US prosecutors to accuse Proud Boys of sedition in Jan. 6 Capitol assault

The case marks the third time that the Justice Department has recently charged members of extremist groups with plotting an assault on US democracy.

 A MOB of supporters of then-US president Donald Trump climb through a window they broke, as they storm the United States Capitol Building in Washington, on January 6, 2021 (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
A MOB of supporters of then-US president Donald Trump climb through a window they broke, as they storm the United States Capitol Building in Washington, on January 6, 2021
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

Federal prosecutors are expected to make opening arguments as early as Thursday in the seditious conspiracy trial of former Proud Boys chairman Henry "Enrique" Tarrio and four other members of the far-right group, who are charged with planning to attack the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to block Joe Biden's presidential victory.

The case marks the third time that the Justice Department has charged members of extremist groups with plotting an assault on US democracy that day, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump invaded the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying his November 2020 election loss to Biden.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and another chapter leader of the far-right militant group were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in November, and a trial still is pending against four more members.

The rarely prosecuted Civil War-era law, which prohibits people from plotting to overthrow or destroy the US government, carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

All five Proud Boys defendants have pleaded not guilty and their attorneys will argue that they did not plot to block the peaceful transfer of power.

 A member of the Proud Boys gestures in front of the Oregon State Capitol during a protest in support of the January 6th attack on the US Capitol in Washington, in Salem, Oregon, US, January 8, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/JOHN RUDOFF) A member of the Proud Boys gestures in front of the Oregon State Capitol during a protest in support of the January 6th attack on the US Capitol in Washington, in Salem, Oregon, US, January 8, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/JOHN RUDOFF)

Prosecutors have brought criminal charges against more than 950 people following the assault. Four people died during the chaos, and five police officers died of various causes after the attack.

Under Special Counsel Jack Smith, the Justice Department is also investigating efforts by Trump's advisers to overturn his election defeat.

What did the Proud Boys do?

In the Proud Boys case, the government accuses Tarrio and four other group members, some of whom led state chapters, of purchasing paramilitary gear for the attack and urging members of the self-described "western chauvinist group" to descend on Washington.

They say Tarrio directed the attack from Baltimore because he had been ordered to stay out of Washington after being arrested on Jan. 4 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic African-American church in December 2020.

Prosecutors say Tarrio met with Rhodes, the Oath Keeper founder, at an underground parking garage after being released from custody.

Prosecutors accused the four other defendants - Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola - of being among the first members of the crowd to charge past the barricades that had been erected to protect the Capitol.

A fifth member of the group, North Carolina chapter leader Charles Donohoe, pleaded guilty to other charges in April 2022 and could potentially be called as a witness in the case.

Biggs and Nordean are accused of tearing down a black metal fence that separated the crowd from police, Donohoe of throwing water bottles at police, and Pezzola with grabbing an officer's riot shield.

"Dude, we're right in front of the Capitol right now. American citizens are storming the Capitol - taking it back right now," Biggs said on a video he recorded of himself.

The indictment said Pezzola used the stolen shield to break a window, allowing members of the mob to enter the Capitol.