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By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) – A jury convicted on Thursday four members of the far right Proud Boys militia, including its former leader Enrique Tarrio, of seditious conspiracies. The jury found that they planned to attack the U.S. Capitol in 2021 to prevent Congress from certifying the election of President Joe Biden.
The convictions following a nearly four-month trial gave another victory to U.S. Justice Department in its pursuit of criminal charges against over 1,000 people stemming from the Capitol rampage perpetrated by supporters Republican then President Donald Trump. In earlier trials, several members of the Oath Keepers militia, a far-right group, had been convicted.
Tarrio was not the only Proud Boys member convicted. Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs were also convicted under an old Civil War law of seditious conspiracies, a charge which can result in up to 20-years imprisonment.
Dominic Pezzola was the only defendant who didn’t play a leading role in the organisation. The jury failed to reach a decision on the charges of seditious conspiracies or conspiracy to obstruct a formal proceeding.
The judge ordered the jury to continue deliberations over two counts on which they still had not reached a decision.
The jury found Tarrio Nordean Biggs Rehl Pezzola guilty as well of several felonies, including obstruction of an official proceeding. This charge can also carry up to twenty years in prison.
Nordean, Biggs Rehl, Tarrio and Tarrio have been acquitted of charges of assaulting the police or impeding them, but Pezzola has been convicted.
Over 500 people have admitted to crimes brought by the Justice Department in relation to the Capitol Riot, and around 80 others were convicted after trials. Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers and other members were among those who pleaded guilty.
The Proud Boys’ trial was the longest one of all those stemming from the Capitol Attack. A 12-member federal jury in Washington heard about 50 days worth of testimony.
Conor Mulroe, the prosecutor, told jurors during closing arguments that they viewed themselves as “a fighting force lined up in support of Donald Trump ready to commit violent acts on his behalf”, to reverse his defeat at the 2020 elections.
The prosecution told the jury Tarrio, and other defendants – some of whom were state chapter leaders – purchased paramilitary equipment for the attack, and encouraged members of the “Western Chauvinist group,” as they called themselves, to descend on Washington.
Prosecutors claim that all five of the members were charged entered the Capitol building during the attack. They also claimed they were the first ones to break through barricades set up to protect the building. Tarrio wasn’t in Washington on that day but prosecutors claimed he directed the attack from Baltimore, after he had been ordered to stay away from Washington by a court following his arrest for burning an anti-Black Lives Matter banner outside a church on Jan. 4.
On the day Congress voted to formally certify Biden’s win in the November 2020 elections, rioters attacked police with various weapons. Trump, a Republican, gave a fiery speech before the riot to his supporters. He urged them to “fight like hell” at the Capitol.
Five people, including a policeman, died during the riot or shortly afterwards. More than 140 policemen were also injured.
According to prosecutors, Tarrio Rehl Nordean Biggs and Biggs, in order to mobilize, created a group they called the Ministry of Self Defense. This group consisted of 65 Proud Boys who sent encrypted messages.
Pezzola also was charged with robbery after prosecutors claimed he stole a police shield which he used in order to smash a glass window, allowing rioters into the Capitol. He was found guilty of this charge.
Lawyers for the defense told the jury that their client had not planned to attack the Capitol, and was in Washington only to protest. Defense lawyers also tried to blame Trump by saying that he was the person who encouraged protesters to descend upon the Capitol.
Nayib Haassan, Tarrio’s lawyer, said that the prosecutors wanted to use Enrique Tarrio to scapegoat Donald Trump and those who are in power.
(Reporting and editing by Doina chiacu and Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward)