Four members of the far-right Proud Boys organization, including former leader Enrique Tarrio, were convicted Thursday of seditious conspiracy for trying to keep Donald Trump in office by force after his 2020 election defeat to Joe Biden. The men could face decades in prison for their actions. A fifth defendant was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but convicted on other charges. We look at the Proud Boys, their role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and where the extremist group goes from here, with HuffPost senior editor Andy Campbell, author of We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered In a New Era of American Extremism.
AMY GOODMAN: A jury in Washington, D.C., has convicted four members of the far-right group Proud Boys of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6th insurrection and for attempting to keep Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election. The jury convicted Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, along with Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean and Zachary Rehl, on sedition, which could carry a sentence of nearly 50 years in prison. A fifth Proud Boy, Dominic Pezzola, was found not guilty of sedition, but he was convicted with the others of numerous felonies, including obstructing an official proceeding and obstructing Congress. During two previous trials, six members of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, were also convicted of sedition.
The verdicts are seen as a major victory for the Justice Department. Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke Thursday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: Today’s verdict makes clear that the Justice Department will do everything in its power to defend the American people and American democracy. …
Over the past two years, the department has secured more than 600 convictions for a wide range of criminal conduct on January 6th, as well as in the days and weeks leading up to the attack. …
And now, after three trials, we have secured the convictions of leaders of both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers for seditious conspiracy, specifically conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power. Our work will continue.
AMY GOODMAN: During the trial, federal prosecutors described the Proud Boys as “Donald Trump’s army,” saying they were, quote, “lined up behind Donald Trump and willing to commit violence on his behalf,” unquote.
Attorneys for the Proud Boys attempted to shift the blame for January 6 solely on the former president. Defense attorney Nayib Hassan told jurors, quote, “It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6th 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,” he said.
Tarrio was convicted even though he was not in Washington during the insurrection. He had been arrested days earlier in another criminal case.
We’re joined now by Andy Campbell, senior editor at HuffPost. His book is titled We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered In a New Era of American Extremism.
Start off, Andy, by talking about the significance of these verdicts, four verdicts, guilty verdicts for suspicious conspiracy.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Right. It’s a hard bar to cross, because not only did prosecutors have to prove that the Proud Boys impeded or opposed the government by force, but that they had an agreement to do so beforehand. And that last bit was a difficult bar for them to cross. But the prosecutors put together a strong case against them and proved that the Proud Boys did have an agreement, even on the day, to storm the Capitol.
This charge is, historically, brought against terrorists on American soil. And prior to January 6th, the last successful prosecution was against Islamic militants who were threatening to blow up the U.N. So, this is the government saying, “We are very serious,” and this trial is a bookend to its two highest-profile cases for January 6 against the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
AMY GOODMAN: And how does this affect the overall trials of the January 6 defendants? I mean, we’re talking about over a thousand people have been arrested.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Mm-hmm, absolutely. And certainly, those prosecutions are ongoing. I mean, hundreds have come, and there will be many more to face prison time over January 6th. But this is the government proving, again, that the argument that these were sort of hapless protesters in the street fueled by Donald Trump is not a good one. It hasn’t worked for any of the other January 6 defendants. It didn’t work for the Proud Boys. It isn’t working for anybody. And so, even though the Proud Boys’ stated goals are to fight for Trump and to fight for GOP grievances, that’s not a valid excuse in front of these juries.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are the Proud Boys? And talk about Tarrio in particular, who was, what, in Baltimore at the time.
ANDY CAMPBELL: The Proud Boys are a far-right street gang that started in 2016 ostensibly to fight for the GOP’s grievances. And during January 6th, they were there, statedly, to have civil war, to have revolution, to have their last stand for Donald Trump. And they continue today, even though their leaders are behind bars. They continue today to fight those grievances against LGBTQ people, against drag queens, against women and abortion clinics. And so, that part of the Proud Boys remains. They helped foment this atmosphere of political violence we have in this country right now.
Tarrio was the Proud Boys’ connection to Donald Trump and his allies. I spoke to Roger Stone, one of Trump’s top confidants, who told me in an interview that he had been advising the Proud Boys for years leading up to January 6th and was a good friend to Tarrio. Now, during the trial, prosecutors didn’t get much into those relationships. Judge Tim Kelly said, “You’ve got to stick to the point in these Proud Boys defendants.” But that question remains on the table. Through Tarrio, how much — how close did Tarrio and the Proud Boys get close to Donald Trump’s ear directly through people like Roger Stone? Tarrio is their leader and their political factor. And him going behind bars is going to be disruptive, but it’s not going to end them completely.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Carmen Hernandez, an attorney for Proud Boy Zachary Rehl, speaking outside the courthouse.
