Posts tagged with "Proud Boys"

Missing in action: The baffling disappearance of the go-to lawyer for Capitol riot defendants

September 1, 2021

The mysterious disappearance of the lawyer, John Pierce, began on last Tuesday, August 24, prosecutors say, when he missed a hearing for one of the many cases in which he is representing a defendant in the Capitol riot investigation. The young associate who took his place said that Pierce had a “conflict.” At the time, no one seemed to give it much mind, according to a report by The New York Times.

But in the days that followed, Pierce—who is defending more cases connected to the riot than any other lawyer nationwide—missed additional hearings, and the details of his decampment started changing.

On Wednesday, his associate told a judge in one case that Pierce had gotten COVID-19 and was in the hospital on a ventilator—but only after telling a prosecutor in another case that Pierce had been in a car accident. That same evening, a different associate told a reporter that Pierce had, in fact, been hospitalized, but was getting care for “dehydration and exhaustion.”

Finally, on Monday, August 30—after Pierce had still failed to reappear—the government got involved. Federal prosecutors issued letters to several judges in 17 Capitol riot cases, informing them that no one in the Justice Department had heard from Pierce in a week and that “multiple” phone numbers for his law firm appeared to have been disconnected.

His criminal cases had come to a “standstill,” the prosecutors said, endangering the rights of his clients. If Pierce did not surface soon, they added, somethin —although it was not clear what—would have to be done.

The New York Times tried to reach Mr. Pierce several times by text and phone in recent days, but he did not respond.

Pierce’s unexplained absence was the only latest twist in his outsized role in defending those accused of participating in the Capitol attack. His clients — among them members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia — have stood out not only for their number, but also for the scorched-earth battle that he has vowed to wage on their behalf.

A self-described pro-Trump populist, Pierce has promised, for example, to force the government to give him video footage of the Capitol for several days before and after January 6, and has said he will demand information about every police officer working at the building that day. He also has vowed to subpoena hostile witnesses such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi—ostensibly to learn what she may have known about security at the Capitol before the attack.

Without citing evidence, Pierce has said he intends to implicate the F.B.I. and the intelligence community by showing that the riot was something like a grand act of entrapment or an inside job. He has often talked about his cases with a conspiratorial zeal, painting himself as something like a lonely legal warrior out to save his clients from an overreaching government.

“I’m like Gerard Butler in ‘300,’” Pierce said in an interview before dropping out of sight, comparing himself to the action star who played a Spartan king. “I’m in the hot gates at Thermopylae, holding the pass against the million-man Persian army.”

While the government has not yet weighed in on the merits on his claims, prosecutors did express concern in their letters filed on Monday about the young associate, Ryan Joseph Marshall, who has been standing in for Pierce at the hearings he has missed.

For one thing, Marshall is not a licensed lawyer, prosecutors said, and has taken actions on behalf of clients “that he is not permitted” to take. Moreover, they went on, it remains unclear if and when Marshall will be able to get his law license—given that he is under indictment in two criminal cases accusing him of corruption, theft and fraud in Pennsylvania.

Pierce’s situation is not his first encounter with personal and professional setbacks. Last year, his law firm nearly collapsed in a swirl of debts and resignations. Then his most prominent client, Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man charged with murder at a racial justice protest in Wisconsin last year, fired him in a highly public spat that included allegations that a charity arranged for the defense had engaged in financial improprieties.

His work in the Capitol cases began just after the attack when he took several members of the far-right nationalist group, the Proud Boys, as clients. He also has been hired by L. Brent Bozell IV, the son of a prominent conservative commentator, as well as by a Florida pastor and a Minnesota pub worker.

In recent weeks, however, at least two clients have fired Pierce, complaining that he seemed unresponsive and appeared at times to be unversed in the details of their cases. Last week, the wife of yet another client, Kenneth Harrelson, a member of the Oath Keepers from Florida, sent a letter to her friends and associates, complaining that her husband was having “issues” getting Mr. Pierce “to do his job.”

Such complaints have come atop concerns that the sheer number of Pierce’s clients has exposed him to accusations of conflict of interest. He is, for example, representing both James Cusick Jr., the Florida pastor; as well as Cusick’s son Case. Both are charged with breaching the Capitol with another of his clients, David J. Lesperance, a member of the Cusicks’ church.

In a separate case, Mr. Pierce has been hired by another father-and-son pair, Kevin and Nathaniel Tuck, two former Florida police officers who have been charged in an indictment with a Florida Proud Boy he also represents.

