Federal prosecutors accused leaders of the far-right group the Proud Boys of plotting an assault on American democracy during opening arguments in a trial stemming from the deadly January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Federal prosecutor Jason McCullough told jurors that Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other leaders engaged in sedition by using force to try to keep then-President Trump in office after he lost re-election in November 2020.
“On January 6, they took aim at the heart of our democracy,” said McCullough.
The case marks the third time that the Justice Department has charged members of extremist groups with seditious conspiracy after Trump supporters invaded the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent Congress from its Constitutional duty to certify the 2020 Presidential election.
On November 29, a jury found Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, guilty of seditious conspiracy linked to his actions during January 6, as well as the head of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs.
Seditious conspiracy is defined as attempting to “overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States.” It is rarely prosecuted; however, in October the former leader of the Proud Boys, Jeremy Bertino, pled guilty to seditious conspiracy for his connections to the January 6 insurrection.
During Thursday’s arguments, McCullough lifted a phrase from former President Trump, who told the Proud Boys during a September 29, 2020 debate with then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden to “stand back and stand by.”
“[T]hese men did not stand back. They did not stand by. Instead they mobilized,” McCullough told jurors.
The federal government accuses Tarrio and four other Proud Boys, some of whom led state chapters, of purchasing paramilitary gear for the January 6 attack and urging members to descend on Washington.
Prosecutors say Tarrio directed the attack from Baltimore because he had been ordered to stay out of Washington after being arrested on January 4 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic African-American church during the previous month.
So far, prosecutors have brought criminal charges against more than 950 people following the assault. Four people died during the insurrection, and five police officers died of various causes following the attack.
All five Proud Boys defendants have pleaded not guilty and their attorneys are set to argue that they did not plot to block the peaceful transfer of power.