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Proud Boys Spent Weeks Planning the U.S. Capitol Siege; Leader Ethan Nordean Poses a ‘Serious Risk of Flight’: Prosecutors


Ethan Nordean is seen in an image embedded in court documents filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to hold admitted Proud Boys member Ethan Nordean, also known as “Rufio Panman,” in jail without bond on charges that he played a role in a Jan. 6th siege on the U.S. Capitol Complex.  Nordean poses a “serious risk of flight,” prosecutors said in a memorandum in support of pretrial detention filed Friday, Feb. 5.

“[T]here are no conditions, or combination of conditions, which would ensure Defendant’s presence at trial or the safety of the community if he is released,” prosecutors told a Washington, D.C. federal judge.

They argued that Nordean’s association with the Proud Boys makes him different from other defendants.

“Whereas some of these rioters traveled to Washington, D.C., individually, a number of extremist and militia groups coordinated together to gather in Washington, expressing in advance their intent to interfere with the Electoral College certification,” prosecutors said in reference to Joe Biden‘s selection as the nation’s 46th president. “One such extremist group was the Proud Boys.”

The memorandum goes on to outline Nordean’s involvement with the group.

Defendant, a 30-year old resident of the State of Washington, is a Proud Boys member who occupies leadership positions in the Seattle Chapter—having self- identified as both the Sergeant of Arms and the President of that Chapter at various times. Defendant has been present at a number of Proud Boys protests—including, notably, in Portland, Oregon, where he was made “internet famous” for knocking out a counter-protester during a street brawl.

After that infamous punch, Nordean appeared at length on InfoWars with Alex Jones. Again, from the court papers:

Beginning shortly after that brawl, Defendant’s stock rose within the Proud Boys and he took on a more prominent role in nationwide Proud Boys events— including the “Million MAGA March,” which occurred on November 14, 2020, in Washington, D.C., and the “December Demonstration,” which took place on December 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C.

Ethan Nordean, a.k.a. Rufio Panman, appears on InfoWars with Alex Jones. (Image via screen capture from InfoWars.)

The memorandum indicates federal authorities are digging further into the communications of Proud Boys members. It says the Proud Boys started talking online about the Jan. 6th rally “as early as December 2020” and that Proud Boys leader Enrique Terrio told members not to wear the group’s “traditional Black and Yellow” garb. Rather, members should be “incognito,” the court documents quote Terrio as saying, or that some should dress in solid black to mimic the Antifa protesters “whom the Proud Boys have identified as an enemy.”

Nordean dressed in all black at the Jan. 6th siege.  (An Associated Press photo of Nordean at the event was embedded in the federal court document.)

Prosecutors cited Nordean’s personal Parler account as evidence that he, too, was involved with planning efforts by the Proud Boys to participate in the deadly events. Again, from the memorandum:

Defendant was quickly identified as a participant in the riot, due to his prominent position amongst the Proud Boys and the number of images of his likeness published on the Internet. In investigating Defendant’s involvement on January 6, 2021, it quickly became apparent that he planned to participate in advance. Defendant was an active poster on the social media site “Parler,” where he identified himself as “Rufio Panman.”

[ . . . ]

Defendant’s Parler posts prior to January 6, 2021, indicate that he and other Proud Boys members were planning in advance to organize a group that would attempt to overwhelm police barricades and enter the United States Capitol building. For example, on or about, December 27, 2020, NORDEAN posted the following message on his Parler page: “Anyone looking to help us with safety/protective gear, or communications equipment it would be much appreciated, things have gotten more dangerous for us this past year, anything helps.” The post then linked to a fundraising site called “Protective gear and communications by Rufio Panman.”

[ . . . ]

Also on or about, January 4, 2020, Defendant shared a post by a fellow Proud Boy leader, Individual A. Individual A posted a picture on Parler of himself and Defendant at a protest with the caption: “And fight we will.”

Later, prosecutors recounted a Jan. 4, 2021 video podcast, which lasted some 63 minutes, where Nordean is said to have made the following comments:

1. Defendant stated “People don’t understand the price that comes with being a Patriot these days.” Individual A agreed, stating: “This stuff is real. We are in a war.”

