A federal jury on Thursday found four members of the Proud Boys guilty of seditious conspiracy and other charges in the Justice Department’s most high-profile trial related to the events of January 6, 2021.
After six days of deliberation, jurors convicted Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl of seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The jury deadlocked on those two counts for a fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola. All five were found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties, obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder, and one count of destruction of government property.
Pezzola was found guilty of assaulting or impeding law enforcement and robbery. (He took a police riot shield during the melee.) Jurors are still debating additional counts related to destruction of property and assaulting law enforcement; it’s unclear how Judge Tim Kelly will instruct the jury to proceed on unresolved charges.
Jury deliberations began April 26; the nearly four-month trial was marred by controversy, including last-minute disclosures of numerous FBI informants; open hostility between the judge and defense attorneys; the accidental discovery of explosive messages between FBI agents discussing deleted evidence, a doctored report, and the surveillance of attorney-client jailhouse communications; multiple sightings in evidence of the still-uncharged Ray Epps; a convoluted appellate ruling on the legitimacy of a key charge in the case; and suspicions of a jury stalker.
Until 2022, no American had been convicted of the post-Civil War statute. But Joe Biden’s Justice Department seized on the law’s vague language—the same manner in which top officials weaponized an untested post-Enron evidence tampering felony—to criminalize political dissent. Six members of the Oath Keepers were found guilty of seditious conspiracy at two separate trials and four other defendants, including one member of the Proud Boys, have pleaded guilty to the offense. Both seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding are felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison each.
Most of the government’s evidence consisted of inflammatory text messages posted in group chats, which included the presence of an unknown number of FBI informants. No defendant was accused of bringing weapons to the Capitol or assaulting a police officer. Tarrio, the group’s leader, was in a Baltimore hotel on January 6, having left Washington under court order following his arrest on January 4, 2021 for an unrelated incident.
One defense attorney described the Justice Department’s case as “fairy dust.” Nicholas Smith, who represents Nordean, told the jury last week during closing arguments that the case was held together by “paper clips and rubber bands.” Two former Proud Boys were witnesses for the government; two defendants, Rehl and Pezzola, testified on their own behalf.
Judge Kelly, a former federal prosecutor and Trump appointee, acted as an extra lawyer for the prosecution, routinely rubber-stamping government motions that make the convictions ripe for appeal. He repeatedly denied the defendants’ release from jail—Biggs, Rehl, Nordean, and Pezzola have been in custody under pretrial detention orders since early 2021—while refusing to move the trial out of D.C. as the Justice Department racked up convictions in record time against January 6 defendants.
At least one court observer noted the jury’s troubling political bias. “Six jurors had participated in liberal-leaning protests or marches, while none mentioned conservative-leaning demonstrations,” Lawfare writer Roger Parloff reported after the jury was selected. “The protests included, in two cases, ‘women’s marches’; in two cases, ‘anti-gun’ marches; and, in four cases, protests related to Black Lives Matter or George Floyd’s murder, which, as we’ll see, are of particular concern in this case. One sitting juror had a Black Lives Matter sign in her yard.”
Public meetings held by the January 6 select committee coincided with jury selection in the case, but Kelly was unpersuaded that the committee’s work would influence a highly-partisan jury pool in Washington even as committee members singled out the Proud Boys during nighttime televised hearings.
Kelly forced defense attorneys to “pre-clear” cross-examination questions related to the use of FBI informants with prosecutors, a move defense counsel decried as inimical to the adversarial nature of a criminal trial. He rejected a defense subpoena for Epps and refused to compel the testimony of a key FBI informant tied to Tarrio.
The convictions will bolster Special Counsel Jack Smith’s ongoing investigation into Donald Trump for similar charges. Prosecutors repeatedly mentioned the former president during the trial, citing his comment during a September 2020 presidential debate for Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” as a call to action. “These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump’s army, fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe told jurors in his closing argument on April 24. Some defense attorneys also blamed Trump for their client’s actions before and on January 6.
Smith’s investigation into January 6 appears to be approaching its apex; responding to a subpoena from Smith’s office, former Vice President Mike Pence last week appeared before a D.C. grand jury for several hours. Pence is the highest-ranking government official to testify as to Trump’s role in allegedly fomenting the Capitol protest. “[Huge] win for the government and our democracy—domestic terrorism group, unleashed by the former President, held to account,” Andrew Weissmann, top prosecutor for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and MSNBC talking head, tweeted after the verdicts were announced. “Makes char[g]ing the leader of the seditious conspiracy, one Donald J. Trump, imperative.”
Smith also is probing Trump’s handling of alleged classified documents.
This story will be updated as new developments unfold.