes.
According to his plea, Bertino would have gone to Washington but for his injuries, and he continued to participate in MOSD planning session. On the day itself, according to the DOJ, he “monitored activities through mainstream and social media, as well as posting in the MOSD chats.”
Those posts encouraged members to stay the course; at one point, Bertino told those on the ground at the Capitol to “form a spear.”
“DO NOT GO HOME. WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF SAVING THE CONSTITUTION,” he posted on a public social media page, according to the DOJ.
That night, he wrote celebratory texts to Tarrio.
“You know we made this happen,” he said. “1776 motherfucker.”
Since then, however, Bertino has changed course.
In video testimony before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, Bertino said that Trump’s instruction to the Proud Boys — given during a September 2020 presidential debate — to “stand back and stand by” sparked a sharp increase in membership. According to prosecutors, the Proud Boys describe themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world, aka Western Chauvinists.”
“Would you say that Proud Boys numbers increased after the stand back, stand by comment?” a committee lawyer asked Bertino.
“Exponentially,” Bertino said. “I’d say tripled probably. With the potential for a lot more eventually.”
For his part, Tarrio appeared to take the news of Bertino’s plea in stride.
“Tarrio continues to look forward to his day in trial,” Tarrio’s lawyer Nayib Hassan told Law&Crime in an email. “Mr. Bertino is simply another witness that we look forward to confronting with the truth.”
“Due to the protective order in place by the Court, we cannot delve into the evidence at hand,” Hassan added,
According to the government, Bertino was charged by information filed Thursday, the same day he pleaded guilty. He also pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm, stemming from a police search of his home in March.
“While executing a search warrant, agents located six firearms, including an AR-15 style firearm with a scope, and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition,” the DOJ press release said, noting that Bertino was barred from possessing guns and ammunition due to a previous conviction.
Bertino faces a potential 20 years in prison on the seditious conspiracy charge and up to 10 years for the firearms charge. Both charges carry a potential maximum fine of $250,000. The plea agreement contemplates a sentence range of 51 to 63 months and a maximum fine of $200,000. No sentencing date was set. Bertino was released from custody on a personal recognizance bond.
[Image of Bertino wearing RWDS patch in Raleigh via Anthony Crider/Wikimedia Commons. Screengrab of Bertino giving video deposition testimony to the House committee investigating Jan. 6 (via committee video screengrab.]
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