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Proud Boys leader admits plan to storm Capitol and will testify against others

Charles Donohoe pleaded guilty to conspiracy and acknowledged the intention to stop the electoral college vote

Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, right, walk to the Capitol in 2021. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
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A North Carolina man who was one of the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys as they assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty Friday to two felony counts with a minimum sentence of nearly six years in prison and agreed to cooperate against other defendants in hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Court records filed Friday show he has provided numerous insights into the group’s plans and intention to disrupt the electoral vote confirmation. Prosecutors have now secured convictions and the cooperation of defendants in probes into two groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, accused of planning violence on Jan. 6.

In addition to the plea by Proud Boys member Charles Donohoe and an earlier plea by another defendant, an Alabama member of the Oath Keepers pleaded guilty last month to seditious conspiracy, admitting to taking part in a plan developed by group founder Stewart Rhodes to oppose by force the inauguration of President Biden, including taking part in the Capitol breach.

Donohoe, 34, of Kernersville, N.C., admitted to conspiring to help organize an attack on Congress by supporters of President Donald Trump and to assaulting law enforcement officers. Donohoe is the first among six of the charged Proud Boys leaders, including chairman Enrique Tarrio, to admit to planning an attack on Congress and assaulting law enforcement officers.

Proud Boy pleads guilty to felony charge in assault on Capitol

Tarrio pleaded not guilty earlier this week to charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and six other felonies. He has been ordered held in jail until trial along with the other six defendants. Those other defendants include Donohoe, who has been jailed since March 2021. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting police officers.

In December 2020, according to court documents filed Friday, Tarrio appointed Donohue as one of the members of the Ministry of Self Defense, a leadership group within the Proud Boys making preparations for Jan. 6.

The Post obtained hours of video footage, some exclusively, and placed it within a digital 3-D model of the building. (Video: The Washington Post)

In a new statement of offense, prosecutors said “Donohoe understood that the purpose of the rally” in Washington on Jan. 6 was “to stop the certification” of the electoral college vote. The Ministry of Self Defense leadership was broken into a “marketing” council of three people to recruit more members and an “operations” group. Donohoe was part of the marketing group, which soon expanded to at least 65 members.

As early as Jan. 4, prosecutors said, “Donohoe was aware that members” of the Ministry of Self Defense leadership “were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol” and “believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal.”

Donohoe had not planned to be in Washington on Jan. 6, the statement of offense said. But after Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a local church, Donohoe decided to travel to Washington because he “believed that Tarrio’s arrest could create a leadership void” for the Ministry of Self Defense, according to the filing, which was signed by Donohoe.

On the morning of Jan. 6, the Proud Boys marched away from the Ellipse before Trump began his speech and did not return. They went to the Capitol shortly after 10 a.m., the statement said, and Donohoe posted that his group numbered 200 to 300 Proud Boys members. Defendants Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs mustered the group, and “Donohoe understood that Nordean and Biggs were searching for an opportunity to storm the Capitol.”

Proud Boys conspired in multiple encrypted channels before riot

By 1 p.m., the Proud Boys were being instructed in messages to “push inside!” Donohoe reposted the message to other group leaders. Donohoe admitted throwing two water bottles at police trying to prevent the mob from advancing. Shortly after 1:30 p.m., Donohoe took a picture of defendant Dominic Pezzola holding a riot shield that had been snatched from police.

Donohoe then found another Proud Boy who “initiated an altercation at the front of the crowd,” the statement said. “Donohoe pushed forward to advance up the concrete stairs toward the Capitol. The crowd overwhelmed law enforcement who were attempting to stop their advance.” About 140 police officers were injured during the onslaught, and five people died in the attack or its immediate aftermath.

Donohoe was struck by pepper balls fired by police and had to back off, but he later celebrated the storming of the Capitol, the statement said, writing in the Ministry of Self Defense message group, “we stormed the capitol unarmed” and “took it over unarmed.”

Nordean, Biggs and Pezzola all pleaded not guilty. Donohoe is the third member of the Proud Boys group to plead guilty. On Wednesday, Jeffery Finley, president of the West Virginia Proud Boys chapter, admitted being part of an effort to help Trump supporters overwhelm police officers outside the Capitol and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor of trespassing on restricted grounds but did not agree to cooperate with the government.

Donohoe is the second Proud Boy to agree to testify against other defendants. In December, Matthew Greene of Syracuse, N.Y., admitted coordinating with other members of the extremist group at the front of the Capitol mob and pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy, also hoping for a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation. As a result of their deals, no sentencing dates were set for Donohoe or Greene, pending the outcome of their testimony in both trials and grand jury hearings.

When Greene became the first Proud Boys member to plead guilty to plotting to obstruct the electoral vote certification by Congress, he agreed to cooperate but was not accused of being part of the leadership planning group with Tarrio. In plea papers, Greene admitted his “intent in conspiring with others to unlawfully enter the restricted area of the Capitol grounds was to send a message to legislators and Vice President Pence.”

Among the Oath Keepers, Joshua James last month admitted entering the Capitol with other Oath Keepers wearing body armor and helmets after stashing firearms outside of Washington, but did not say the group had planned to attack the Capitol before arriving in the city. He pleaded to both seditious conspiracy and obstructing Congress, the first Jan. 6 rioter to be convicted of sedition.

The conspiracy charge Donohoe pleaded to carries a sentencing range of 97 to 121 months, but credit for acceptance of responsibility and entering an early plea reduced his sentencing range from 70 to 87 months. If he cooperates further, prosecutors may ask District Judge Timothy Kelly to reduce his sentence further. The longest sentence issued so far in the Capitol breach investigation has been 63 months to Robert Palmer for assaulting police.