Proud Boys did not ‘stand back and stand by’ on Jan. 6, prosecutors say as sedition trial begins

Former Proud Boys leader Henry (Enrique) Tarrio and four lieutenants charged with seditious conspiracy in the Capitol attack "took aim at the heart of our democracy" on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal prosecutor told jurors on Thursday as their high-profile trial opened in Washington.

Group leader Enrique Tarrio, 4 others face rare seditious conspiracy charges

Former Proud Boys leader Henry (Enrique) Tarrio and four lieutenants charged with seditious conspiracy in the U.S. Capitol attack "took aim at the heart of our democracy" on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal prosecutor told jurors on Thursday as their high-profile trial opened in Washington.

Jurors began hearing attorneys' opening statements more than two years after members of the far-right extremist group joined a pro-Donald Trump mob in attacking the Capitol.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said the Proud Boys knew that Trump's hopes for a second term in office were quickly fading as Jan. 6 approached. So the group leaders assembled a "fighting force" to stop the transfer of presidential power to Joe Biden, McCullough said. Tarrio saw a Biden presidency as a "threat to the Proud Boys' existence," the prosecutor said.

McCullough showed jurors a video clip of Trump infamously telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during his first presidential debate with Biden in 2020.

"These men did not stand back. They did not stand by. Instead, they mobilized," the prosecutor said.

WATCH l Trump's infamous 2020 debate comment:
U.S. presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace asks U.S. President Donald Trump if he will condemn white supremacist groups involved in violent clashes over policing and racism in some U.S. cities. Trump replies, 'Sure' and asks 'Who would you like me to condemn? Who? Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,' referencing one of the groups involved.

The trial comes on the heels of the seditious conspiracy convictions of two leaders of the Oath Keepers, another far-right extremist group. Several other Oath Keepers members were charged with plotting to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Trump, a Republican, to Biden, a Democrat.

The case against Tarrio and his four associates is one of the most consequential to emerge from the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. The trial will provide an in-depth look at a group that has become an influential force in mainstream Republican politics.

Defence lawyers, on the other hand, have said there was never any plan to go into the Capitol or stop Congress' certification of the electoral vote won by Biden.

"Over and over and over and over the government has been told by witnesses there was no plan for January 6," said Nicholas Smith, attorney for Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Auburn, Washington. Nordean went into the Capitol looking for friends and did not damage anything or hurt anyone there, he said.

The defence has also accused prosecutors of trying to silence potential defence witnesses. Tarrio's lawyers have not said whether he will take the stand in his defence.

Evidence will include private communications

Tarrio's other co-defendants are Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Fla., a self-described Proud Boys organizer; Zachary Rehl, who was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy member from Rochester, N.Y.

McCullough told jurors they will see the defendants' private communications, their public statements, their co-ordinated actions at the Capitol and their celebrations of the riot before they tried to cover their tracks.

A message that Tarrio posted on social media before Jan. 6 said, "Lords of War" over a photo of Pezzola with hashtags "#J6? and "#J20."

"These lords of war joined together to stop the transfer of presidential power," McCullough said.

The Justice Department has charged nearly 1,000 people across the United States over the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, and its investigation continues to grow.

The Proud Boys' trial is the first major trial to begin since the House committee investigating the insurrection urged the department to bring criminal charges against Trump and associates who were behind his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Tarrio not at Capitol that day

While the criminal referral has no real legal standing, it adds to political pressure already on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the special counsel he appointed, Jack Smith, who's conducting an investigation into Jan. 6 and Trump's actions.

Communications cited in court papers show the Proud Boys discussing storming the Capitol in the days before the riot. On Jan. 3, someone suggested in a group chat that the "main operating theatre" be in front of the Capitol. "I didn't hear this voice note until now, you want to storm the Capitol," Tarrio said the next day in the same chat.

Tarrio's lieutenants were part of the first wave of rioters to push onto Capitol grounds and charge past police barricades toward the building, according to prosecutors. Jurors saw a video of Pezzola using a stolen riot shield to smash in a window, allowing rioters to pour into the Capitol. Pezzola took a video of himself taking a "victory smoke" on a cigar inside the Capitol, the prosecutor said.

Tarrio, from Miami, wasn't in Washington on Jan. 6 because he was arrested two days before the riot and charged with vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during a protest in December 2020. He was ordered to leave the capital, but prosecutors say he remained engaged in the extremist group's planning for Jan. 6.

Monitoring the riot from afar, Tarrio posted a message urging Proud Boys to stay at the Capitol.

"Make no mistake," he wrote. "We did this."

A day after the attack, Tarrio wrote a message that said, "God didn't put me there for a reason."

"We would still be there," he added.

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