U.S. prosecutors asked a federal judge Thursday to sentence former Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and leader Joe Biggs to 33 years in prison and other top members of the far-right extremist group to two to three decades behind bars after four of them were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
“The scope of the defendants’ conspiracy is vast. The defendants organized and directed a force of nearly 200 to attack the heart of our democracy,” a crime unparalleled in American history, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason McCullough and Conor Mulroe wrote. They said the Proud Boys leaders “intentionally positioned themselves at the vanguard of political violence in this country.” The prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly to hand down stiff sentences to deter others “who would mobilize such … violence in the future.”
The request was the longest punishment sought by the government in the Capitol siege so far, factoring in an enhanced terrorism penalty and violence attributed to Tarrio’s followers who led the assault on police lines. The Proud Boys leaders later this month will be the first alleged instigators of the riot to be sentenced since Trump was federally indicted in connection with the attack. Their punishment could be a harbinger of possible future consequences for the former president in what special counsel Jack Smith called an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy that was “fueled by lies” by Trump.
Tarrio and deputies Biggs, Ethan Nordean, and Zachary Rehl were found guilty this May of plotting to unleash political violence to prevent Congress’s certification of the legitimate electoral results, mobilized by what prosecutors said was Trump’s directive to the group to “stand by” at a September 2020 presidential debate and a December 2020 call for supporters to attend a “wild” rally in Washington.
What to know about the Proud Boys sedition trial
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A fifth co-defendant, Dominic Pezzola, was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, but found guilty like the others of obstructing Congress’s joint session, and of other crimes. All were convicted of offenses punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and prosecutors asked the court to stack sentences to exceed that total for Tarrio and his top lieutenants.
Attorneys for Tarrio are expected to file his own sentencing memo later Thursday.
Attorneys for Nordean, Biggs and Rehl asked for sentences of time served, up to 2½ years, saying their actions that day were peaceful like hundreds of others punished for misdemeanors, and that the Justice Department targeted the Proud Boys leaders for the group’s political activities.
“The defendants are not terrorists,” wrote Norman Pattis, but “misguided patriots” whose offense contributed to a several hours’ delay in Congress’s vote count, prompted by Trump’s claims that their cause was worthy.
“Neither Mr. Rehl nor Mr. Biggs recites the role of President Trump as justification for their actions, but, certainly believing the commander in chief and heeding his call should yield some measure of mitigation,” Pattis wrote, saying decades behind bars is excessive punishment for two military disabled veterans whose families lost their pensions on arrest.
“When the government does distinguish Nordean’s actions from any other January 6 defendant’s, it relies on characterization, not facts, and it relies on abstract words, not words that point to concrete things. It does rely on one concrete fact: Nordean belongs to a political organization targeted by the government,” wrote his attorney, Smith.
Tarrio and co-defendants were the last of 14 members of the Proud Boys or the extremist group Oath Keepers to plead guilty or be convicted at trial of opposing federal authority by force in the Capitol breach, which has resulted in roughly 1,100 arrests and more than 700 convictions so far. Prosecutors said Tarrio and his men spurred an angry mob to breach police lines at several key points, galvanizing violence by angry Trump supporters that injured scores of police, ransacked offices, caused millions of dollars in damage and forced Congress to evacuate.
Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes — who was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison, the longest penalty to date in the attack — were the highest-profile figures to face trial for the siege. Prosecutors alleged both men preached violence in a “constant drumbeat” on social media and in private, radicalizing followers and extremists drawn to the Capitol by Trump’s incendiary and baseless claims that the election was stolen.
Tarrio also was the first person not present at the Capitol to be found criminally responsible at trial. The government alleged he watched from Baltimore after being expelled from D.C. one day earlier pending trial for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag at an earlier pro-Trump rally in Washington.
But prosecutors said Tarrio handpicked co-defendants to a group he ironically named the “Ministry of Self-Defense,” which recruited Proud Boys “willing to fight.” The leaders used other rioters as “tools” to play an outsize role in breaching police barriers or attacking officers at key chokepoints before Pezzola used a stolen police riot shield to breach the first window shattered by the mob near the Senate chamber.
Prosecutors cited hours of video and hundreds of the defendants’ encrypted messages, chats and social media posts in which some discussed keeping Trump in power by any means necessary including force and storming the Capitol after some members were stabbed after a Dec. 12, 2020, pro-Trump rally in Washington.
Tarrio, a former aide to Trump political confidant Roger Stone, was in contact with Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign organizer Ali Alexander and Rhodes during the post-election period, when Rhodes shared a proposal for storming Congress and told followers to prepare for civil war and to bring firearms to Washington in case Trump called on private militia to stay in power.
Stone and Alexander have denied any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any crime.
The Proud Boys used “1776” as a similar shorthand for a rebellion, while several of the co-defendants prepared for violence and said they would go to war to keep Trump in office. On Jan. 6, Nordean and Biggs took over for Nordean and the group on a march to the Capitol even before Trump began speaking at the White House Ellipse. After canvassing the building’s security perimeter, they converged on the northwest corner of the grounds minutes before lawmakers convened the joint session at 1 p.m., hyping the crowd with chants by megaphone before rioters surged forward.
Proud Boys followers also toppled barricades and assaulted police at later points, helping clear the way for the mob. Afterward they celebrated with “victory smokes” and claims of credit, with Tarrio monitoring events and texting, “Make no mistake … We did this.”
Biggs called the raid on Congress a “warning shot to the government,” adding that it showed authorities “how weak they truly are” after being beaten “on their own home turf,” prosecutors said.
Attorneys for Nordean, Biggs and Rehl asked for sentences of time served, up to 2½ years, saying their actions that day were peaceful like hundreds of others punished for misdemeanors, and that the Justice Department t the Proud Boys leaders for the group’s political activities.s’ and police roles in the violence, before making political scapegoats of the Proud Boys, who they called beer-drinking brawlers with patriotic intent, not would-be violent foot-soldiers of the far right.
“There were no statements in those chats about stopping the transfer of power on Jan. 6 with or without force,” said Nayib Hassan, an attorney for Tarrio. He said defendants had no “shared objective” other than to march, protest and promote the Proud Boys brand.
Tarrio, Nordean and Biggs did not testify at trial, but Rehl said the Proud Boys’ preparations were strictly for self-defense after past violence in Washington. Pezzola testified to clear the others of responsibility for his actions, but attacked prosecutors and “this corrupt trial with your fake charges.”
In Biggs’s and Rehl’s sentencing memos, their attorney Pattis acknowledged they committed some crimes, but called the government’s severe treatment of them “grievously wrong.” Pattis said there was no evidence to support the contention that the Proud Boys were directed by others or acted in concert with any other group, and asserted that lengthy sentences could confuse some of the public into thinking that “mere abstract calls for violence at some future date are now prohibited.”
“The defendants ask the Court to do heed what the Government cannot see, or will not acknowledge: We are a nation borne in dissent; our politics has often been raw and raucous,” Pattis argued, “Draconian sentences in this case will deepen divisions in this country at a time when the need to build bridges is acute.”