(As originally published with bells and whistles, Tue, April 25th 2023, 6:06 PM EDT)
WASHINGTON (TND) — Members of the Proud Boys are on trial for seditious conspiracy, but their lawyer is laying the blame on somebody else: former President Donald Trump.
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,” Nayib Hassan told jurors in closing arguments. “It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and those in power.
Tarrio was leader of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group that played a key role in the events of Jan. 6.
He and four lieutenants are on trial for what prosecutors say was a plot to stop the transfer of presidential power from Trump to President Joe Biden after the 2020 election.
The case went to the jury at the end of closing arguments, Tuesday. The jury will begin to deliberate on Wednesday.
The defense said Tarrio wasn’t in Washington when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. He’d been banned after his arrest two days earlier, when he was accused of burning a church’s Black Lives Matter banner.
But Trump, Hassan argued, was the one to blame for extorting a crowd outside the White House to “fight like hell.”
The riot that followed temporarily stopped the certification of Biden’s election win over Trump.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, said the Proud Boys were ready for “all-out war” and viewed themselves as Trump’s foot soldiers while he was spreading lies.
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 Monday.
There is also disagreement between the two sides on the definition of conspiracy.
The defense argued there’s no evidence of one. Tarrio “had no plan, no objective and no understanding of an objective,” his attorney said.
Co-defendant Dominic Pezzola testified he never spoke to any of his other co-defendants until after their arrests.
It’s not possible. It’s fairy dust. It doesn’t exist,” his lawyer Steven Metcalf said about a conspiracy.
But Mulroe, the prosecutor, told jurors a conspiracy can be an unspoken and implicit “mutual understanding, reached with a wink and a nod.”
The government claims Proud Boys leaders and members privately exchanged a trove of messages in encrypted chats — and publicly posted on social media — before, during, and after the deadly Jan. 6 attack.
Prosecutor Nadia Moore said it goes further than that.
These men aren’t here because of what they said. They’re here because of what they did,” Moore said Tuesday.
Seditious conspiracy carries a possible prison term of up to 20 years. The charge is rarely used and can be difficult to prove.
In the three months since the trial began, Tarrio’s lawyers said Trump and his powerful allies should’ve been charged instead, and they accused prosecutors of thinking charging them would be too difficult.
Trump denied inciting any violence and argued the First Amendment let him challenge his loss to Biden.
While not charged with a crime, Trump is facing several civil suits over the riot. Also, a special counsel named by Attorney General Merrick Garland is overseeing investigations into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the election results.
The founder and members of another far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers, have already been convicted of seditious conspiracy.
This trial is the first 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.
The trial has been taking place in Washington federal court. The other defendants are Proud Boys chapter president Ethan Nordean, self-described Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs, Proud Boys Philadelphia chapter president Zachary Rehl, and Proud Boys member Pezzola.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.