June 6, 2022
Today the Justice Department filed a superseding indictment charging Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four colleagues with up to ten criminal counts, including seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, in relation to the January 6 insurrection. Sedition is the crime of inciting a revolt against the government, and conspiracy means there was an organized group of people with a plan.
A grand jury indicted Tarrio and Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola, all of whom had already been charged with crimes; this filing adds to those charges. The indictment says 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.”
The DOJ is acknowledging that the insurrectionists were trying to overthrow the government. As retired Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe tweeted, “Seditious conspiracy is huge. No more serious federal crime short of treason.”
The indictment alleges these Proud Boys members used their social media platform as leaders of the gang to stir up anger about the election. “It’s time for f**king War if they steal this s**t,” Biggs wrote, referring to the presidential election. Nordean posted on social media: “We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now…unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love…you’re going to need it.” Rehl posted: “Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people.”
They urged others to join the insurrection, raised money for their trip to Washington, D.C., bought paramilitary equipment, met secretly and used encrypted communications, hid their gang colors to appear incognito, led the crowd to the Capitol, stormed the barricades, destroyed property, and assaulted law enforcement officers, all to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president.
This indictment mirrors that of January 13, 2022, when the Department of Justice indicted the leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, and 10 other members of the group, a far-right antigovernment militia that specializes in recruiting veterans, for a number of crimes including seditious conspiracy in relation to the January 6 insurrection.
Today’s indictment says that Tarrio and his gang coordinated with the Oath Keepers.
But there are pretty broad hints here that they coordinated with others, too. There is still hanging out there that at the presidential debate on September 29, 2020, about a month before the election, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Then, on December 12, 2020, Tarrio published on the right-wing social media site Parler a photo of himself at the White House, saying that he had received a “last minute invite to an undisclosed location.” White House spokesperson Judd Deere later said: “He did not have a meeting with the president, nor did the White House invite him.”
But the Tarrio indictments have always indicated there was something big afoot, and now that seditious conspiracy charges are on the table, they are worth revisiting. Both an earlier indictment and this one have this paragraph: “Between December 30 and December 31, 2020, TARRIO communicated multiple times with an individual whose identity is known to the grand jury. On December 30, 2020, this individual sent Tarrio a nine-page document titled, ‘1776 Returns.’ The document set forth a plan to occupy a few ‘crucial buildings’ in Washington, D.C., on January 6, including House and Senate office buildings around the Capitol, with as ‘many people as possible’ to ‘show our politicians We the People are in charge.’ After sending the document, the individual stated, ‘The revolution is [more] important than anything.’ TARRIO responded, ‘That’s what every waking moment consists of…I’m not playing games.’”
There is also this: As these five Proud Boys were near an entrance to the Capitol, “[s]econds before 12:53 p.m [on January 6], BIGGS was approached by an individual whose identity is known to the grand jury. The individual put one arm around BIGGS’s shoulder and spoke to him. Approximately one minute later, this individual crossed the barrier that restricted access to the Capitol grounds. This was the first barrier protecting the Capitol grounds to be breached on January 6, 2021, and the point of entry” for the Proud Boys.
Both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers storming the Capitol appeared to fancy themselves as heroic revolutionaries defending America. Clearly egged on by someone talking about “revolution,” they took up a great deal of space in social media and on private chats thumping their chests about “revolution” and “1776.” Charles Donohoe, who was not charged here because he is cooperating with the Department of Justice, wrote that Washington, D.C., officials were limiting access to the city “so that they can deny Trump has the People’s support. We can’t let them succeed. This government is run FOR the People, BY the People…. Congress needs a reintroduction to that fact.”
The Proud Boys—and the Oath Keepers, too—also talked about civil war. When president-elect Biden called for unity after he won the election, Tarrio posted a message on social media saying: “F**k Unity. No quarter. Raise the black flag.” On November 25, 2020, when Biden said, “We need to remember: We’re at war with a virus—not with each other,” Tarrio reposted the statement and added, “No, YOU need to remember the American people are at war with YOU. No Trump…No peace. No quarter.” And January 20, the day of Biden’s inauguration, one Oath Keeper messaged another: “After this…if nothing happens…its [sic] war…Civil War 2.0.”
For all their heroic talk, these men were not the good guys. They were plotting “to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force.” That is, this ragtag crew plotted to take away from the majority of Americans their right, one of the four rights our Founders called “unalienable,” to consent to the government under which we live. That freedom to choose our own leaders was what 1776 meant, not the imposition of the will of a tyrannical minority on the rest of us.
Seventy-eight years ago today, on June 6, 1944, Americans and their leaders stood not for but against those determined to replace democratic government with tyranny. One hundred and fifty-six thousand U.S. and Allied troops and 195,000 sailors and at least 23,000 airmen with 5000 ships and 11,000 planes stormed five beaches along a heavily fortified five-mile stretch in the Normandy region of France to defend the concept of democracy against the tyranny of fascism.
The assault was known as Operation Overlord and more popularly known as D-Day. The day before, knowing that many of the men would not survive the assault, General Dwight Eisenhower reminded the men that they were fighting for the right of individuals to determine their own futures. “The eyes of the world are upon you,” he wrote. “The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944!... The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”