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Proud Boys member testifying at riot trial details plan against Biden

The witness led a local chapter of the right-wing militia as vice president for a time and has been testifying for over a week against five of his former comrades who are charged with seditious conspiracy.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Proud Boys wanted to stop Joe Biden from becoming president, even if it came down to violence, after the Democrat won the 2020 election, a member of the Proud Boys testified Tuesday against five of his former brothers in arms.

“It was common knowledge that if everything else failed, there was no other option but to go into civil war or revolution,” said Jeremy Bertino, 43, a government witness first called to the stand last week and who now has seen three days of defense cross-examination.

Bertino, who pleaded guilty rather than go to trial himself, has not yet been sentenced and is cooperating with the government per the terms of their agreement.

Earlier in the trial, the former vice president of his local South Carolina chapter of the Proud Boys spoke about his conversations in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, about agreement that he existed within the group to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election.

Steven Metcalf, who represents defendant Dominic Pezzola, questioned Bertino on Tuesday, however, about how there could be a plan with no explicit record of it. The lawyer noted that. days after Jan. 6, Bertino left a voicemail for the wife of Pezzola, in which he said there was no plan and that what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was all spontaneous.

The riot coincided with, and briefly delayed, a ceremony in which Congress certified that Biden had defeated the outgoing President Donald Trump. At least five people died in the riot itself or its immediate aftermath, as lawmakers went into hiding.

Putting the witness on redirect examination Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Kenerson asked Bertino how he came to understand that the Proud Boys had an actual agreement to stop Biden from taking office.

Bertino noted that the group saw the use of force against the government as their only option “to save the country" if ballot recounts at the state level did not go their way and if the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.

“This was the constant topic of conversation all the time in the majority of [Proud Boys] chats that I was in around that time,” he said, adding that members feared tyrannical outside sources would take over the U.S. if Congress certified the Electoral College results.

Some of Bertino's communications with the defendants occurred on a platform called Telegram where members of a subset of the Proud Boys called the Ministry of Self Defense spoke about their purpose for traveling to Washington on Jan. 6.

Bertino spoke Tuesday about the “cumulative conversations throughout the months prior leading up to Jan. 6 about what needed to be done — if all other avenues were exhausted — to save the presidency, and to make sure that who we believed was the rightful president would be certified.”

He said in his plea there was an agreement among the members that Democrats had stolen the election and that the Electoral College vote must not be certified.

As noted in Bertino's plea, the leaders of the new self-defense chapter were willing to do “whatever it would take, including using force against police and others, to achieve that objective."

Bertino spoke Monday about the top-down hierarchical structure of the Ministry of Self Defense, which included all five of the defendants on trial, including Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the main group. Bertino identified defendants Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean as members of the top-tier marketing council, whose duties he said included the formation of the group's objective: to stop the certification of the 2020 election.

The ministry also had the operations council, he said, headed by defendant Zachary Rehl, a former chapter president from Auburn, Washington, and another member. Bertino called himself one of a handful of regional leaders chosen for the ministry group. Bertino said he recruited Pezzola, a former chapter president from Rochester, New York.

Another cooperating witness who was a member of the Proud Boys testified earlier in the trial that he and Pezzola went into Jan. 6 with the belief that civil war was imminent. Prosecutors also 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 that some of the first members of the mob gained entry

Bertino admitted in his plea that he would have gone to Washington on Jan. 6 had he not been hospitalized for a week after he was stabbed at a pro-Trump rally in December. On Tuesday, he claimed that he would not have joined the mob that stormed the Capitol. Rather, Bertino insisted he would have spoken at one of the pro-Trump rallies that day.

Tarrio and his co-defendants could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy, the top charge.

The indictment states the five defendants “directed, mobilized and led members of the crowd onto the Capitol grounds and into the Capitol, leading to dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, breaching of the Capitol building, and assaults on law enforcement.”   

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. 

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, is presiding over the ongoing trial, which is expected to resume Wednesday with Bertino still at the witness stand.

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Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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