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Proud Boys operated as fighting force for Trump on Jan. 6, prosecutors say

Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio poses for a portrait at Delta Park during a rally on Sept. 26, 2020 in Portland, Ore.
Joshua Lott
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio poses for a portrait at Delta Park during a rally on Sept. 26, 2020 in Portland, Ore.

Updated April 25, 2023 at 4:45 PM ET

Enrique Tarrio and other leaders of the Proud Boys helped unleash a mob to stop certification of the 2020 election, part of a "fighting force lining up behind Donald Trump and ready to commit violence on his behalf," the Justice Department told a jury in Washington, D.C.

Prosecutor Conor Mulroe played audio from officers under siege on Jan. 6, 2021, as the landmark seditious conspiracy case in the federal courthouse down the street from the Capitol inched toward a conclusion.

"Politics was no longer something for the debating floor or the voting booth," the prosecutor said. "For them, politics meant actual physical violence."

In closing arguments delivered over two days this week, the defendants argued they never entered into an agreement to storm the Capitol and urged jurors to sift through the thousands of messages introduced into evidence to find any written scrap to suggest one.

"It was Donald Trump's words, it was his motivations, it was his anger," that caused a mob to attack the Congress on January 6th, said Nayib Hassan, a defense lawyer for Tarrio.

Tarrio, who sat in a Baltimore hotel room on that day, was "an entertainer, a lover and a razzle dazzler," not a ringleader, his lawyer said.

"They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald Trump and those in power," Hassan added.

The DOJ case has serious flaws, including incomplete chat messages, cooperating witnesses that lied to the government on multiple occasions and documents Tarrio may never have opened, the defense lawyer said.

"There are no statements in any of those chats regarding stopping the transfer of power ... with or without force," Hassan said.

Nick Smith, an attorney for defendant Ethan Nordean, cited "nearly constant attempts to lure you into rendering a judgment based on anger" about the defendants' right-wing political views and inflammatory language.

In the course of the lengthy case, which began with jury selection in December 2022, two of the defendants took the high-risk step of testifying. Late in cross examination, prosecutors uncovered evidence that Zachary Rehl may have sprayed police during the Capitol attack. They also showed video footage of defendant Dominic Pezzola breaking out a window, through which other rioters poured through that day.

The remaining defendant, Joseph Biggs, had close ties to the conspiracy site InfoWars.

His lawyer, Norm Pattis, placed more blame at the feet of Trump and said many Proud Boys genuinely believed lies that the 2020 election had been stolen.

"Why do I stress the president's role?" Pattis asked the jury. "He's not on trial here much though I wish he were. ... If my president tells me my republic is being stolen, who do I listen to: the thief or the commander in chief?"

In her rebuttal argument, prosecutor Nadia Moore outlined for jurors what she called "devastating evidence of the defendants' guilt" using their own posts and videos. For instance, she cited a post from Tarrio after the storming of the Capitol that read, "Make no mistake. We did this."

"Enrique Tarrio isn't being 'scapegoated' for Jan. 6, he 's being held accountable for the crimes he committed," Moore said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.