A week before dozens of Proud Boys helped lead a pro-Trump crowd in a violent assault on the Capitol last year, Enrique Tarrio, the group’s president, and some of his top lieutenants held a rude videoconference with a handpicked crew. members.
The meeting, on December 30, 2020, marked the founding of a special new chapter of the Proud Boys called the Ministry of Self-Defense. The team of several dozen trusted members was intended, Mr. Tarrio told his men, to bring a level of order and professionalism to the group’s upcoming march to Washington on January 6, 2021, which had, by his own account, disappeared at the first gatherings of the Proud Boys in the city.
For nearly two hours, Mr. Tarrio and his management team – many of whom have since been charged with seditious conspiracy – gave new recruits a series of directives: Adopt a defensive posture on January 6, they were told . Keep the “normies” – or normal protesters – away from the ranks of the Proud Boys. And obey police lines.
“We will never be the ones who cross the police barrier or cross something to reach someone,” Mr Tarrio said.
There was a major problem with the orders: None of them were followed when the Proud Boys stormed the Capitol on January 6.
Far from holding back, members of the far-right group played aggressive roles in multiple Capitol breaches, moving in coordination and often taking the lead in removing police barricades, according to a New York Times visual survey of hundreds hours of video footage of the assault.
And despite what Mr Tarrio said about keeping away from ordinary protesters, members of the group repeatedly urged people around them to adopt a tactic some Proud Boys later described in private messages as “irritating the standards”.
Although videoconferencing has been mentioned in court documents, it has not been widely seen. A recording of it was seized from Mr. Tarrio’s phone by the FBI this year, and a copy was recently obtained by The Times.
Lawyers for the Proud Boys say the taped meeting is key exculpatory evidence, contradicting government claims that a plot to attack the Capitol was hatched several weeks before Jan. 6.
In court filings, prosecutors claimed the Proud Boys began planning their assault as early as Dec. 19, 2020 — the day President Donald J. Trump posted a tweet announcing his Jan. 6 rally and saying it would be “ savage”. “But the videoconference shows that just a week before the event, when Mr. Tarrio and other Proud Boys executives gathered their team for a meeting, they spent most of their time discussing things like staying at away from alcohol and women and take steps to ensure their own safety.
The recorded meeting makes no mention of any planning that may have taken place in the week leading up to the attack on the Capitol. And while Mr. Tarrio suggests during the meeting that the complex structure he created for the Ministry of Self-Defense was meant to be self-protective – not offensive – in nature, prosecutors asserted that the “command and control” design and control” of the group was instrumental. to facilitate the attack on the Capitol.
At the meeting, Mr Tarrio explained how the group – whose members were chosen because of their “throttle control”, as another Proud Boys executive put it – had a management team of three people who sat above a larger group of about eight people. regional leaders. There was also a “marketing” division, Mr. Tarrio explained, that would develop and promote the Proud Boys “narrative” to the media. The base of the group, he said, would work in 10-man teams on January 6 with doctors and communications experts.
Throughout the meeting, Mr. Tarrio and others used openly misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic language, disparaging Proud Boys supporters and referring to the “JQ” – or the Jewish question, a phrase that refers to Nazi ideology. Mr Tarrio also threatened participants in the videoconference with expulsion from the Ministry of Self-Defense if they drank too much during the January 6 event, noting that too many Proud Boys were drunk at pro rallies -Previous Trumps.
As for the Capitol itself, it appeared only occasionally.
At one point, when the floor was open to questions, various Proud Boys asked Mr. Tarrio about the group’s goals for Jan. 6, including to what extent they would focus on certification of election results by Vice President Mike Pence that day. Mr Tarrio deflected inquiries, saying details of the Proud Boys mission would be discussed at future meetings.
Nayib Hassan, Mr. Tarrio’s lawyer, declined to comment on the video. Lawyers for Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, two other Proud Boys leaders who were on appeal and face sedition charges, also declined to comment.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
Mr. Rehl’s attorney, Carmen Hernandez, first mentioned videoconferencing in court documents filed this month, saying it “refutes the idea that MOSD” — or the Department of Self-Defense – “was formed to plan a violent attack on the Capitol.”
“Nothing in this video, which was 1 hour and 38 minutes long, supports this claim,” Ms. Hernandez wrote.
Instead, she noted, the videoconference was organized to discuss how to “avoid the chaos and violence” that occurred on the evening of December 12, 2020, when some Proud Boys were stabbed. during a confrontation with left-wing activists who followed a large pro-Trump rally in Washington during the day. Among those stabbed was Jeremy Bertino, a North Carolina Proud Boys executive who helped organize the videoconference.
The night Mr. Bertino was stabbed, the Proud Boys, led by Mr. Tarrio, also attacked a historic black church in Washington, tearing down a Black Lives Matter flag that hung from its facade and burning it in the streets.
Mr. Tarrio was arrested for the banner attack — and for carrying two high-capacity rifle magazines — when he returned to Washington on Jan. 4, 2021, in preparation for the Jan. 6 rally. As part of his release conditions, he was ordered out of town and was not there as his men took part in the attack on the Capitol 48 hours later.
While the Proud Boys and their lawyers claimed the Department of Self-Defense was in a bid to ensure members of the group would “behave properly and avoid violence” on January 6, the government, in its own court documents , pointed out several times when members of the group used violent language in private messages before the Capitol attack.
Three days before Jan. 6, a member of the group posted a message in a ministry group chat saying, “It’s time to pile those bodies up in front of Capitol Hill.
Another member of the group then asked his compatriots in the private chat: “What would they do if 1 million patriots stormed and took the capital building. Shoot into the crowd? I do not think so.”
The recording of the conference call emerged during a tense moment in the Proud Boys investigation.
On Wednesday, Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who is overseeing the case, moved the trial from its original date in August to December, with defense attorneys and prosecutors complaining that the case had been badly affected by a parallel investigation. on the attack on the Capitol led. by the House Select Committee on January 6.
Nathalie Reneau contributed report.