A week before dozens of proud boys helped a pro-Trump mob in a violent attack on the Capitol last year, Enrique Tarrio, the group’s chairman, and some of his top lieutenants held a crass video conference with a hand-picked crew of members.
The meeting, on December 30, 2020, marked the creation of a special new chapter of the Proud Boys, the Ministry of Self-Defense. The team of several dozen trusted members was intended, Tarrio told his men, to bring a level of order and professionalism to the group’s upcoming march in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, which he says was lacking from previous Proud. Boys’ gatherings in town.
For nearly two hours, Tarrio and his leadership team — many of whom have since been charged with incendiary conspiracy — gave the new recruits a set of guidelines: Take a defensive stance on Jan. 6, they were told. Keep the ‘normies’ – or the normal protesters – away from the marching ranks of the Proud Boys. And obey the police lines.
Sign up for the New York Times The Morning Newsletter
“We’ll never be the ones to cross the police barrier or cross anything to get to anyone,” Tarrio said.
There was one big problem with the orders: none of them were actually followed when the Proud Boys stormed the Capitol on January 6.
Far from coy, members of the far-right group played aggressive roles in several Capitol breaches, coordinating and often spearheading the removal of police barricades, according to a visual search by The New York Times of hundreds of hours of video footage of the attack.
And despite what Tarrio said about staying away from regular protesters, members of the group repeatedly incited those around them in a tactic some Proud Boys later described in private messages as “raising the standard”.
Although the video conference has been mentioned in court documents, it has not been widely seen. A recording of it was seized by the FBI from Tarrio’s phone this year, and a copy was recently obtained by the Times.
Attorneys for the Proud Boys say the taped meeting is important exculpatory evidence, contradicting government claims that a conspiracy to attack the Capitol was hatched just weeks before Jan. 6.
In court files, prosecutors have claimed that the Proud Boys began planning their attack as early as December 19, 2020 — the day President Donald Trump posted a tweet announcing his January 6 meeting, saying it would be “wild”. But the video conference shows that just a week before the event, when Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders gathered their team for a meeting, they spent most of their time discussing issues like alcohol and women avoidance and taking action. for their own safety.
The taped meeting makes no mention of any planning that might have taken place in the week immediately before the Capitol attack. And while Tarrio suggested at the meeting that the complex structure he created for the Department of Self-Defense was intended to be self-protective—not offensive—in nature, prosecutors have argued that the group’s “command and control” design was helpful. was instrumental in facilitating the attack on the Capitol.
At the meeting, Tarrio explained how the group — whose members had been chosen for their “throttle” as another Proud Boys leader put it — had a three-man leadership team sitting above a larger group of about eight regional leaders. † There was also a “marketing” department, Tarrio explained, that would create and promote the Proud Boys’ “story” in the media. The group’s base, he said, would be working in 10-man teams of medics and communications experts on Jan. 6.
During the meeting, Tarrio and others blatantly used misogynistic, homophobic and anti-Semitic language, discrediting the female supporters of the Proud Boys and referring to the “JQ” – or the Jewish question, a phrase that harks back to Nazi ideology. Tarrio also threatened videoconference participants with removal from the Department of Self-Defense if they drank too much at the Jan. 6 event, noting that too many Proud Boys had been sloppy drunk at previous pro-Trump rallies.
As for the Capitol itself, it came up only occasionally.
At one point, when the floor was opened for questions, several Proud Boys asked Tarrio about the group’s goals for January 6, including how much they would focus on certifying Vice President Mike Pence’s election results that day. Tarrio dismissed the inquiry, saying details of the Proud Boys’ mission would be discussed in future meetings.
Tarrio’s lawyer Nayib Hassan declined to comment on the video. Attorneys for Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, two other Proud Boys leaders who were on the phone and charged with sedition, also declined to comment.
Rehl’s attorney Carmen Hernandez first cited the videoconference in court documents filed this month and said it “refutes the notion that the MOSD” — or the Department of Self-Defense — was “established to carry out a violent attack.” on the Capitol.”
“Nothing in that video, which lasted 1 hour and 38 minutes, supports that claim,” Hernandez wrote.
Instead, she noted that the video conference was held to discuss how to “avoid the chaos and violence” that took place on the evening of December 12, 2020, when some Proud Boys were stabbed in a confrontation with left-wing activists who are a major pro. Trump rally in Washington during the day. Among those stabbed was Jeremy Bertino, a North Carolina Proud Boys leader who helped direct the video conference.
The night Bertino was stabbed, the Proud Boys, led by Tarrio, also erected a historic black church in Washington, tore down a Black Lives Matter flag that hung on its facade, and burned it in the streets.
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 terms, he was ordered to leave the city and was not there when his men took part in the attack on the Capitol 48 hours later.
While the Proud Boys and their lawyers argued that the Ministry of Self-Defense was intended to ensure that members of the group would “behave with dignity and avoid violence” on January 6, the government has pointed out multiple times in its own court files. when members of the group used violent language in private messages prior to the attack on the Capitol.
Three days before Jan. 6, a member of the group posted a message in a ministry group chat that read, “Time to pile up those bodies for Capitol Hill.”
Another member of the group then asked his compatriots in private chat, “What would they do if 1 million patriots stormed and took the main building. Shooting into the crowd? I don’t think so.”
The recording of the conference call came about during a moment of tension in the Proud Boys investigation.
On Wednesday, Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who oversees the case, moved the trial from its original August date to December, as attorneys and prosecutors alike complained that the case had been hit hard by a parallel investigation into the Capitol attack. which was led. by the House selection committee on January 6.
© 2022 The New York Times Company