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Days before Capitol riot, head of Proud Boys was focused on 1776

A new piece of evidence shows that the Proud Boys had a detailed plan to occupy at least half a dozen government buildings in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Jurors in the trial of right-wing militia members who laid siege to the U.S. Capitol after former President Donald Trump lost his 2020 reelection bid saw yet more evidence Thursday of how they spoke plainly about their plan over social media.  

With FBI Special Agent Peter Dubrowski continuing to give testimony in a second day on the witness stand, the focus of the trial turned to the creation in late December 2020 of a new chapter within the far-right Proud Boys organization called the Ministry of Self Defense. 

Dubrowski said the ministry was dedicated to the planning of national rallies, and all of its members were hand-selected. The group included Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, the group's sergeant-at-arms Joseph Biggs; and two of the presidents of local chapters, Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, and Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia. All four are defendants in the ongoing trial. The final defendant in the case, Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York, was not selected for membership in the ministry.

“Fit in or fuck off," Tarrio had said in a video call with prospective members as he laid out the group's leadership structure, according to Thursday's testimony.

Dubrowski noted that defendant Rehl warned prospective members at one point that the group's planned operation for Jan. 6, 2021, would be “completely different" from any other, and that the Proud Boys would not be doing a “night march and flexing our [arms] and shit.” 

The ensuing riot proved deadly for the mob and law enforcement alike, ultimately causing Congress to briefly suspend its certification of the election results.

Having been barred from the capital after his arrest earlier in the week on unrelated charges, Tarrio was not among the mob that breached the seat of the U.S. government on Jan. 6. Prosecutors claim nevertheless that he was aware of the plan for the insurrection, including discussions about occupying buildings within the Capitol complex.  

Indeed, they showed Thursday, Tarrio communicated with an unnamed person on Dec. 30 about a document titled “1776 Returns.”  

As shown on a monitor for the jury, the 9-page document included plans to have “as many people as possible” on Jan. 6 occupy “crucial buildings” in Washington, including the House and Senate office buildings near the Capitol, to “show our politicians We the People are in charge.”  

In a section of the document titled “manpower,” there are fields to write in names besides four positions — “lead,” “hypeman,” “second” and “recruiter” — for each of the targeted buildings. 

While the Capitol Building was not listed among them, the buildings that were targeted included the Russell Senate Office Building, Dirksen Senate Office Building, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Hart Senate Office, the Cannon House Office Building, the Longworth House Office Building, the Rayburn House Office Building and the news outlet CNN. 

“These are OUR buildings, they are just renting space,” the document states. 

The document identifies an overarching goal: to “fill the buildings with patriots and communicate our demands. To maintain control over a select few, but crucial buildings in the D.C. area for a set period of time, presenting our demands in unity.” 

In a message to Tarrio accompanying the document, the unnamed associate said that “the revolution is [more] important than anything."

Tarrio replied: “That’s what every waking moment consists of ... I’m not playing games.” 

Defense attorneys attempted to have the document struck, arguing that Tarrio is the only defendant who received it. But U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly denied the motion. 

Dubrowski is expected to return to the witness stand Monday for more testimony. 

In addition to seditious conspiracy, which carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence, the defendants all face one count of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties. All have pleaded not guilty.  

The government has so far charged approximately 985 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Feb. 6, about 375 people had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and about 125 had pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 220 people have been sentenced to prison time.     

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