2. Defendant stated that, as President of his local Proud Boys chapter, he has been telling his “guys” that they need to “make [themselves] an enemy of this corrupt system.” Defendant further stated: “The police are starting to become a problem.”

3. Defendant lamented what he perceived “blatant, rampant voter fraud” in the Presidential election.” Defendant further stated that the perpetrators of voter fraud expected to be able to get away with it, because “they’re relying on complacency. I think they’re relying on the Facebook posts, and that’s all we’re going to do.”

4. Defendant stated that he and the other Proud Boys were not going to be complacent. Rather, they were going to “bring back that original spirit of 1776 of what really established the character of what America is. And it’s not complacency, it’s not low standards. It’s ‘this is how it’s going to be, and I don’t give a god damn.’”

5. Defendant stated that voter fraud in the Presidential election had killed democracy and added, ominously “Democracy is dead? Well, then no peace for you. No democracy, no peace.”

6. Individual A then stated, “We’re coming back. We’re coming to D.C. and were going to take this country back. Your gifts, and your thoughts, and your financial contributions will not go for nothing.”

Nordean is then accused of saying the following on Jan. 5th, the day before the siege: “It is apparent now more than ever, that if you are a patriot, you will be targeted and they will come after you, funny thing is that they don’t realize is, is we are coming for them.”

After the siege, on Jan. 8th, he’s accused of saying that “if you feel bad for the police, you are part of the problem.” Prosecutors took that to be an example of Nordean “making light of the United States Capitol Police officer who was killed during the riot and the dozens of other officers who were injured by rioters because those officers used pepper spray in an attempt to contain the rioters.”

A search of Nordean’s residence turned up evidence of his travel plans; clothes and “other items” containing Proud Boys logos; “ledgers, notebooks, and other records related to Proud Boys operations;” photos; videos; a radio communications system believed to be used during the Jan. 6th siege; and a passport “issued to another individual with a comparative likeness to” Nordean.

Prosecutors say this unsigned passport portrays another man but was seized from Ethan Nordean’s home. (Image via federal court documents submitted by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.)

Prosecutors are seeking to keep Nordean locked up pending trial because they say he poses “a serious risk of flight,” among other things.

Under the Bail Reform Act, a court must weigh four factors when determining whether to keep a defendant incarcerated pending trial. The factors are: (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense charged; (2) the weight of the evidence against the defendant; (3) his history and characteristics; and (4) the nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that would be posed by his release.

The government argues that all four factors weigh in favor of keeping Nordean locked up:

Defendant, a member of a right-wing militia, knowingly and willfully participated in a riot that was designed to prevent the United States Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Not only did Defendant participate in the riot, but his public statements indicate that he was part of the group that helped plan how the Proud Boys would act during the riot.

[ . . . ]

Words alone may never communicate the true nature of the crimes that were carried out on January 6. It is an event that cannot be measured in the number dead, injured, or wounded, but rather in the destabilizing effect that it has had on this country. This destabilizing effect is precisely what Defendant envisioned when he helped plan, helped lead, and participated in the Proud Boys’ participation in the riot at the Capitol building.

UPDATE:  On Monday, Feb. 8, a federal public defender filed a response.  It reads, in part:

In its 21-page memorandum, the government repeats the Complaint, recounts activity protected by the First Amendment, makes assumptions disconnected from facts, and ignores those facts that undermines its position. The government also asks the Court to draw negative inference upon negative inference, with little regard for the individual before the Court. The Court should decline this invitation and, despite the media attention and nature of the charges, do what the Court regularly does—assess the facts to determine whether there are conditions or a combination of conditions that will reasonably assure Ethan Nordean’s appearance as required and the safety of others and the community. Because he poses neither a flight risk nor a danger to others or the community, the defense respectfully asks that the Court deny the government’s motion for detention and release Mr. Nordean subject to the conditions recommended by Pretrial Services. The Court can also craft other conditions of release if the Court has additional concerns not addressed by those recommended by Pretrial Services.

