Proud Boys members charged with conspiracy in US Capitol riot

Charges come as US authorities continue to investigate whether January 6 breach was preplanned and coordinated.

Members of the the far-right group Proud Boys march to the US Capitol on January 6 [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

The US Justice Department has charged two men identified as members of the far-right Proud Boys group with conspiracy over the January 6 storming of the United States Capitol, as authorities continue to probe the riot.

In a statement late on Friday, the department accused Dominic Pezzola, 43, and William Pepe, 31, both of New York state, of engaging in a conspiracy “to obstruct, influence, impede, and interfere with law enforcement officers” who were protecting the US Capitol and its grounds.

The men were arrested on January 12 and 15, respectively, in relation to the riot, which took place as Congress met on January 6 to certify the election victory of President Joe Biden.

The men also face other charges, including civil disorder, unlawfully entering restricted buildings or grounds, and disorderly and disruptive conduct in restricted buildings or grounds.

The Proud Boys group has come under increasing scrutiny as investigators seek to determine if the January 6 Capitol riot was preplanned [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

The Justice Department said Pezzola and Pepe are members of the self-proclaimed “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys movement, a far-right group that featured prominently in the riot and has attracted increased attention during the probe of the incident.

Pezzola’s lawyer Michael Scibetta told the Associated Press on Saturday he was researching the charges but had not been able yet to discuss the indictment with his client, who is being held without bail.

A lawyer for Pepe, Shelli Peterson, declined to comment, the news agency said.

Investigators have been trying to determine to what degree the riot, which left five people dead, had been preplanned.

Several protesters have blamed their actions of the words of former US President Donald Trump, who held a rally moments before the incident and had conducted a weeks-long campaign to overturn the election results, while others said they got caught up in the moment and had not intended to break the law.

To date, more than 135 people have been charged in the incident.

On January 19, three members of the far-right, anti-government Oath Keepers militia were charged with conspiracy in relation to the riot. Prosecutors said the trio were involved in “planning and coordinating” the breach via social media.

Meanwhile, the FBI on Friday said pipe bombs found at the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican national committees were placed there the evening before the US Capitol breach.

The bombs were found at nearly the same time as rioters stormed the US Capitol, and investigators are considering if they were part of a plot to siphon security personnel away from the scene.

The FBI increased a reward to up to $100,000 for information about the pipe bombs.

Source: Al Jazeera