The former leader of far-right extremist group the Proud Boys is one of four members who has been convicted of orchestrating the January 6 Capitol riots in the US, in a bid to keep Donald Trump in power after his electoral loss.
A jury in Washington DC found Enrique Tarrio guilty of seditious conspiracy on Thursday (5 May), after hearing from dozens of witnesses over three months in one of the most serious cases brought in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, in 2021.
The US capitol was stormed by a mob who had gathered for a rally disputing the election result, after Trump’s loss to now-president Joe Biden. The carnage that ensued saw America’s seat of democracy overrun by rioters, with at least seven people losing their lives.
This Justice Department has now secured seditious conspiracy convictions against the leaders of two major extremist groups, after the leader of the Oath Keepers - a far-right, anti-government militia founded in 2009 - Stewart Rhodes was convicted last November. Prosecutors claim both groups were intent on keeping current president, Democrat Joe Biden, out of the White House at all costs.
Tarrio, who was jailed for 5 months in 2021 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner, was in charge of the neo-fascist Proud Boys when Trump infamously told members to “stand back and stand by” during his first presidential debate with Biden.
As well as Tarrio, a Miami, Florida local, three other Proud Boys were also convicted of seditious conspiracy on Thursday - Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl. Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter leader, while Rehl lead a chapter in Philadelphia. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-described Proud Boys organizer.
Jurors have not yet reached a verdict on a fifth defendant - Dominic Pezzola - a Proud Boy member from Rochester, New York. The judge has asked them to keep deliberating.
The court heard the former leader was not in Washington DC on the day of the insurrection, because he had been arrested two days earlier and ordered out of the city, the Associated Press reports. However, prosecutors claimed he organised and directed Proud Boys members to storm the Capitol that day.
The government’s case was centred around hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys in an encrypted group chat, in the days leading up to the insurrection. The messages showed members repeating Trump’s false claims of a stolen election - and sharing fears over what would happen when Biden took office.
Trump's false stolen election claims were also at the centre of a recent settlement, which saw Fox News pay out US$787.5 million to voting machine company Dominion, which provided election machines to 28 US states in the 2020 presidential election.
The company claimed Fox News damaged its business when it aired conspiracy theories that those machines were used to rig the election in favour of Biden, the Guardian reports. The judge who gave the trial the go-ahead said the evidence showed it was “crystal clear that none of the statements relating to Dominion about the 2020 election are true”.
Prosecutors in the Proud Boys case told jurors the group viewed itself as Trump’s army, and was prepared for “all-out war” to stop Biden from becoming president. The Proud Boys were “lined up behind Donald Trump and willing to commit violence on his behalf”, prosecutor Conor Mulroe said in his closing statement.
As Proud Boys swarmed the Capitol, Tarrio cheered them on from afar on social media, writing: “Do what must be done.” Messages from the group chat later that day showed one member asking what they should do next. Tarrio responded: “Do it again.”
Tarrio's defence lawyer Nayib Hassan sought to push the blame onto Trump, arguing the former president incited the pro-Trump mob’s attack when he urged the crowd near the White House to “fight like hell.” In his closing statement, he told jurors: “It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6 in your beautiful and amazing city... It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald J Trump and those in power.”
All four will be sentenced at a later date. The Civil War-era charge of seditious conspiracy can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Former president Trump may also face legal action for his alleged role in inciting the Capitol riot, after it was investigated by a congressional committee that spent 18 months looking into his actions. The committee held a series of televised hearings laying out their case that his election fraud claims led directly to the riot, accusing Trump of inciting an “attempted coup”, with his repeated claims the election had been stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.
In December last year, members voted unanimously to refer Trump to the US Department of Justice for prosecution, with recommended charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, and attempts to incite, assist, aid or comfort an insurrection.