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Jury hears more detail on ‘self-defense’ wing of the Proud Boys

The testimony came from a member of the extreme right-wing militia who has already pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Defense lawyers continued cross-examination Monday of a former chapter vice president of the Proud Boys who has been testifying for over a week on his role setting up a special unit for the group in the aftermath of the 2020 election as their protests increasingly turned to violence.

All five of the defendants either served the Ministry of Self Defense or in the case of Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, helped form it. Jeremy Bertino, 43, said members had specific duties to carry out in the weeks leading up to the riot at the U.S. Capitol that broke out on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress met to certify the election results.  

Like Tarrio, defendant Joe Biggs and defendant Ethan Nordean belonged to the marketing council of the ministry, Bertino testified. It was these marketing council leaders, the witness continued, who decided that the objective of the ministry was to stop the certification of the 2020 election. Bertino also said these individuals were in charge of the outfit's top-down hierarchical structure.

Bertino and a handful of others meanwhile purportedly acted were regional leaders. He said it was his job to recruit nine members, one of whom was defendant Dominic Pezzola. Earlier in the trial, prosecutors showed the jury footage from the Capitol riot in which Pezzola can be seen breaking a window of the building with a police officer's riot shield. It was through this opening, prosecutors say, that some of the first members of the mob gained entry. 

Carmen Hernandez, who represents defendant Zachary Rehl, suggested that the recruits brought in by Bertino had a common feature of aggression. When the lawyer pointed to angry messages sent by some of them, Bertino argued in retort that three out of nine recruits sending such messages is not a “not a bad ratio.”

The witness said he wanted to bring in people who would listen to leadership’s instructions and stay on task. Bertino claimed that Rehl's job on the ministry was to run the operations council with another member.

Prosecutors previously showed how, in the days after the ministry was set up, Tarrio and others communicated about a document titled “1776 returns.” 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.” 

Bertino was unable to join the riot in person because he was still recovering from a stab wound that he sustained nearly a month earlier at a different pro-Trump rally on Dec. 12. Tarrio missed the riot as well after he was arrested on Jan. 4 for burning of a “Black Lives Matter” flag at the same December rally. 

While Tarrio and the other defendants are fighting the seditious conspiracy charges, however, Bertino opted to plead guilty

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is presiding over the ongoing trial.

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.    

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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