A former leader of the far-right Proud Boys testified to a jury on Wednesday that he had no plan to attack the US Capitol before he entered it with hundreds of Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, attempting to overturn his election defeat.
Zachary Rehl, one of five Proud Boy members facing seditious conspiracy and other criminal charges for their role in the attack, spent two days this week answering questions from his attorney about his conduct that day.
"Never did it cross my mind ever to attack the Capitol," Rehl said on Wednesday.
"I think what ultimately unfolded there - all of the violence - was a disgrace."Zachary Rehl
"I think what ultimately unfolded there - all of the violence - was a disgrace," said Rehl, a former leader of the group's Philadelphia chapter. "At the time I was down there it looked like a big, giant protest. I thought it was a protest. That is what I went there for."
Hundreds of supporters of Republican former president Trump stormed the Capitol in a failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's election. Five people including a police officer died during or shortly after the riot and more than 140 police officers were injured. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage.
Rehl testified that he did not assault anyone that day. His decision to testify in his own defense marked the latest twist in what has become the longest running Jan. 6 trial so far in Washington.
Criminal defendants often choose to invoke their Fifth Amendment right not to testify to avoid cross-examination by prosecutors in front of the jury.
A second member of the Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola, is also expected to testify in his own defense before the trial concludes.
Former Proud Boys leader Henry "Enrique" Tarrio and fellow members Rehl, Pezzola, Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs have been on trial on seditious conspiracy charges, with prosecutors alleging they plotted to use violence to stop the transfer of presidential power.
Attacking the US Capitol
Prosecutors allege that Tarrio, Rehl, Nordean and Biggs were part of group called the Ministry of Self Defense, which allegedly helped mobilize the Proud Boys to travel to Washington.
At least 65 members of this group exchanged encrypted messages, some of which discussed attacking the Capitol, according to the indictment.
Defense lawyers have argued that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that prosecutors have taken private messages out of context to suggest there was a broad conspiracy.
Answering questions from his lawyer, Rehl was careful in how he described his decision to enter the Capitol on Jan. 6.
"I did eventually go inside the Capitol after it was understood (then-vice president) Mike Pence had evacuated the building and all the other members of Congress had already evacuated," Rehl said during his first day of testimony on Tuesday. "I didn't want to affect anything with that proceeding."