The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Proud Boys leader Tarrio was key to Jan. 6, U.S. says

- By Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner

WASHINGTON — One day after news networks declared President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his campaign had a request for the Proud Boys: Members of the extremist group should attend rallies pushing Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen - but not in their recognizab­le blackand-yellow gear.

“The campaign asked us to not wear colors to these events,” Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio told one of his closest deputies in an encrypted Nov. 8, 2020, chat, according to court evidence.

Eight weeks later and days before Jan. 6, 2021, the Proud Boys chairman confided further to multiple girlfriend­s about members’ preparatio­ns for violence and the possibilit­y of storming the Capitol.

“Whatever happens ... make it a spectacle,” the 39-year-old Miami-born Cuban American said in a final text to another lieutenant and co-defendant as police arrested Tarrio on his arrival in D.C. on Jan. 4, government exhibits and testimony show.

As the seditious conspiracy trial of Proud Boys leaders accused of leading the Jan. 6 riot to keep Trump in office enters its eighth week, the government has cast Tarrio as a singular figure who holds the key both to what the group planned that day and whether it coordinate­d with others.

More than 200 encrypted Telegram chats, texts and other messages show Tarrio appeared at several points to align his plans with those of Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign organizers, while knowing by Jan. 6 that the Proud Boys and the president’s enraged supporters might explode into violence.

However, the messages also show that Tarrio and four co-defendants at times voiced doubt and ambivalenc­e over what would actually take place and that plans remained in flux into the last 48 hours. Tarrio was not even in Washington on Jan. 6, having been arrested and barred from the city for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag at an earlier pro-Trump rally.

Prosecutor­s assert the Proud Boys at that point franticall­y hid their tracks and deleted evidence, but the texts they did recover show Tarrio methodical­ly engaged in double-dealing, by turns embracing and disavowing violence depending on the audience, and using intimidati­on and provocatio­n as tools.

Tarrio himself told the House Jan. 6 committee that he believed the Proud Boys “got caught up in the moment” and “mob mentality.”

“I will tell you with almost 100 percent certainty that if I would’ve been on the ground on January 6th, there would be absolutely zero Proud Boys that got arrested,” he said.

But in messages on Dec. 30, 2020, Tarrio’s alleged co-conspirato­rs warned him that Proud Boys as well as Trump’s other supporters could riot in Washington. The next day, Tarrio told chapter leaders that the threat of violence that others associated with the Proud Boys increased their influence and in itself deterred their far-left enemies. He also hinted a bigger scheme could be in play.

“I want them to be fearful,” Tarrio reassured followers, before adding crypticall­y that deterrence might not be the true goal of the Proud Boys in raising the prospect of violence: “Sometimes we don’t have to lift a finger anymore. Because maybe that isn’t the entire plan.”

“Misinforma­tion is a good tool,” he added. He then indicated he may have said too much, making a glib reference to Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi propagandi­st: “F—k ... Did I just Goebbels this thing?”

Tarrio and co-defendants Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola have pleaded not guilty to a 10-count indictment that charges them with secretly conspiring to disrupt by force the transfer of power to Joe Biden.

Defense attorneys accuse prosecutor­s of cherry-picking statements from tens of thousands of Proud Boys communicat­ions to paint a damning picture,

ignoring evidence of disagreeme­nt and confusion in the group over any specific plan for Jan. 6. They say Tarrio and his men are scapegoats for an unplanned riot caused by Trump’s incitement and police failures.

“The government’s case now seems to come down to the following: They had a motive. They didn’t like - like many Americans - the result of the election. They had the means. They were in town. And something bad happened,” Biggs attorney Norman Pattis argued.

Attorney Sabino Jauregui told jurors Tarrio was only interested in “razzle dazzle for the media,” rankling members who wanted to take bolder action: “The other Proud Boys were always making fun of Enrique because Enrique would never want to fight.”

But evidence shown at trial reveals Tarrio ties to the Trump campaign. Meanwhile, Proud Boys viewed the group’s fortunes as linked to Trump’s political fate.

