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Proud Boy pleads guilty to felony charge in Capitol riot

A mob loyal to President Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington. (John Minchillo/AP)

A New York man who was a member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty Wednesday to obstructing Congress and conspiring to obstruct law enforcement during the pro-Trump riot on Jan. 6.

The plea to the felony charge is significant because Matthew Greene, 34, of Syracuse admitted coordinating with other New York-based members of the extremist group at the front of the Capitol mob, although there is no evidence he actually entered the building. Greene is the first self-admitted member of the Proud Boys to plead guilty in a felony conspiracy case stemming from the riot and agree to cooperate with law enforcement. He is set to be sentenced March 10.

During a hearing in federal court in the District, Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson said Greene will probably get credit at or after sentencing for cooperation and for acceptance of responsibility. The government estimates nonbinding sentencing guidelines of 41 to 51 months. Greene, whose lawyer says he has now disavowed his membership in the Proud Boys, has also agreed to pay a $2,000 fine.

Greene said that on the night before the riot, he helped program handheld radios that belonged to Dominic Pezzola, a Rochester Proud Boy charged in the same conspiracy. Pezzola had said the national chairman of the Proud Boys would stop by to have his radio programmed, but he did not, according to Greene. The national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested Jan. 4 for burning a stolen “Black Lives Matter” flag during a previous protest in D.C. and ordered to stay out of the city.

During the first presidential debate Sept. 29, President Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” Here’s why they are defined as a hate group. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Another Upstate New York Proud Boy, William Pepe, stayed in Greene’s hotel room, sleeping on the floor, according to the plea. The two met up with Pezzola and other Proud Boys at the Washington Monument on the morning of Jan. 6, according to the court record. They eventually marched to the Peace Monument outside the Capitol, where Greene said members of the Proud Boys were leading the crowd in chants. Greene said he followed Pepe, Pezzola and “dozens of Proud Boys” streaming onto the Capitol grounds; some tore down fencing along the way. He and Pezzola were “among the first wave to cross the downed police line” on the Capitol’s west side, according to his plea. Pepe was about 15 seconds behind them, prosecutors said.

Greene said he, Pezzola and other Proud Boys were among those who then pushed past police through the scaffolding set up for President Biden’s inauguration and onto the building’s steps. Greene left at that point, retreating once police began using chemical irritants to control the crowd, according to prosecutors.

D.C. attorney general sues Proud Boys, Oath Keepers over Jan. 6 attack

According to an indictment, Pezzola continued up the steps and used a riot shield taken from police to smash a window into the building before entering and smoking a cigar inside. Pepe was close behind, according to the government. Greene reconvened with the two men at his hotel later that night, according to the court record.

Pepe and Pezzola have pleaded not guilty, saying through lawyers that they did not plan with anyone for what happened Jan. 6. Pezzola has said through an attorney that his association with the Proud Boys was “minimal and short-lived,” and Pepe has said he was not in the same chapter as Pezzola and Greene.

Attorneys for Pezzola said in a statement that their client “is not a tech guru, was not instrumental in providing radios and flash drives to others and was lacking in technological expertise as others have alleged.”

An attorney for Pepe declined to comment. And an attorney for Tarrio did not return a request for comment.

After the riot, Greene bragged that “we took the capital,” and then ordered over 2,000 rounds of assault-rifle ammunition and a gas mask, according to court records. In encrypted conversations with other Proud Boys, he said they had to “take back our country,” and “stand together now or end up in the gulag separately,” according to court records. He downplayed his association with the group to the FBI, prosecutors said, while telling members to be on guard for law enforcement.

Greene attended about three Proud Boys events between November 2020 and January 2021 and held “the lowest status in the organization,” according to a filing by defense attorney Michael Kasmarek. Greene has since “concluded that his personal beliefs and ethics do not align with those of the Proud Boys” and “is anxious to publicly disavow his brief membership in this group,” Kasmarek added.

Pepe and Pezzola are also both defendants in a lawsuit filed by D.C.'s attorney general accusing members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, another far-right group, of working together to “terrorize the district.” Greene is not named in that case.

Dozens of people linked to the Proud Boys are accused of taking part in the riot at the Capitol, but a year later most are fighting the charges. An Arizona man who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in October was given an orange arm band by a Proud Boy on Jan. 6 but said he did not know members of the group before that day, according to court records.

Greene’s plea comes two days after a federal judge overseeing an Oath Keepers conspiracy case found that the felony obstruction of Congress charge does not violate the Constitution. The judge overseeing Greene’s case has made a similar finding, although not in writing.