CARMEN HERNANDEZ: I don’t believe he committed seditious conspiracy. He’s a young man who served his country, has never been charged with a crime of violence, has never been convicted of a crime of violence. But the jury has spoken, and that’s our system of justice. Very disappointed in the verdict. … I think, as a society, we turn to criminal law too often. What Mr. Trump did or didn’t do is of no moment to me or Mr. Rehl, but he did — he was the one who called the rally, had everyone show up.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Andy Campbell?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well, all of these defendants absolutely had a big part in gathering resources, equipment, funding, allies to D.C. for January 6, which one of the defendants, Joseph Biggs, called “civil war” and “revolution.” They were ready for something big. And on the day, after Trump’s fiery speech at the Ellipse, they led the march from there to the Capitol and were the first to breach the Capitol itself. So, certainly they have responsibility.
But Ms. Hernandez is actually right in the sense that prosecutions aren’t the only aspect here that are going to tamp down our extremist crisis, because we still have Proud Boys in the street, week after week, along with neo-Nazis and other militants. They still have support from the GOP and from law enforcement and from right-wing media. And until the GOP and those other elements pull their soldiers out of the street and rebuff them, which they have not done since before January 6 or after, we are going to see this kind of thing continue. We’re going to see men in makeshift body armor and weaponry outside all sorts of American civic events. And so, going forward, we’re looking for an entire culture shift, not just prosecutions.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who testified in the trial, from police officers who were attacked defending the Capitol, to FBI agents, to some of the Proud Boys themselves?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Right. There were a number of police officers who were testifying in the trial, and a police officer who was expected to testify on behalf of the Proud Boys, an officer who had a relationship prior to January 6th with Tarrio, because he was gathering information from the extremist groups amassing there. But that relationship ended up being a little too close, and so this officer pleaded the Fifth and didn’t end up helping the Proud Boys at all.
But the government also secured some key testimony from other Proud Boys who pleaded guilty in lieu of cooperating with the government. One of them is Jeremy Bertino of North Carolina, who had, prior to this trial, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy already. And he testified that the Proud Boys were ready to take the reins of that march, of that movement headed to the Capitol that day. Another Proud Boy named Matthew Greene, who testified against his own, called them “the tip of the spear” that day.
Prosecutors put together a really, really good picture of just how much preparation went into January 6th that day. And, you know, while the defense argues that the Proud Boys didn’t have a direct plan to storm the Capitol on January 6th, prosecutors showed the jury that that plan, that conspiracy, could have come together the day of, on that march. They realized they were surrounded by all of these people. They realized the tools that they had in front of them. And they used that mob to push forward into the Capitol so that they could upend the election.
And then, of course, afterward, there were mountains of evidence and testimony showing that the Proud Boys celebrated what they had done. They delayed the certification of Joe Biden as president, and they were super happy about it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the unindicted person here, that was brought up by both the defense and the prosecution, was President Trump, his famous “Stand back and stand down” [sic] comment during the debate. What does this mean for him?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well, certainly, I mean, it shows that the president was fueling what is now essentially a terrorist cell, in the government’s eyes. And we know for a fact that after he said, “Stand back, stand by,” the Proud Boys began gearing up for civil war for their president. And we know that Trump and his allies and right-wing media, the Tucker Carlsons of the world, have refused to rebuff these guys at all, to the point where they still believe they have the full support of the president — or, former president and his allies out in the street. And so, this isn’t going to mean anything for Trump in terms of charges being thrown his way, I don’t believe, but it certainly adds an underline to the fact that Trump has celebrated and tacitly supported these extremist elements since he took office. And until his politicians around him, until the right wing rebuffs them, we are seeing these extremist elements marching today, regardless of the fact that their fellow Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me correct what I said, as you corrected me: “Stand back and stand by,” President Trump said.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Right. Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Andy Campbell, what happens to the Proud Boys now?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Right. Like I said, unfortunately, the prosecutions are not enough. The Proud Boys leaders are probably going to go to jail for decades each, and that will certainly put pressure on the organization. But these Proud Boys have always shown resiliency when their leaders go to jail. They are working on the behest of the GOP’s grievances, not their organization, and not even Donald Trump anymore. They know what they have to do. They have their orders, which is to commit violence for the cause. And they’re out there doing it today, every single weekend. And so, the organization isn’t going away, and our extremist crisis at large isn’t going anywhere. We have to tell, you know, the GOP, we have to tell law enforcement, and we have to tell right-wing media to pull these forces out of the street, or else we’re going to continue to have this problem going into the next election and just going into regular American civic life.
AMY GOODMAN: Andy Campbell, senior editor at _HuffPost, his book is We Are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered In a New Era of American Extremism.
Next up, an update on the rape and battery trial of Donald Trump. On Thursday, lawyers on both sides rested their cases. Trump’s lawyer did not call a single witness. He claims, from Ireland, where he was playing golf, that he’s going to testify. That’s Trump. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Killing in the Name Of” by Rage Against the Machine. This week it was announced the band is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In a statement, the band thanked “all the activists, organizers, rebels and revolutionaries past, present and future who have inspired our art,” they said.