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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Proud Boys trial digs into mindsets of rioters after Trump’s defeat

Lawyers for the indicted extremists work to flip the government's conspiracy allegations, noting that untold people questioned the 2020 election results.

WASHINGTON (CN) — An FBI agent who testified about how five indicted members of the Proud Boys used social media in furthering a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government returned to the witness stand Tuesday, this time for defense cross-examination.

FBI Special Agent Kate Camiliere began the week testifying about how the evidence from the social media site Parler relates to the state of mind of the defendants at the time they made the posts. It shows a propensity to commit violence, she said, a not-insignificant thing given the actual violence that occurred during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020, which the defendants either committed themselves or publicized on Parler.

Defense attorney Nick Smith, whose client, Ethan Nordean, described himself as the Proud Boys sergeant-at-arms from Auburn, Washington, quizzed Agent Camiliere about posts referring to the conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump through widespread voter fraud. Smith also brought up videos in which the conspiracy theorist and InfoWars host Alex Jones discusses members of the Proud Boys engaging in violence.

The witness conceded Smith's query about how the defendants were part of a subset of perhaps millions of Americans posting questions about the election results.

She demurred, however, at Smith's suggestion that the posts would be "proof of a nationwide conspiracy."

Postings on Parler are not intrinsically a criminal conspiracy unless followed by action, Camiliere argued, but emphasizing as well that the occurrence of an action after a message does not mean the message caused the conspiracy.

Camiliere also denied Smith's suggestion that the government cherry-picked from what he called a universe of thousands of Parler posts to suggest that the defendants had a criminal agreement.

It was only while investigating the crimes that the defendants committed on Jan. 6, Camiliere said, that authorities looked at the posts made by the defendants.

Charging papers against Ethan Nordean, the self-described sergeant-of-arms of the Proud Boys, include this text that he posted on the social media website Parler following the 2020 election. Nordean is among five members of the far-right group charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. (Courthouse News via Justice Department)

The agent denied another question from Smith about what the evidence said about the propensity of the Proud defendants to commit violence again. She said the evidence shows the history of the group with which they were associating at the time.

Camiliere's cross-examination is expected to continue Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Thomas Kelly, a Trump appointee, is presiding over the trial.

The government charged the five defendants with seditious conspiracy, saying their mobilization of the mob into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, led "to dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, breaching of the Capitol building, and assaults on law enforcement.” 

Standing trial alongside Nordean are Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio; a self-described Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl, former president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a member of the group's chapter in Rochester, New York.

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. Pezzola faces a robbery charge. All have pleaded not guilty.

The government has so far charged approximately 950 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Jan. 6, about 364 people had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and about 119 had pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 192 people have been sentenced to prison time.

Jury selection is slated to begin Wednesday in case against members of the Oath Keepers, another far-right group that has already seen two groups of members convicted of seditious conspiracy charges.

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Media, National, Politics, Trials

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