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Proud Boys leader convicted of seditious conspiracy for role in Jan. 6 attack faces sentencing

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(WASHINGTON) — Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio and a top associate are set to be sentenced Wednesday following their convictions last May on charges of seditious conspiracy and several other felonies stemming from their roles in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Prosecutors are seeking 33 years in prison for Tarrio and 27 years for Ethan Nordean, in what would be by far the longest sentences yet handed down for individuals charged in connection with the attack.

“The defendants understood the stakes, and they embraced their role in bringing about a ‘revolution,'” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum to U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly earlier this month. “They unleashed a force on the Capitol that was calculated to exert their political will on elected officials by force and to undo the results of a democratic election. The foot soldiers of the right aimed to keep their leader in power. They failed. They are not heroes; they are criminals.”

The recommendation underscores what prosecutors see as the Proud Boys’ singular role in igniting much of the violence at the Capitol that day, as well as Tarrio’s leadership in the conspiracy by directing his followers’ actions to disrupt Congress’ certification of the 2020 election — despite the fact he was not present in Washington, D.C., during the attack.

The request of 33 years for Tarrio is eight years more than the 25 years prosecutors had previously sought for Oath Keepers’ leader Stewart Rhodes, who was also convicted of seditious conspiracy and sentenced earlier this year to 18 years in prison — the longest sentence thus far handed down for any Jan. 6 defendant.

Similar to their approach to the Oath Keepers previously convicted of seditious conspiracy, the government is asking Judge Kelly to apply a so-called “terrorism enhancement” at sentencing to lengthen the prison terms each defendant will ultimately face — and to effectively label their actions as domestic terrorism.

In their 80-page sentencing memo, prosecutors argued that for years the far-right group “intentionally positioned themselves at the vanguard of political violence in this country” by bringing an “army of violence” to communities such as Portland, Oregon; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Washington, D.C., where they often engaged in violent clashes with leftist protesters.

“They brought that violence to the Capitol on January 6 in an effort to change the course of American history, and the sentences imposed by this Court should reflect the seriousness of their offenses,” prosecutors said.

As they did through much of the more than four-month-long trial, prosecutors point out how the group became emboldened and saw a swelling of its ranks after former President Donald Trump mentioned them during a September 2020 presidential debate, in which he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” after being asked if he would condemn the group’s actions.

Prosecutors say Tarrio previously had gathered members of the group to protests in D.C. in November and December of 2020 and even posted a photo of himself visiting the White House.

He was arrested in D.C. two days before Jan. 6 on charges that he burned a Black Lives Matter flag during one of the prior protests that had erupted into violence, as well as possession of two high-capacity firearms magazines. While he was ordered to stay out of the city as result of those charges, messages displayed by prosecutors during the trial showed him in close contact with associates as they carried out the attack on the building.

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors extensively cite the group’s calls for using force to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win, their communications over encrypted messaging apps to organize and recruit others, and actions during key moments throughout the riot to help fuel the violence on the ground.

“Such conduct in leading and instigating an attack like January 6 demands deterrence,” prosecutors said. “It is critical that this Court impose significant sentences of incarceration on all the defendants in this case to convey to those who would mobilize such political violence in the future that their actions will have consequences.”

Three other Proud Boys — Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola will be sentenced separately on Thursday and Friday. The government is seeking 33 years for Biggs, the Florida Proud Boys leader; 30 years for Rehl, the head of the group’s Philadelphia chapter; and 20 years for Pezzola.

Pezzola was the sole defendant found not guilty of seditious conspiracy following the more than four-month trial, though he was found guilty of other felonies including for his actions such as smashing through a Capitol window with a stolen police riot shield, one of the first physical breaches of the building that day.

Attorneys for the Proud Boys have urged Kelly to impose much more lenient sentences — essentially encompassing the time they have already spent in pre-trial detention — by arguing the case against them was overstated and that much of their communications were First Amendment-protected political speech.

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