Credit: By Tyler Merbler from the United States - DSC09156, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98780310

The Justice Department charged Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four co-conspirators with multiple criminal counts for waging a coordinated attack on the U.S. Capitol to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory on January 6, 2021. Federal prosecutors indicted Tarrio and Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola, with the most serious charges being those of seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. 

Another Proud Boy lieutenant, Charles Donohoe, was originally charged in the same case. He pleaded guilty in April and is cooperating with the government’s investigation into the Proud Boys’ activities and plans leading up to the storming of the Capitol.

The indictment reads in part that the five men “did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree, with other persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to oppose by force the authority of the Government of the United States and by force to prevent, hinder, and delay the execution of any law of the United States…. The purpose of the conspiracy was to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.”

Sedition, a charge not usually made since the Civil War era, is a crime where a revolt against the government is incited. The conspiracy charge means there was an organized group with a plan. Sedition requires that prosecutors prove at least two people agreed to use force to overthrow government authority or delay the execution of a U.S. law. 

Ex-President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed Congress as the legislators were in the process of certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory. The conspiracy charges point to the group’s actions that showed they acted in concert to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power. In addition to bringing handcuffs, zip ties, Confederate flags and weapons to the Capitol, prosecutors allege the Proud Boys of instigating others to join the insurrection. They allegedly equipped themselves with paramilitary equipment, met secretly and used encrypted communications, and followed instructions to be “incognito” when participating in the events of January 6. Furthermore, Department of Justice prosecutors say the members of this group led crowds to the Capitol where they breached barricades, destroyed property and assaulted the law enforcement officers who tried to block them so that they could disrupt the proceedings to certify Joe Biden as president. 

According to the filing, Tarrio and other Proud Boys used encrypted communications to plan the attack. They are accused of encouraging their members to attend the rally-turned-riot, and they raised money online through crowdfunding sites to buy protective gear and to pay for travel expenses to Washington, D.C.

More than 860 people in 48 states have been charged with crimes connected with the riot.

The Proud Boys indictments are the second group with members charged with seditious conspiracy. Leaders of the far-right militia group, the Oath Keepers, were indicted on sedition charges in January. Eleven members or associates of that anti-government organization, including its founder Stewart Rhodes, have been charged and US District Judge Amit Mehta set a trial date for July 11. He scheduled a second trial for Sept. 26 if it becomes too complicated to keep that group together.

Retired Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe posted the Tweet, “Seditious conspiracy is huge. No more serious federal crime short of treason.” The charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

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