Justice Department faces high stakes as January 6 Proud Boys trial starts

Washington DC - The trial of Enrique Tarrio and other members of the Proud Boys, a militant group that allegedly took part in organizing the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, is set to begin in earnest this week with the start of opening statements.

Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, leader of The Proud Boys, attends a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, on July 16, 2021, in Miami, Florida.
Henry "Enrique" Tarrio, leader of The Proud Boys, attends a protest showing support for Cubans demonstrating against their government, on July 16, 2021, in Miami, Florida.  © Eva Marie UZCATEGUI / AFP

Tarrio, a Miami native, stands accused of organizing a group of hard-core Proud Boys members to descend on Washington for a "Stop the Steal" protest that day, coinciding with Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

The indictment further accuses Tarrio and the other Proud Boys defendants of devising a militant strategy to target the Capitol building, using the internet not only to develop strategies and recruit members, but also to raise funds and buy paramilitary gear for the assault.

The most notable charge – seditious conspiracy – is a rare and serious federal offense that can carry a 20-year prison sentence. To secure a conviction, federal prosecutors must prove that Tarrio conspired to "overthrow, put down or to destroy by force" the government of the United States.

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On the afternoon of January 6, 2021, as the Proud Boys and other extremist groups stormed the Capitol, Tarrio watched the assault on TV news and expressed his support, according to the indictment. The fact that he was not in Washington during the attack has become a pillar of his legal defense strategy.

But his communications leading up to January 6 – including calls for "war," "revolution," and the use of the word "storm" in reference to the Capitol – underpin the Justice Department’s case against him.

At one point after the Capitol building was breached, Tarrio wrote: "Make no mistake ...We did this."

Tarrio's attempts to dismiss the case were rejected

Enrique Tarrio uses a megaphone during a counter-protest at the Torch of Friendship to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, on May 25, 2021, in Miami, Florida.
Enrique Tarrio uses a megaphone during a counter-protest at the Torch of Friendship to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, on May 25, 2021, in Miami, Florida.  © JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

To date, more than 900 people, many from Florida, have been arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol building.

Unlike Tarrio, the vast majority of them were actually there at the time of the assault. Of those, about 470 have pleaded guilty, and more than 30 have been found guilty at trials, according to the US Department of Justice.

The Proud Boys’ sedition case follows the recent trial of five members of a different white supremacist group, the Oath Keepers, which ended with convictions of all defendants – despite yielding a fractured verdict on the main seditious conspiracy charge. Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, the leader of the far-right organization, and one of his lieutenants, Kelly Meggs, who ran the militia group’s Florida chapter, were found guilty of sedition. But three lower-ranking members of the group were acquitted of that charge.

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"Mr. Tarrio is looking forward to the start of the trial," his lawyer Nayib Hassan said in a statement provided to the Miami Herald last month, as jury selection was about to begin. "We look forward to making our presentation of the evidence and acquitting Mr. Tarrio of the government’s allegations."

US District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who is presiding over the Proud Boys’ trial, denied two defense motions to dismiss the case based on First Amendment arguments of free speech, underscoring the prosecution’s evidence on both the seditious and obstruction conspiracy charges.

Hassan declined to say whether Tarrio would testify at his trial.

Cover photo: JOE RAEDLE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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