Investigation details Proud Boys’ role in Jan 6 US Capitol riot

The far-right group sought to blend in apparent coordinated bid to stir up crowds storming the US Capitol, report says.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the the US Capitol in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021 [File: Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press]

A video investigation by the New York Times details how the far-right Proud Boys group helped to foment anger among rioters who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the election victory of President Joe Biden.

An analysis by the newspaper, which builds off the work of online researchers, showed how “members of the group maneuvered in a coordinated fashion” on January 6 “in a way that was not previously known and in a manner that was unlike that of the hundreds of other rioters who stormed” the US Capitol, where the US Congress was meeting to certify the 2020 presidential election results.

Specifically, the investigation published on Friday points to a pattern in how the Proud Boys operated on that day, appearing to identify access points to the building and rile up protesters at those locations, “sometimes directly joining in the violence”. If the group met resistance, they appeared to regroup and target new entry points.

Notably, members of the group were instructed by its leaders not to wear their identifying black and yellow uniforms in a “way that disguised their actions and … played down their importance in moving the action forward”, according to the newspaper, which spent months identifying Proud Boys members within the crowd.

Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died in connection with the riot. Two Capitol police officers also died by suicide in the days directly after the attack, which followed a weeks-long misinformation campaign by former President Donald Trump who baselessly claimed the election had been “stolen”.

Trump had previously declined to condemn the Proud Boys during a presidential debate, instead telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” The group widely viewed the comment as an endorsement.

Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, with handheld megaphone, walk toward the US Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump on January 6
Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl and Ethan Nordean walk towards the US Capitol [File: Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press]

The investigation published on Friday came

after former Proud Boys leader, Enrique Tarrio, and four others linked to the group were charged with seditious conspiracy for their role in the riot in early June. Several members of the far-right Oath Keepers group had been handed the same charge in January, which represented a major escalation in the case and refuted the characterisation that the riot was a spontaneous event.

Tarrio was not at the Capitol on January 6th after a judge in a separate matter had ordered him to leave Washington, DC.

Prosecutors alleged the Proud Boys had plotted to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s victory, saying evidence showed that Tarrio had been involved in discussions about storming the US Capitol and occupying government buildings in advance of January 6, 2021.

In text messages, leaders of the group also discussed creating a chain of command for the event, according to prosecutors, and were told to rile up people gathered.

proud boys
Members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups have been charged with seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

Lawyers for the Proud Boys have maintained the group did not have any prearranged plans to storm the Capitol. The case is set to go to trial in August.

To date, more than 40 people linked to the Proud Boys are among the more than 800 people charged in connection with the riot.

The Times investigation identified Tarrio, Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe among the leaders coordinating the attack on the Capitol.

On Wednesday, a congressional panel probing the incident held its third public hearing, with the panel detailing how rioters came within less than 12 metres (40 feet) of Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to acquiesce to Trump’s demand not to certify Biden’s victory.

“Make no mistake about the fact that the vice president’s life was in danger,” Congressman Pete Aguilar said. “A recent court filing by the Department of Justice explains that a confidential informant from the Proud Boys told the FBI the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence if given a chance.”

Source: Al Jazeera