Who Are the Proud Boys on Trial for Seditious Conspiracy?

One of the country’s most prominent far-right extremist groups, the Proud Boys have embraced a violent version of patriarchal nationalism since forming in 2016 and aligning themselves with former President Donald J. Trump.

But the five Proud Boys on trial in Federal District Court in Washington, facing charges of seditious conspiracy in connection with the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, are less well known as individuals.

The trial began this week with opening statements and over the next two months or so, the spotlight will fall on each of the defendants. They include Enrique Tarrio, the group’s former leader, and four of his subordinates: Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola.

Here is a look at all five men and what the jury may hear about the roles they played in what prosecutors have described as a plot to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election.

Mr. Tarrio, who took control of the Proud Boys in 2018 and effectively relinquished power after his arrest last year, could not be more different than his predecessor, the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes.

Where Mr. McInnes, a Canadian of Scottish descent, was abrasive and aggressive, Mr. Tarrio, a Miami resident of Afro-Cuban heritage, is more silver-tongued and affable. About a decade ago, after facing federal fraud charges, he worked as an informant, secretly helping the F.B.I. and local police departments to investigate more than a dozen criminal defendants.

The prosecutors at his trial say he has not lost his talents as an operator, noting on Thursday that he is “a master at creating the public perception that put himself and his men in the best possible light.”

Perhaps for those reasons, Mr. Tarrio is also the most politically connected of the five Proud Boys on trial. He has long had ties to organizers like Bianca Gracia, who runs a group called Latinos for Trump that had a permit for an event at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He is also close with Roger J. Stone Jr., a political adviser to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Tarrio has long played up his background as a Latino to deflect accusations that the Proud Boys are a white nationalist group. Still, under his leadership, the group was involved in several high-profile street battles with left-wing adversaries — especially in 2020 during the racial justice protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Mr. Tarrio was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, having been arrested — and kicked out of Washington — two days earlier on charges of burning a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a local church and being in possession of two high-capacity rifle magazines.

But prosecutors say he helped to plan the Capitol attack by, among other things, assembling a group of “rally boys” to take the lead on the ground that day. After the Capitol was stormed, prosecutors say, Mr. Tarrio tacitly confessed to the assault, writing in a Proud Boys group chat, “We did this.”

Mr. Biggs, who saw combat as an Army sergeant in Afghanistan, likes to place his military service at the center of his public persona. Several times during the prosecution of his case, he has answered questions from Judge Timothy J. Kelly with the affirmative response, “Roger that.”

His time in the Army led him to celebrity in conservative circles.

After the reporter Michael Hastings was embedded with his unit, the two became friends. And when Mr. Hastings died in a car crash in 2013, Mr. Biggs went on Infowars, the conspiracy-driven media outlet run by Alex Jones, to question the circumstances of his death.


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Mr. Biggs ultimately worked as a correspondent for Infowars, reporting on far-right events across the country, and developed a relationship with Mr. Jones. According to the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, Mr. Biggs was in contact on the morning of Jan. 6 with an Infowars employee named Owen Shroyer about two hours before Mr. Shroyer and Mr. Jones helped lead a large crowd of Trump supporters toward the Capitol.

Mr. Biggs was also involved in what is thought to be a tipping point of the violence that day.

Ryan Samsel, one of the first rioters to breach the barricades outside the building, has told the F.B.I. that Mr. Biggs had pulled him aside before the chaos started and encouraged him to confront the police. Minutes later, Mr. Samsel walked to the front of the crowd and shoved aggressively at a barricade. As others joined him, the barricade fell, arguably igniting the riot.

At 32, Mr. Nordean is the youngest defendant in the case — a fact reflected by his Proud Boys nickname, Rufio Panman, a reference to the Lost Boys from “Peter Pan.”

A former protein powder salesman, he rocketed to fame within the group in 2018 when he knocked out an antifascist activist during a street brawl in Portland, Ore., in what became known in Proud Boys circles as “the shot heard ’round the world.” By the time of the Capitol attack, prosecutors say, Mr. Nordean was the “sergeant at arms” of the group’s Seattle chapter and one of Mr. Tarrio’s ground commanders.

Bearded and built like a linebacker, Mr. Nordean is not accused of committing any violence on Jan. 6 and, according to his lawyer, he did not physically break into the Capitol.

But prosecutors say that days before the attack, he posted a video recommending the use of “force” and referring to the Proud Boys as an “organized militia.” He also led the Proud Boys’ march on the Capitol, prosecutors say, urging his compatriots on with a megaphone.

The former president of the Proud Boys’ Philadelphia chapter, Mr. Rehl has deep ties to the military and law enforcement. He is a retired Marine and comes from a family of Philadelphia police officers.

During the racial justice demonstrations in 2020, Mr. Rehl was among a group of Proud Boys drinking beer and chanting pro-police slogans at a “Back the Blue” counterprotest outside a police union lodge in northeast Philadelphia.

Known within the Proud Boys as “Captain Trump,” Mr. Rehl has also supported the former president’s claims of voting fraud. After Mr. Trump lost the 2020 race, Mr. Rehl wrote on the right-wing social media website Parler, “Hopefully, the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”

Mr. Rehl has not been accused of committing violence on Jan. 6, but prosecutors say he helped to organize men and equipment in the run-up to the storming of the Capitol. On the day of the attack, he marched toward the building alongside Mr. Biggs and Mr. Nordean and ultimately made his way inside, smoking a cigarette in the private office of Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.

Mr. Pezzola, another former Marine, is the only defendant in the case not to have held a leadership position in the Proud Boys. A flooring contractor and onetime boxer from Rochester, N.Y., he joined the group after the 2020 election. He became “a rising star,” as prosecutors put it, after Mr. Tarrio posted a photograph of him on social media from a pro-Trump rally in December of that year with a caption reading, “Lords of War.”

Mr. Pezzola is best known for having broken a window at the Capitol with a stolen police riot shield, allowing the first wave of rioters to rush inside the building. The video footage of him shattering the glass and then making his way into the Capitol, puffing a cigar in what he called a “victory smoke,” quickly became iconic images of the attack.

Mr. Pezzola’s first lawyer, who has since been replaced, argued in court papers after his arrest that, as a former military man, he had merely been following the orders of his commander in chief, Mr. Trump, on Jan. 6.

After the attack, the lawyer wrote, Mr. Pezzola felt duped and angry at the former president.

“Many of those who heeded his call will be spending substantial portions if not the remainder of their lives in prison as a consequence,” the lawyer wrote. “Meanwhile Donald Trump resumes his life of luxury and privilege.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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