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Jury convicts 4 Proud Boys members of seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6 riot

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

It's the most serious charge defendants in the January 6 trials have faced - seditious conspiracy. And today four more people have been convicted for their involvement in the 2021 attack on the Capitol and efforts to stop the certification of the presidential election. They are all members of the Proud Boys. That's the far-right white extremist group that formed in 2016. They've been accused in various incidents of political violence since then, including the racist and deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017. Another moment of notoriety for the group came on a national stage.

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DONALD TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. But I'll tell you what.

SUMMERS: That's former President Donald Trump failing to fully denounce the Proud Boys during a 2020 presidential debate. Justice Department prosecutors would go on to say that the Proud Boys saw themselves as foot soldiers for Trump as they stormed the Capitol, led by then-Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio.

ENRIQUE TARRIO: Yeah, we got banned off more things, but we're already banned on anything you can think of. I can't tell you it got worse because you've run out of things to ban us from.

SUMMERS: That's Tarrio in 2021, telling NPR about the fallout his group faced after the Capitol attack. And the consequences for him and three other members now are far more serious. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been covering the trial and joins us now from the courthouse. So Carrie, give us the headlines. What did the jury decide?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: On the biggest charge - sedition, or using force to oppose the U.S. government - the jury found former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio guilty. They also convicted Joseph Biggs, who has ties to the conspiracy site Infowars, Zach Rehl, the head of the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys, and Ethan Nordean, who played a big role on the ground at the Capitol. The jury convicted them of other pretty serious felonies, too, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstructing law enforcement. And Dominic Pezzola, who grabbed a police shield and used it to bash in a window at the Capitol, was acquitted of sedition by this jury. But he was found guilty of robbery, obstruction and conspiracy.

SUMMERS: The Justice Department has been continuing to investigate the events around the siege at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. But how important is this case to their work?

JOHNSON: This is a significant victory for prosecutors. They've now won convictions against the former leaders of both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, two of the more important groups with boots on the ground at the Capitol. The attorney general, Merrick Garland, says the Justice Department is going to do everything in its power to defend the American people and defend democracy. These are not easy cases. It's hard to prove someone tried to use force to overthrow the government, and it should be. And remember; Tarrio wasn't even in D.C on January 6. He'd been banished from the city by a judge for burning a Black Lives Matter flag in December. But prosecutors were still able to convince this jury that Tarrio was monitoring and directing the action. For instance, they showed jurors a message from Tarrio that day that says, quote, "make no mistake. We did this."

SUMMERS: And, Carrie, what has been the response from the defense lawyers to the verdict today?

JOHNSON: Disappointment, really. The lawyers for Tarrio say they respect the jury's decision, but they disagree with it. They're going to focus on an appeal. And a lawyer for defendant Joe Biggs said in court the verdict is a, quote, "miscarriage of justice," and he's going to place his hope in the appeals court, too. The judge did not yet set a date for sentencing for these men.

SUMMERS: Carrie, the former president Donald Trump loomed large over this case. What role did he play, and what might these verdicts mean for him?

JOHNSON: You know, the jury saw footage - that footage of Trump telling the Proud Boys to stand by during a presidential debate. They saw his tweet in December 2020 rallying people to come to the Capitol, telling them it will be wild. Tarrio's lawyers say their client was really just a scapegoat, that it was Trump's anger that rallied the crowd to storm the Capitol. And as for Trump himself, that's all part of a very active investigation by the special counsel, Jack Smith, who's been using grand juries in this very courthouse. Donald Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but we know some top lawyers from his White House and aides for former Vice President Mike Pence have testified. We're going to be watching for more action this summer.

SUMMERS: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.