‘Donald Trump’s army’: Proud Boys members face decades in prison for January 6 sedition

A former ringleader and three members of a neo-fascist gang that one member called the “foot soldiers for the right” were convicted on treason-related charges for plotting to unleash a violent assault in the halls of Congress.

More than two years after the attack, former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four other men connected to the far-right group – known for their black-and-yellow outfits – appeared in a federal courtroom in prison-orange jumpsuits to face what could be the longest sentences yet in connection with the violent siege.

On 4 May, following a four-month trial and six days of jury deliberation, Tarrio and three of four other Proud Boys associates on trial alongside him were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, among other charges stemming from a violent attempt to throw 2020 presidential election results into chaos.

Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to sentence those men to decades behind bars.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors said the men “organized and directed a force of nearly 200 to attack the heart of our democracy” and “intentionally positioned themselves at the vanguard of political violence in this country.”

“The defendants understood the stakes, and they embraced their role in bringing about a ‘revolution.’ They unleashed a force on the Capitol that was calculated to exert their political will on elected officials by force and to undo the results of a democratic election,” prosecutors wrote. “They failed. They are not heroes; they are criminals.”

US District Judge Timothy Kelly has sentenced now-former Proud Boys leaders Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs to 18 years and 17 years in prison, respectively, marking the longest sentences to date among the hundreds of people charged in connection with the Capitol attack.

Zachary Rehl was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Dominic Pezzola – the only member of that group who was not convicted of seditious conspiracy – was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Tarrio will be sentenced on 5 September. Prosecutors are requesting a sentence of 33 years.

Fifteen people connected to the January 6 attack, including the leader of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, have either been convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty on charges of seditious conspiracy in the aftermath of the riots – major victories from a sprawling investigation from the US Department of Justice into hundreds of Capitol riot cases. Tarrio’s verdict marked the first successful seditious conspiracy conviction against a January 6 defendant who was not physically at the Capitol that day.

Tarrio and Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes – who was sentenced to 18 years in prison, now tied with Nordean for the longest sentence connected to January 6 – are among the highest-profile figures in the Justice Department’s efforts, which have netted more than 1,000 arrests and more than 700 convictions to date.

Prosecutors have argued that both men fuelled violence and radicalized followers with a constant drumbeat of conspiracy theories echoing Donald Trump’s baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

During the Proud Boys trial, prosecutors presented hundreds of pieces of evidence from the days leading up to the January 6 attack, revealing the group’s toxic rhetoric, culture of violence and damning messages depicting a gang “that came together to use force against its enemies,” according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors argued that the Proud Boys were not merely obedient followers of the former president’s commands but were preparing for “all-out war” to undermine millions of Americans’ votes and upend a democratic election to preserve his presidency.

“These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump’s army, fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it,” Conor Mulroe, a trial attorney for the Justice Department, told jurors in closing arguments.

Tarrio, Biggs, Nordean and Rehl were found guilty of seditious conspiracy after conspiring to forcefully oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power, a jury found.

All four men, as well as Pezzola, were also found guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding. Four of them – all but Pezzola – were also found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, civil disorder and destruction of government property.

Pezzola also was found guilty of robbery and assaulting, resisting or impeding police.

Defence attorneys argued that there was no conspiracy to join the attack, an event they characterised as a spontaneous act of rage fuelled by then-President Trump’s demands.

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