After Trump famously urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a September 2020 presidenti­al debate, the Proud Boys reacted with “jubilation,” FBI Special Agent Peter Dubrowski testified.

“Trump basically said to go f—k [antifa] up! This makes me so happy,” Biggs posted on Parler.

“We are clearly brought into the Presidenti­al conversati­on,” Rehl, like Biggs an Army veteran, texted others. “Lets hope daddy Trump plays it right.”

Hundreds of Proud Boys turned out to pro-Trump postelecti­on D.C. rallies, which devolved into street violence in November and December.

On Dec. 15, Tarrio posted that he had begun planning for a third demonstrat­ion. He complained, however, that “it’s [tough] because we don’t know when their release is going to happen,” apparently referring to Trump’s announceme­nt of his plans.

It was not the only time Tarrio alluded to Trump’s political operation. A friend and former aide of Trump political confidant Roger Stone, Tarrio once helped manage the phones and social media accounts of the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster.” Tarrio was in contact through the 2020 post-election period with Stone, “stop the steal” campaign organizer Ali Alexander and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who on Nov. 7 shared a proposal for storming Congress with Tarrio and others in a “Friends of Stone” encrypted chat group.

Tarrio flew to a pro-Trump rally a week later where he met Alexander on a private jet flight organized by Latinos for Trump President Bianca Gracia and paid for by another promoter of Trump’s false stolen election claims, former Overstock chief executive Patrick Byrne, according to the House Jan. 6 committee. Tarrio and Gracia were also at the White House together on Dec. 12.

By Dec. 19, 2020, the day Trump called demonstrat­ors to Washington for a “wild” protest on Jan. 6, Tarrio handpicked codefendan­ts Nordean, Biggs and Rehl to join a leadership group chat for that day’s operations, prosecutor­s allege. Ironically named by Tarrio the “Ministry of Self-Defense” (MOSD), Tarrio and other members agreed to do whatever it took to stop Congress from confirming the electoral vote in Washington, Proud Boys leader Jeremy Bertino testified this week. Some believed storming the Capitol would accomplish it, the star government witness said.

“I don’t know the exact plan of how it was going to get done. [But] I know what the objective was,” Bertino told jurors.

Tarrio and co-conspirato­rs who included his best friends and podcast co-hosts Nordean and Biggs - began calling themselves “lords of war” and “soldiers of the right wing” in social media posts, urging others to join in the “revolution.”

“Is Trump gonna ‘cross the Rubicon’ [on Jan. 6] or does he just want a bunch of people to wave flags and stomp their feet[?],” one Proud Boys member asked on Dec. 20, using shorthand adopted by rightwing extremists for a violent uprising or civil war led by Trump.

“I mean. I’m not booking my ticket as a joke,” Biggs replied. Biggs also echoed Tarrio’s “misinforma­tion” strategy, posting elsewhere that Proud Boys should continue to claim that they were just out to protect Trump supporters from far-left agitators or “commies” as a cover story for violence that could erupt.

Still, Tarrio and co-conspirato­rs debated as late as Dec. 30, 2020, whether Proud Boys members could attack police.

“We could have a f——-g riot,” Pennsylvan­ia leader John Stewart warned in the MOSD group chat.

“Just let it happen,” Bertino counseled, “Maybe it’s the shot heard round the world and the normies will f—k up the cops.” Both Stewart and Bertino have pleaded guilty in cooperatio­n deals with prosecutor­s.

On New Year’s Eve, Tarrio posted a proposed packing list of “basic gear,” including military-style body armor and trauma kits, pepper spray, decontamin­ation wipes, programmab­le radios, brass knuckles, slash resistant gloves, sealed goggles, helmets and gas masks. He told the MOSD group earlier that “Ali” a seeming reference to Alexander - was helping arrange discounted hotel lodging.

Meanwhile, the Proud Boys’ anger at police deepened as they learned that Tarrio would be arrested in D.C., and members clashed with police elsewhere in the country.

“#F—ktheblue,” Bertino wrote, to which Stewart replied, “Agree, they chose their f——-g side so let’s get this done.”

