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In a landmark trial that has captured national attention, four members of the Proud Boys have been found guilty of seditious conspiracy. The verdict came after weeks of testimony in which prosecutors argued that the far-right group, known for its violent confrontations with antifascists and support for former President Donald Trump, conspired to overthrow the government.
The case marks the first time that the federal government has used the charge of seditious conspiracy in over a decade. It is also the first major criminal case stemming from the January 6th Capitol attack, in which a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
The Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization, has been a prominent presence at far-right rallies and protests across the country. Its leader, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested by D.C. police just days before the Capitol attack on charges of possessing high-capacity firearm magazines. He later pleaded guilty to destruction of property and weapons charges related to his role in burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a pro-Trump rally in D.C. last year.
The four Proud Boys on trial – Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe – were among a larger group of defendants charged with conspiracy and other offenses related to the Capitol siege. Prosecutors argued that they and others planned in advance to forcibly enter the Capitol and stop the certification of the election.
In court, prosecutors presented evidence including chats and social media posts that they said showed the four defendants coordinating with other Proud Boys and members of far-right groups to plan the attack. They also played video footage showing the defendants on the front lines of the assault on the Capitol, using a bullhorn to urge others to push forward and “take this f***ing building.”
Defense attorneys, however, argued that their clients were simply exercising their right to free speech and assembly, and had no intention of committing violence or overthrowing the government. They also pointed to Trump’s rhetoric in the lead-up to the attack, arguing that the former president’s words had inflamed the passions of his supporters and led to the chaos at the Capitol.
But the jury ultimately sided with the prosecution, finding Nordean, Biggs, Rehl, and Donohoe guilty of seditious conspiracy – a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. They were also convicted on other charges including obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and aiding and abetting.
The verdict was met with mixed reactions. Some praised the decision as a critical step in holding those responsible for the Capitol attack accountable. Others, however, raised concerns about the use of the seditious conspiracy charge, which has a complex legal history and has often been used to target political dissidents and marginalized groups.
In response to the verdict, the Proud Boys released a statement condemning the trial as a “show trial” and accusing the government of “repressing political dissent.” They vowed to continue their “fight for Western culture and civilization” and urged supporters to donate to their legal defense fund.
The case is far from over, however. Many of the more than 570 defendants charged with crimes related to the Capitol attack are still awaiting trial, and legal experts say that the outcome of those cases will likely determine how the event is remembered in the years to come.
For now, though, the verdict in the Proud Boys trial stands as a stark reminder of the threat posed by far-right extremism and the importance of holding those who use violence and intimidation to further their political goals accountable under the law. Whether it will serve as a deterrent to future acts of political violence remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: the fallout from January 6th will continue to reverberate for years to come.