US Capitol riot: Proud Boys member admits to seditious conspiracy

Several other members of far-right group face seditious conspiracy charges over their alleged roles in January 6 attack.

A member of the Proud Boys at a rally with the US flag emblazoned with a partial hidden political message.
A member of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that has been subjected to scrutiny over its role in the January 6 riot, attends a rally in 2021 [File: Emily Elconin/Reuters]

A member of the far-right Proud Boys has pleaded guilty to a seditious conspiracy charge over his role in the United States Capitol riot last year, admitting he plotted with other members of the group to violently stop the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential elections.

Jeremy Joseph Bertino, the first Proud Boys member to plead guilty to a seditious conspiracy charge, agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation into the role the group’s leaders played in the attack on January 6, 2021, a federal prosecutor said on Thursday.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly agreed to release Bertino pending a sentencing hearing, which was not immediately scheduled.

Bertino also pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawfully possessing firearms in March 2022 in Belmont, North Carolina. The judge accepted his guilty plea to both charges during a brief hearing after the case against Bertino was filed on Thursday.

The involvement of far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, in the storming of the US Capitol by the mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters has been a focus for investigators and lawmakers in the United States.

Former Proud Boys national chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other group members have also been charged with seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Bertino’s cooperation could ratchet up the pressure on other Proud Boys charged in the riot.

A trial for Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola is scheduled to start in December. The charging document for Bertino’s case names those five defendants and a sixth Proud Boys member as his co-conspirators.

Meanwhile, a trial is taking place in Washington, DC, in a seditious conspiracy case against the founder of the Oath Keepers and other members of the anti-government militia group over their participation in the January 6 riot.

More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol riot have been identified by federal authorities as leaders, members or associates of the Proud Boys.

Two — Matthew Greene and Charles Donohoe — pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress on January 6 to certify the Electoral College vote.

Proud Boys members describe the group as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists” and have denied accusations they are tied to the far-right.

But the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks far-right extremism in the US, has designated the Proud Boys as a hate group, saying its members and leaders “regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists”.

Video testimony by Bertino was featured in June at a hearing by the House committee investigating the January 6 riot.

At that time, the panel showed a clip of Bertino saying the group’s membership “tripled, probably” after Trump’s comment at a presidential debate that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by”.

Tarrio wasn’t in Washington, DC on January 6, but authorities say he helped put into motion the violence that day.

Police arrested Tarrio in the US capital two days before the riot and charged him with vandalising a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during a protest in December 2020. Tarrio was released from jail on January 14 after serving his five-month sentence for that case.

The indictment in Tarrio’s case alleges the Proud Boys held meetings and communicated over encrypted messages to plan for the attack in the days leading up to January 6.

On the day of the riot, authorities say the Proud Boys dismantled metal barricades set up to protect the Capitol and mobilised, directed and led members of the crowd into the building.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP