‘Victory smoke in the Capitol, boys,’ Proud Boys member said on Jan. 6, prosecutors say as trial begins
Dozens of messages, social media posts and videos show that leaders of the far-right Proud Boys not only planned for the January 6, 2021, US Capitol attack but recruited others to help stop Joe Biden from becoming president, federal prosecutors said Thursday during opening statements in the seditious conspiracy trial.
“Let’s bring this new year with one word in mind…revolt,” defendant and then-Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio wrote to others in the group on January 1, 2021, according to prosecutors. “New year’s revolution.”
Prosecutor Jason McCullough told the jury that Proud Boys leaders were afraid a Biden presidency would mean the end of the organization and that, after President Donald Trump infamously said in a presidential debate in 2020, to “stand back and stand by,” the organization reached a turning point.
“In that moment, some battle lines were drawn. President Trump was for the proud boys, and Joe Biden was for antifa,” McCullough said.
“The defendants’ mission threatened the very foundations of our government,” McCullough told the jury. “These five defendants had agreed — by any means necessary including use of force — to stop Congress” from certifying the election for Biden.
The defendants — Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, Dominic Pezzola and Ethan Nordean — have all pleaded not guilty to charges, including seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct and obstructing an official proceeding.
According to McCullough, the five defendants planned to stop the transfer of power to Biden that day and communicated and organized through messaging apps. McCullough played video of several defendants allegedly tearing down police barricades, attacking officers and ultimately being the first to break into the Capitol, celebrating along the way.
“Victory smoke in the Capitol, boys,” Pezzola, who prosecutors say was the first to break into the Capitol using a riot shield he stole from a police officer, said inside the building, according to a video shown in court. “This is f**king awesome. I knew we could take this mother**ker over [if we] just tried hard enough. Proud of your motherf**king boy.”
“Don’t f**king leave,” Tarrio allegedly wrote in a public post during the riot.
Prosecutors played a video of Nordean allegedly celebrating the riot.
“I was part of f**king storming the Capitol of the most powerful country in the f**king world,” Nordean said.
On January 7, Rehl allegedly wrote to other Proud Boys: “I’m proud as f**k at what we accomplished yesterday.”
Defense lawyers say the Proud Boys are a ‘scapegoat’
In their opening statements, defense attorneys repeatedly told jurors that the Proud Boys had no plan to storm the Capitol building on January 6, and were instead caught up in a mob mentality.
“You will see at trial no evidence that supports the government’s conspiracy claim that these defendants plotted before January 6 to do what the government alleges,” Nordean’s attorney Nick Smith told the jury.
“It’s only human to say something phenomenal must have caused this,” Smith said of the deadly riot. “But as we often see, that’s not true.”
But because it is “emotionally unsatisfying” to admit that a mob mentality took over, Smith said, prosecutors “selectively presented messages” to make the Proud Boys a “scapegoat.”
Tarrio’s attorney Sabino Jauregui also said that his client, who was not in Washington, DC, on January 6, is being blamed for other people’s actions.
“You see Trump, President Trump, told them the election was stolen,” Jauregui said. “It was Trump that told them to go [to the Capitol]. And it was Trump that unleashed them on January 6. He’s the one that told them to march over there and ‘fight like hell.'”
He continued: “It’s too hard to blame the politicians on the left and on the right, the ones that use us for their fundraising and their reelection., the ones that pit us against each other… Instead, they go for the easy target, they go for Enrique Tarrio.”
Jauregui highlighted for the jury that Tarrio, according to Jauregui, had no communication with members of the group that were at the Capitol and never called for attacking the building.
Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, implored the jury to forget everything they had heard about the Proud Boys’ reputation, including allegations that the group is violent or racist.
“Americans express a lot of opinion about politics, about politicians, about elections, about other public issues,” Hernandez said. “The fact that we state these opinions, I would submit to you, isn’t evidence of a crime.”
“You all swore to the court that you would put aside any theories, any views you had about the Proud Boys,” Hernandez said, adding, “I am dependent on that.”
Smith, Jauregui and Hernandez all said that the government has spoken to FBI informants and cooperating Proud Boys who were at the Capitol on January 6. Those witnesses repeatedly emphasized the group had no plan, the attorneys said.
While several defense attorneys condemned the Capitol riot, Pezzola’s attorney, Roger Roots, used his opening statement to downplay the attack, repeatedly saying that the Proud Boys case is simply about a six-hour delay of Congress.
“The government makes a big deal of this six-hour recess, from about two o’clock to eight o’clock,” Roots said of Congress’ forced recess on January 6 as rioters stormed the Capitol.
“Some have called it an attack or even an insurrection,” Roots continued. “The evidence will show that if it was an attack, it might have been one of the lamest attacks that you can imagine.”
Roots also said his client didn’t “steal” a riot shield from a police officer, as prosecutors have alleged, and suggested that “someone chose not to” fortify the Capitol windows, one of which Pezzola allegedly broke open with the shield.
Roots closed by asking the jury to question whether Pezzola’s motivation that day was truly to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election, and to look closely at what his client saw as the “victory” that day.
“Mr. Pezzola described victory, simply, as taking this motherf**ker,” Roots said.
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