Monday, June 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Testifying against fellow Proud Boys, seditionist trucker describes hatred of police

The witness is a former chapter vice president of the far-right militia, having joined up five years ago.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A convicted Proud Boy testified for the government Tuesday about how his experience getting stabbed at a violent flag-burning made him a cop-hater.

Hospitalized for about a week after the stabbing, Jeremy Bertino said he came to believe that police had been conspiring with Antifa counter-protesters whom he believed had been trying to kill him. Now considering law enforcement the enemy, Bertino said he even used a derogatory term for them: “Coptifa.”

The injuries that Bertino sustained at the Dec. 12, 2020, rally left him unable to join the rest of the Proud Boys when they stormed the U.S. Capitol less than a month later in a bid to overthrow the government.

Five other members of the group, including their leader, Enrique Tarrio, have been standing trial for the deadly Jan. 6 riot for the last five weeks. Bertino is not among them because he pleaded guilty in September to the two charges against him, seditious conspiracy and unlawful possession of a firearm. As he waits sentencing, the trucking company owner from South Carolina is acting as a cooperating witness for the government.

Bertino said he assumed it was either a member of Antifa or the Black Lives Matter movement who stabbed him in December. Unlike his militia group, Antifa has no central governing body. The name traces its roots to the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.

If the roles had been reversed and he had stabbed a member of Antifa, Bertino told the jury he thinks it unlikely he would have been released as quickly as the person suspected of stabbing him.

“Obviously I had about 150 staples in me, I was in a lot of pain,” he said, “and I had heard the person was let go without charges.”

Bertino, 43, joined the Proud Boys in 2018, and served as vice president of a chapter within the group for a time. He described his relationship with Tarrio, the president, as “very friendly.”

The mayhem of Dec. 12 caused Bertino to suffer a broken rib, as well as a punctured lung and diaphragm, but he said that the group had tried to prepare members of the Proud Boys for the worst.

At the March for Trump in December, the latest in a series of rallies protesting the election results that showed President Donald Trump would not be serving a second term, Bertino noted that he and Tarrio were “very expectant of violence to happen.”

Bertino attended the rally in protective gear, complete with a plate carrier, vest, helmet, goggles, boots, gloves and a backpack. “The overall feeling was that we were ready for it this time,” the witness said, an apparent reference to yet another rally, the Million MAGA March of Nov. 14 where Bertino said “things got crazy.”

After the Dec 12 rally broke up , Tarrio instructed the Proud Boys to march through Washington. That night, Tarrio and others burned a Black Lives Matter flag, and Bertino said he saw a large movement in the crowd ‚ usually an indicator that some sort of physical altercation was occurring.

“I ran towards the ruckus,” he said, “and as I was running a man ran out and stabbed me.”

In his plea agreement, Bertino said he would have returned to Washington on Jan. 6 but for his injuries.

Tarrio and a few of his compatriots created a chapter of the Proud Boys called the “Ministry of Self Defense” after the Dec. 12 rally. Bertino said it was Tarrio’s brain child, designed to ensure people would be safe at rallies and not get stabbed, and to make sure people would follow orders and a chain of command.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Bertino said.

Tarrio’s burning of the flag in December wound up getting him arrested on Jan. 4 and facing a court order that barred him from entering Washington two days later for the riot. He was given a prison sentence after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor flag-burning charge, but the specifics are being kept from jurors in the Capitol riot trial. An earlier police witness described Tarrio’s Jan. 4 arrest but not the crime he had committed. 

Standing trial alongside him are Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, who acted as sergeant-at-arms for the Proud Boys; Zachary Rehl, former president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Auburn, Washington; and Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York.  

Bertino described his relationship with Biggs, Nordean and Rehl as “friendly” but said he met Pezzola only once.

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.”  

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. 

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is presiding over the ongoing trial, which is expected to resume Wednesday with further direct examination of Bertino.

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.