Proud Boys leader, awaiting Jan. 6 sedition verdict, assails Justice Department

Proud Boys leader, awaiting Jan. 6 sedition verdict, assails Justice Department

Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio — awaiting a verdict on charges he conspired to violently prevent Joe Biden’s presidency — lashed out at the Justice Department and Democrats on Tuesday, accusing them of “weaponizing” government institutions and seeking to “manipulate the 2024 election.”

Tarrio, speaking to supporters and journalists by phone from a jail in Alexandria, Va., avoided commentary on most of the specifics of his four-month trial, which heads to jury deliberations Wednesday morning. He acknowledged that speaking too pointedly about the trial might be detrimental even though the jury has been ordered to avoid media coverage of the case.

But Tarrio used his appearance — his first public comments since his arrest and detention 13 months ago — to eagerly embrace far-right critiques of the Justice Department’s pursuit of Jan. 6 perpetrators, accusing prosecutors of “overcharging” defendants and criminalizing pro-Trump speech. He assailed the seditious conspiracy case against him and four other Proud Boys as a part of an effort to silence figures on the right.

“I’m the next stepping stone,” Tarrio said in the call, which was broadcast to a freewheeling Twitter Space organized by the Gateway Pundit, a far-right media outlet known for promoting conspiracy theories about Jan. 6 and the government.

Tarrio’s attorneys used their closing arguments in court Tuesday morning to lay blame for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack at the feet of Donald Trump, who they say bore the ultimate responsibility for riling up supporters and aiming them at Congress. Tarrio praised his legal team but declined to elaborate on their contention.

But his lawyers’ claim stands at odds with many of Tarrio’s far-right supporters who have, with no evidence, characterized Jan. 6 as a government setup fueled by undercover agents, or the result of left-wing agitators.

Tarrio also used the call to praise congressional Republicans — including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan by name — for pursuing investigations about the “weaponization” of government. He said Jordan should call some Jan. 6 defendants to testify about their experiences.

Tarrio’s decision to speak publicly came two weeks after he opted against taking the stand in the trial. He elaborated on that decision in Tuesday’s call, saying he wanted to avoid a grilling from prosecutors about statements he’s made over the years.

“What’s happening is, in these cross examinations, they’re bringing things in from years past — things from 2015, 2016, 2017 is fair game,” Tarrio said. “It has nothing to do with January 6th. We were afraid they were going to use old statements, muddy up the waters.”

Prosecutors have charged Tarrio and four allies with acting as the “tip of the spear” of the mob that overran the Capitol, assembling a group of hundreds of Proud Boys to form a “fighting force” on Jan. 6. Those men surged across police barricades and stoked the crowd’s anger at decisive moments in the melee. One of them — Dominic Pezzola — ignited the breach of the Capitol itself when he smashed a Senate window with a riot shield.

Tarrio wasn’t present on Jan. 6 — he had been ordered to stay away from Washington due to an arrest for a separate charge two days earlier — but prosecutors say he stayed in contact with other Proud Boys leaders from a hotel in Baltimore and later celebrated their role in the attack.

Tarrio spoke to supporters and journalists for more than an hour Tuesday, calling into the Twitter broadcast from the cell phone of a friend, Bobby Pickles. He claimed he’s treated as a greater security risk in the Alexandria jail than the Lockerbie bomber, who is housed in the same facility, and he lamented being held in his cell for 23 hours a day.

Although two of Tarrio’s codefendants — Pezzola and Zachary Rehl — took the stand last week, Tarrio opted against testifying. But in Tuesday’s call, he echoed the arguments defense lawyers made about the Proud Boys, describing their often violent or vulgar language in group chats as “locker room” banter.

“It’s simple fun,” he said.

Tarrio also insisted that he never opened or saw a document titled “1776 Returns” that prosecutors featured in the case. The document, sent to Tarrio by a girlfriend a week before Jan. 6, outlines a plan to storm government buildings in order to protest the election results. Defense attorneys in the case argued that there was no evidence Tarrio ever opened the document, though an FBI agent called by prosecutors noted that Tarrio’s Google searches at that time referenced “The Winter Palace,” an analogy to the Russian Revolution that was referenced in 1776 Returns. Tarrio also referred to “The Winter Palace” on the night of Jan. 6 in text messages with Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino.

Tarrio also used the call to emphasize that he believes the jury in his case can be “fair.” Although many of his allies have been sharply critical of the judge in his case, Tim Kelly, Tarrio described any conflicts with him as simple disagreements over legal issues and said he respects the court’s decisions.

Tarrio also said he and his codefendants “are in a good place.”

“We’re very positive,” he said. “We haven’t given up on each other.”


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