Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, has been found guilty of seditious conspiracy after orchestrating a plot for members of the group to attack the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Tarrio’s conviction comes with a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years. He was a top target for the Justice Department in what has become its largest investigation in US history.
The Justice Department’s case against Tarrio was built over three months and involved testimony from dozens of witnesses. The prosecution argued that the Proud Boys viewed themselves as “Trump’s army” and were prepared for “all-out war” to stop Democratic winner Joe Biden from taking the presidency. The group, which has been designated a terrorist organization in Canada and New Zealand, has a reputation for getting into street fights with left-wing activists.
Tarrio led the neo-fascist group when Trump told them to “stand back and stand by” during his first debate with Biden. While he wasn’t in Washington on January 6, having been arrested two days earlier in a separate case and ordered out of the capital city, prosecutors argued that he directed the attack by Proud Boys who stormed the Capitol that day in scenes that shocked the world.
At the core of the government’s case were hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys members in the days leading up to the Capitol attack, which showed the group peddling Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Tarrio cheered on the Proud Boys from afar, taking to social media to say, “So what must be done.” In an encrypted Proud Boys group chat later that day, someone asked what they should do next. Tarrio responded, “Do it again.”
Defense lawyers argued there was no plot to attack the Capitol or stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win. Instead, they tried to push the blame onto Trump, arguing that the former president had incited the pro-Trump mob attack when he urged crowds congregating near the White House to “fight like hell.” “It was Donald Trump’s words,” said attorney Nayib Hassan in his closing argument. “It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6 in your beautiful and amazing city.”
Tarrio’s conviction marks a huge milestone for the Justice Department, which has now secured convictions for seditious conspiracy against leaders of two major extremist groups that prosecutors say were intent on keeping Biden out of the White House. Seditious conspiracy is a crime of conspiring against the authority or legitimacy of the state and has been described as a lesser counterpart to treason. The Justice Department hadn’t tried a seditious conspiracy case in a decade before a jury convicted Steward Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, of the charge last year.
Over the course of two Oath Keepers trials, Rhodes and five other members were convicted of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a separate plot to forcibly halt the transfer of presidential power from Trump to Biden. Three defendants were acquitted of the sedition charge but convicted of obstructing Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory. The Oath Keepers are set to be sentenced next month, but the Justice Department has not disclosed how much prison time it will seek.
Tarrio’s conviction sends a clear message that violent attempts to subvert democracy will not be tolerated. It is a significant step forward for justice and accountability in the wake of the January 6 riots and serves as a reminder that no one, regardless of their position or beliefs, is above the law.