The defense document goes on to argue that “depredation of a government property” is not “a crime of violence . . . as a matter of law.” It further argues that the government has not proven the value of property damaged is over the $1,000 minimum necessary to trigger one of the charges levied against Nordean. The defense says the government is merely guessing. “Not a single factual allegation in the complaint attempts to value the property allegedly damaged,” the defense notes.

The defense further argues that Nordean is not a danger to the community (citations omitted):

Mr. Nordean has no criminal history. While making no mention of this fact, the government instead mentions that Mr. Nordean became “‘internet famous’ for knocking out a counter-protestor during a street brawl.” What the government does not disclose is that this counter-protestor first swung at Mr. Nordean with some sort of rod and, despite the interaction being caught on video and amplified online, Mr. Nordean was never charged with or convicted of any wrongdoing. It is his clean criminal record that the Court should consider, not the inferences the government asks the Court to draw based on its limited retelling of this incident.

Mr. Nordean’s alleged membership in the Proud Boys does not make him a danger to others or the community. In its memorandum, the government makes broad accusations without evidence, and the Court should scrutinize these accusations with a critical eye. For example, the government describes the Proud Boys as a “militia,” insinuating its members are an armed quasi-military force. No evidence supports such an allegation.

[ . . . ]

Neither his record nor his participation at protests can fairly be used to paint Mr. Nordean as a violent or dangerous person.

The defense further claims the sea of protesters on Jan. 6 were “[e]gged on by Donald Trump,” and it attempts to rubbish prosecutors’ claims that Nordean was even identifiable in photos taking inside the Capitol Complex that day:

The government appears to have mislabeled a photograph at Dkt. 7, page 8, captioning it “Defendant Enters the Capitol.” The image does not depict Mr. Nordean entering the Capitol building. There are no pictures showing Mr. Nordean entering the building and pictures from inside the Capitol that the government alleges show Mr. Nordean show a person in a sea of others. Dkt. 7 at 8-9.

The defense further attempted to dismiss the prosecutors’ attempts to argue that Nordean is a flight risk. Here’s how the defense addressed his ties to the community and the allegations that the passport referenced above was somehow nefarious:

The government also alleges that Mr. Nordean poses a flight risk. The basis for this claim is difficult to discern. Mr. Nordean is a lifelong resident of Auburn, Washington, and his family lives in the area. His parents own restaurants and property in the area and while they have publicly rejected the Proud Boys, they love their son. Mr. Nordean has a daughter and she spends time with both Mr. Nordean and her mother, who also lives in the area. Mr. Nordean is married, lives with his wife, and his wife’s family also lives in the area. Mr. Nordean’s ties are to this area alone.

In its claim that Mr. Nordean poses a flight risk, the government also ignores the circumstances of his arrest. Mr. Nordean was not at home when the agents arrived there, but he returned home when his wife called him to let him know that federal agents had arrived with a warrant for his arrest. These are not the actions of a man who is seeking to flee.

The government also argues that Mr. Nordean is a flight risk because of a passport issued to another person found at his home. Had the government attempted to investigate the circumstances before asking the court to infer nefarious intent from its presence, the government would have quickly learned that this person is the ex- boyfriend of Mr. Nordean’s wife. A defense investigator spoke with this person over the weekend, and he explained that when he left his ex-girlfriend he took only keepsakes and left behind much of his property. He has no concern that his passport remained in his ex-girlfriend’s possession. Mr. Nordean’s wife explained that she held on to the passport because she was unsure what to do with it. This person also bears no resemblance to Mr. Nordean, other than being a white man. From the government’s own memo, here are images of the two men for comparison:

They do not look alike. Mr. Nordean is also several inches taller and many pounds heavier than this individual.

“Mr. Nordean’s continued detention is unnecessary to reasonably assure the safety of others and the community and his appearance,” the defense concluded.

A judge has yet to decide whether Nordean should be released pending trial.

Read the full 21-page document filed by federal prosecutors below:

Ethan Nordean Pretrial Dete… by Law&Crime

Read the full defense response below:

Ethan Nordean Defense Memor… by Law&Crime

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.