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Longtime Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio charged with conspiracy in Jan. 6 attack on Capitol

Arrest shows prosecutors are moving beyond the scene of the crime toward anyone who directed or planned such violence

In this video still, Enrique Tarrio, a longtime leader of the Proud Boys, and Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, attend a meeting in a parking garage in Washington on Jan. 5, 2021. (Saboteur Media/Via Reuters)
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Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, a longtime leader of the Proud Boys far-right group, was arrested Tuesday on charges that he conspired with followers who attacked Congress last year — a high-profile indictment unsealed the same day Jan. 6 prosecutors won their first trial conviction from a D.C. jury.

Tarrio, 38, who lives in Miami, joins Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes as the second leader of a radical group charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. Neither man is accused of entering the Capitol that day, and Tarrio wasn’t even in Washington. Their arrests show that prosecutors are moving their sprawling investigation beyond the scene of the crime toward anyone may have who directed or helped plan the violence.

Prosecutors say Tarrio conspired with other Proud Boys to obstruct an official proceeding. They also charged him with other crimes related to actions allegedly committed by followers on the day Congress gathered to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Tarrio has denied wrongdoing and denied that his group planned to commit violence that day. He appeared on Tuesday in federal court in Miami, where prosecutors said they wanted him to be held in jail until trial. Tarrio spoke briefly at the hearing, saying he had little money and had only recently gotten a job printing T-shirts. A bond hearing is scheduled for Friday.

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Within hours of his arrest, a federal jury in Washington convicted a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of all five counts he faced for leading part of the angry pro-Trump mob past police and barricades on Jan. 6. Reffitt’s trial featured video he took with a camera mounted on his helmet and searing testimony from his own son, who tipped the FBI to concerns about his father.

That victory for prosecutors — in the first of what could be hundreds of criminal trials of Jan. 6 defendants — came a day after a significant setback for the Justice Department. A federal judge in a different Jan. 6 case ruled that the government cannot charge defendants with obstructing Congress’s certification of the 2020 election results unless they tampered with official documents or records.

The three near-simultaneous developments underscore just what a sprawling legal enterprise the Jan. 6 investigation has become — one that is likely to see arrests, trials and appeals for years to come.

In striking down the most frequently charged felony count against Jan. 6 defendants, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols broke from other U.S. trial judges in Washington who have ruled on that question in Capitol riot cases. His decision may encourage as many as 275 other defendants to fight that charge in court or on appeal, or to reject plea offers until higher courts rule on the issue (though in many cases, those individuals face other criminal counts). The obstruction charge — punishable by up to 20 years in prison — is one of the seven counts filed against Tarrio.

From the start of the Jan. 6 investigation, agents have focused on the role that the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers allegedly played in driving the confrontation between supporters of President Donald Trump and police guarding the Capitol. More than 100 police officers were injured, many of them seriously, by a violent mob that falsely claimed Trump had won the election.

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Tarrio’s indictment, unsealed Tuesday, accuses him of conspiring with other senior Proud Boys leaders, including Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs, both of whom were already charged in connection with Jan. 6.

The indictment offers new details of Tarrio’s alleged role in discussions that preceded the violence at the U.S. Capitol. On Dec. 30 and 31, prosecutors charge, Tarrio exchanged messages with an individual who sent him a plan called “1776 Returns″ to occupy “crucial buildings” in Washington, including the House and Senate buildings, with “as many people as possible.” After sending the document, the individual allegedly messaged Tarrio that the “revolution is [sic] important than anything,” to which Tarrio allegedly replied: “That’s what every waking moment consists of … I’m not playing games.”

Proud Boys are known for brandishing batons at rallies and gatherings and for being eager to spar with their perceived enemies in the leftist antifa movement. During a presidential election debate in September 2020, Trump famously refused to denounce the Proud Boys, urging them to “stand back and stand by.” The group took those words as a rallying cry, which appeared to energize members in the months leading up to Jan. 6. While the group’s leaders disavow racism, some members have ties to groups that espouse white-nationalist rhetoric common among hate groups. At times, their visits to the District have ended in street brawls.

Days before Jan. 6, Tarrio had been charged in a separate incident — the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a D.C. church in December 2020 after a different pro-Trump rally — and ordered to stay outside of Washington. He eventually pleaded guilty in that case, serving four months in jail before his release this year.

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The new indictment pointedly ties Tarrio to Rhodes, noting that even after Tarrio was ordered by a court to leave Washington, he did not do so right away. On Jan. 5, 2021, the indictment says, he met in a parking garage in the city with Rhodes and other individuals “known and unknown to the grand jury, for approximately 30 minutes. During this encounter, a participant referenced the Capitol.”

The indictment also charges that after Tarrio’s arrest over the banner, he continued to communicate electronically in a message group with other Proud Boys leaders as they coordinated their actions Jan. 6. Prosecutors say at 3 p.m. that day, as the angry crowd rampaged through the Capitol, Tarrio posted a social media message that said “1776” — a reference to the Dec. 30 plan to occupy government buildings.

Tarrio allegedly continued to direct and encourage the Proud Boys despite being ordered to leave the city, prosecutors said, and claimed credit for what had happened on social media and in an encrypted chatroom during and after the attack.

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The new indictment also charges that Dominic Pezzola, 44, of Rochester, N.Y. was part of the alleged Proud Boys conspiracy. Pezzola had been previously arrested and charged with using a stolen police riot shield to shatter the first window breached by rioters at the Capitol but had not been accused of being part of the alleged conspiracy that prosecutors claim Tarrio led.

Tarrio’s arrest comes just a few weeks after D.C. police officials placed on leave a lieutenant in their own intelligence branch during an investigation into possible improper contacts with the Proud Boys leader. Officials familiar with that part of the investigation said authorities had found evidence suggesting communications between Shane Lamond, a 22-year police veteran, and Tarrio.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, would not describe the nature of the alleged contacts between Lamond and Tarrio or how the inquiry into those communications began. Tarrio has described his contacts with Lamond as professional, saying the Proud Boys would give him or other police officials advance notice when the Proud Boys planned to rally or march in the District.

But Tarrio also said that during marches, Lamond would tell him the location of counterdemonstrators. Tarrio said that was so his group could avoid conflict. After one violent night of demonstrations, however, police accused the Proud Boys of roaming the city looking for and instigating fights, targeting people they identified as antifa, or antifascists.

The federal conspiracy charges against Proud Boys members stemming from Jan. 6 are distinct from the charges filed against Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers or associates who were accused in January of seditious conspiracy, a historically rare charge that carries a maximum 20-year prison term. That indictment alleges that Rhodes plotted in late 2020 and early 2021 to prevent Biden from becoming president, guiding a months-long effort to unleash political violence that prosecutors say culminated in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

“Rhodes and certain co-conspirators … planned to stop the lawful transfer of presidential power by January 20, 2021, which included multiple ways to deploy force,” his indictment says.

Rhodes, 56, remains in jail awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

Joshua James last week became the first defendant in that case to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy. James, a 34-year-old Army veteran from Arab, Ala., admitted to helping lead a group that prosecutors say sent two teams in body armor, helmets and tactical gear into the Capitol and staged a cache of weapons in a hotel just outside the city.

Paul Duggan, Peter Hermann and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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