Prosecution: Proud Boys Leader Tarrio Key to January 6 Riot

March 1, 2023

At the seditious conspiracy trial of Proud Boys members accused of leading the deadly January 6, 2021 insurrection, federal prosecutors on Tuesday sought to characterize chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio as a singular figure who holds the key both to what the extremist group planned that day and whether it coordinated with others.

The trial, now into its eighth week, has revealed more than 200 encrypted Telegram chats, texts and other messages that show Tarrio appeared at several points to align his plans with those of former President Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign organizers.

The communications further revealed that 39-year-old Tarrio knew the Proud Boys and other Trump supporters at the rally might explode into violence.

“The campaign asked us to not wear colors to these events,” Tarrio told one of his closest deputies in an encrypted November 8, 2020, chat, according to court evidence. He was allegedly referring to the Proud Boys’ characteristic black-and-yellow gear.

Prosecution evidence and testimony further showed that Tarrio said in a final text to another Proud Boys lieutenant and trial co-defendant on January 4, “Whatever happens…make it a spectacle.”

That communication was sent out as police arrested Tarrio upon his arrival to Washington DC two days ahead of the rally.

However, the communications further show that Tarrio and his four co-defendants at times voiced skepticism over what, exactly, they expected would occur on January 6. Because of his arrest two days prior—for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag—Tarrio was not even in Washington during the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol as rioters attempted to stop Congress members from certifying the 2020 Presidential election.

But prosecutors have asserted that by that point the Proud Boys took efforts to hide their tracks and delete evidence. According to the prosecution, the texts that have been recovered show Tarrio engaged in double-dealing—both embracing and disavowing violence depending on his audience.

Transcripts of last year’s investigation by the House Select January 6 Committee reveal that Tarrio testified before Congress that he believed the Proud Boys “got caught up in the moment” and “mob mentality.”

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 a former leader of the Proud Boys, Jeremy Bertino, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for his connections to the January 6 insurrection.

In November 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. In January four more Oath Keepers were also found guilty of seditious conspiracy related to January 6.

Tarrio and co-defendants Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola have pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment. If convicted—like the Oath Keepers—they could each face up to 20 years in federal prison. 

Four people died during the violence that ensued on January 6, and five police officers died afterwards. Another 140 or so officers were injured, and the Capitol sustained millions of dollars in damage.

Photo credit: Tyler Merbler

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