Yet Proud Boys leaders were bemused at a Jan. 2 tweet from a Democratic social media influencer who claimed that “domestic terrorists” including Proud Boys were “planning to break into federal buildings, cause violence against law enforcemen­t, burn down buildings and even try to shoot up federal employees and lawmakers.”

“I wish we were half as cool where we could coordinate something like this . ... But the truth is we can’t even get guys to march in the same direction,” Tarrio wrote others.

Defense attorneys would argue that message shows Tarrio was no conspirato­rial mastermind. But prosecutor­s suggest he was being disingenuo­us, based on conversati­ons with three girlfriend­s between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3 revealed in court for the first time.

One, “Eryka,” urged Tarrio in an exchange at 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 to adopt a plan for “revolution” called “1776 Returns” that she had sent him one day earlier; it called for occupying “crucial buildings” in Washington’s Capitol Hill building complex with “as many people as possible,” and named the idea after the Bolsheviks storming of a winter palace of the czars during Russia’s 1917 civil war.

“[T]he revolution and storming the winter capital is at stake[.] The revolution is [more] important than anything,” Eryka wrote.

“[T]hat’s what every waking moment consists of,” Tarrio replied.

In a 3 a.m. conversati­on three days later with another girlfriend identified as “mamafe,” Tarrio shared a packing list for Washington that included platecarri­er vests, a gas mask and other gear. She joked back that if her child turned out “anything like you, I’m in so much trouble.”

“He’s gonna be like mom, I’m gonna go take the Capitol,” she said.

Tarrio replied, “The Winter Palace.”

Back in the main Proud Boys MOSD chat group, members discussed similar-sounding plans.

“I didn’t hear this voice note ‘til now. You want to storm the Capitol,” Tarrio said in a voice message posted to the MOSD leadership group on 7:36 a.m. Jan. 4 in an apparent reply to Stewart’s proposal to base operations “around the front entrance of the Capitol.”

At 3:23 p.m., one member asked, “[W]hat would they do [if] 1 million patriots stormed and took the capital building. Shoot into the crowd?”

“They would do nothing because they could do nothing,” Stewart replied.

Unknown to them at the moment, at 3:21 p.m. Tarrio was being pulled over by D.C. police as he entered the city from Reagan National Airport.

“Nuke chats,” Proud Boys leaders repeated in Telegram and elsewhere.

As police were making the stop, Tarrio and Biggs exchanged a 129-second phone call, and Tarrio texted, “Whatever happens ... make it a spectacle.”

Biggs replied in a word, “Yup.”

After his release on bond but before leaving the city, Tarrio returned to an undergroun­d garage near his hotel room, where he met with Gracia and Rhodes. “You need to be here tomorrow,” Gracia objected in a video clip entered earlier in the trial, while repeatedly warning that his communicat­ions with them must be kept secret from law enforcemen­t.

In a clip not given jurors, a man who accompanie­d Rhodes to the meeting says while Tarrio is out of earshot, “It’s inevitable what’s going to happen. We’ve just got to do it as a team together, strong, hard and fast.”

On Jan. 6, prosecutor­s allege, Tarrio was monitoring events in Baltimore as co-defendants marched to the Capitol at the head of nearly 200 other men who joined the first wave that surged onto the Capitol grounds. Bands of Proud Boys emerged at the forefront of attacks on police before Pezzola smashed the first window with a stolen police riot shield.

Tarrio exulted afterward in a Telegram group chat: “We did this.”

 ?? Anthony Crider/For The Washington Post ?? Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino, wearing a beard, sunglasses and knit hat, attends a rally in Richmond, Va., in January 2020. Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio is wearing sunglasses and a cap.
Anthony Crider/For The Washington Post Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino, wearing a beard, sunglasses and knit hat, attends a rally in Richmond, Va., in January 2020. Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio is wearing sunglasses and a cap.
 ?? Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post ?? Supporters of President Donald Trump scale the walls at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post Supporters of President Donald Trump scale the walls at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

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