Sunday, September 24, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Sunday, September 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Tarrio’s arrest ahead of insurrection dissected by defense

There's no denying that the Capitol building and indeed all of Washington was off-limits to the leader of the Proud Boys on Jan. 6, 2021, thanks to his arrest some 48 hours prior.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Defense lawyers for members of the far-right Proud Boys group tried to use Enrique Tarrio's arrest only days before the insurrection to their benefit Monday, saying there could be no seditious conspiracy plot after the leader of the group entered federal custody.

It has been the government's contention throughout the trial that Tarrio served as the mastermind behind a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress was set to certify that then-President Donald Trump would not be serving a second term in office, having lost the election to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

Just last week, prosecutors established how Tarrio and others created a chapter within the Proud Boys Dec. 20 called the Ministry of Self Defense. Days after members of this ministry were hand-selected and split into teams for the Jan. 6 operation, prosecutors showed how Tarrio and another individual communicated about a document titled “1776 returns,” a blueprint for occupying government buildings and other other offices in Washington, including the House and Senate office buildings near the Capitol, to “show our politicians We the People are in charge.”

Only 48 hours before the eventual riot got underway, however, Tarrio was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant for destruction of property and ordered to stay away from the city, except for court-related matters.

Defense attorneys turned the trial's focus Monday to a message that Joe Biggs, the group's sergeant-at-arms, sent to other Proud Boys on Jan. 5.

“Who are we going to be with,” Biggs asked in one of the Proud Boys group chats, noting that he has “guys with me in other chats saying teams are being put together.”

Ten seconds later, a person in the chat who went by the moniker Johnny Blackbeard: “It seems like our plan has totally broken down and rufio has taken control as a [single] point of contact.”

Rufio is a reference to the moniker used by one of Bigg's co-defendants, Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Auburn, Washington.

Nick Smith, who represents Nordean, suggested the messages meant the Proud Boys plan for Jan. 6 “was now defunct.” But FBI Special Agent Peter Dubrowski testified that at most Tarrio's arrest may have thrown a wrench into the particular tactical step for the teams.

As proof that any plan had been scrapped, Smith pointed to Johnny Blackbeard’s later message — “no teams. Everything should move forward as planned for the rally tomorrow.”

Again, the agent reiterated that the chat was referencing how the plan to break people down into teams was defunct, not the entire plan.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney Norm Pattis, who represents Biggs, the agent conceded that the jury has seen multiple confidential human sources within the various Proud Boys chats. Dubrowski said he did not know exactly how many informants there were, but he knew of at least seven informants in five different chat groups.

To this Pattis asked why the FBI wasn't better informed, given the number of confidential human sources, that the Proud Boys had a plan to storm the Capitol. “The FBI might’ve heard about it before Jan. 6?”

“I have no basis to comment on that,” the agent replied.

The agent also conceded that he does not have any forensic evidence to prove Tarrio read the “1776 Returns” document but said there is circumstantial evidence.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is presiding over the ongoing trial. Earlier in the proceedings, a Metropolitan Police Department officer testified about Tarrio’s Jan. 4 arrest, which occurred for burning of a “Black Lives Matter” flag.

Standing trial alongside Tarrio, Nordean and Biggs are Zachary Rehl, former president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia, and Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from 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 is also charged with robbery. 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.   

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.