US prosecutors and defence attorneys for the far-right Proud Boys group have delivered their closing arguments in a trial seeking to determine whether the group’s leaders committed seditious conspiracy in their alleged plot to attack the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
On Tuesday, the defence team charged that the Proud Boys leaders were being used as scapegoats for former President Donald Trump, who egged on supporters in the wake of his 2020 election loss, including telling those gathered at the Capitol to “fight like hell” during a speech ahead of the riot.
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Then-Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, in contrast, was not in Washington, DC on the date, having been banned from the capital after being arrested on allegations that he defaced a Black Lives Matter banner, defence lawyer Nayib Hassan said.
“It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6th in your beautiful and amazing city,” Hassan told jurors in Washington, DC federal court. “It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power.”
The statements came a day after US prosecutors made their own final arguments in the case, saying the Proud Boys were “thirsting for violence and organising for action” ahead of the storming of the US Capitol.
“These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump’s army, fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it,” prosecutor Conor Mulroe said.
The case represents the first major trial involving leaders of the far-right Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group of self-described “Western chauvinists” that remains a force in mainstream Republican circles.
Tarrio, a Miami resident, is on trial with Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola, who prosecutors have identified as top lieutenants of the group.
If found guilty of seditious conspiracy, a rarely used charge that can be difficult to prove, the men could face up to 20 years in prison. Jurors could begin deliberating as soon as Tuesday.
Defence attorneys have argued that prosecutors have presented no evidence of a conspiracy or a plan for the Proud Boys to attack the Capitol. They have sought to portray the far-right group as a club that only engaged in violence for self-defence against antifascist activists.
Nicholas Smith, attorney for former Proud Boys chapter leader Nordean, said on Monday that prosecutors had built their case on “misdirection and innuendo”.
Meanwhile, the government has based its case on a trove of messages that Proud Boys leaders and members privately exchanged in encrypted chats – and publicly posted on social media – before, during and after the Capitol riot.
Prosecutor Mulroe has argued that a conspiracy can be an unspoken and implicit “mutual understanding, reached with a wink and a nod”.
The trial comes after the US Department of Justice already secured seditious conspiracy convictions against the founder and members of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers.
More than 1,000 people have been charged so far in relation to the storming of the US Capitol.