However, all of that only can only come to pass if he returns to court—and the government seems worried that might never happen.

“Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce may be hospitalized and unable to communicate,” prosecutors wrote on Monday, “and it is unclear when Mr. Pierce will recover.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Study: Fears of ‘White people losing out’ permeate Capitol rioters’ towns

January 7, 2021

Most Americans take the Capitol rioters at their word—accepting that their motive for breaching the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was to stop the Congress from verifying the election of Democratic President Joe Biden.

However, The New York Times reports, when the political scientist Robert Pape of The University of Chicago began studying the issues that motivated the 380 or so people arrested in connection with the attack against the Capitol, he found something very different: Most of the people who took part in the assault came from places, his polling and demographic data showed, that—goaded by then-President Trump– were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.

Indeed, if Pape’s initial conclusions— published on Tuesday in The Washington Post—hold true, they would appear to connect the January 6 insurrrection  to the once-fringe right-wing theory called the Great Replacement— that an indigenous European (e.g., White) population is being replaced by non-European immigrants.

What’s more Pape’s conclusions appear to link the January 6 riot to events like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 where crowds of white men marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

“If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups,” Pape told the Post, adding,  “You see a common pattern in the Capitol insurrectionists. They are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

One fact stood out in Pape’s study, conducted with the help of researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats—a think tank he runs at the University of Chicago. Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic white population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists. This finding held true, Pape determined, even when controlling for population size, distance to Washington, unemployment rate, and urban or rural location.

Law enforcement officials have said that between 800 and 1,000 people entered the Capitol on January 6—and prosecutors have spent the past three months tracking down many of them in what they have described as one of the largest criminal investigations in U.S. history. In recent court filings, the government has hinted that more than 400 people may ultimately face charges, including illegal entry, assault of police officers and the obstruction of the official business of Congress.

According to the report by the Times. Pape determined that only about 10% percent of those charged were members of established far-right organizations like the Oath Keepers militia or the nationalist extremist group the Proud Boys. But unlike other analysts who have made similar findings,

In an effort to determine why the mob that formed on January 6 turned violent, Pape compared events that day with two previous pro-Trump rallies in Washington, on November 14 and December 12. While police records show some indications of street fighting after the first two gatherings, Pape said, the number of arrests were fewer and the charges less serious than on January 6. The records also show that those arrested in November and December largely lived within an hour of Washington while most of those arrested in January came from considerably farther away.

The difference at the rallies was former President Donald Trump, Pape said—noting that Trump promoted the January 6 rally in advance, saying it would be “wild” and driving up attendance. He then encouraged the mob to march on the Capitol in an effort to “show strength

Pape said he worried that a similar mob could be summoned again by a leader like Trump. After all, he suggested, as the country continues moving toward becoming a majority-minority nation and right-wing media outlets continue to stoke fear about the Great Replacement, the racial and cultural anxieties that lay beneath the riot at the Capitol are not going away.

“If all of this is really rooted in the politics of social change, then we have to realize that it’s not going to be solved—or solved alone—by law enforcement agencies,” Pape said. “This is political violence, not just ordinary criminal violence, and it is going to require both additional information and a strategic approach.”

 “We really still are at the beginning stages,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes

Federal grand jury charges Proud Boys with conspiring to impede Congress on January 6

March 22, 2021

A federal grand jury has charged four members of the far-right Proud Boys group with conspiring to block the U.S. Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory, according to a new superseding indictment unsealed on Friday, March 19.

According to a report by Reuters, the indictment alleges that Ethan Nordean of Washington, Joseph Biggs of Florida, Zachary Rehl of Pennsylvania, and Charles Donohoe of North Carolina conspired to encourage members of the group to attend the Stop the Steal protest in Washington, D.C., on January 6. All four defendants are the leaders of Proud Boys chapters in their respective states, the indictment says.

It also says that the Proud Boy members:

  • Worked to obtain paramilitary equipment used for the attack on the U.S. Capitol;
  • Dismantled metal barriers set up to protect the building; and
  • Communicated using handheld radios and encrypted messaging applications.

Leading up to the insurrection, the indictment alleges that the Proud Boys made their intentions clear as far back as November—with Biggs declaring in a social media post on November 5 that war was the only option if the election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump, who lost the vote.

Later that month, on November 27, Nordean declared: “We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created.”

Research contact: @Reuters

Oath Keepers awaited ‘direction’ from Trump before engaging in Capital insurrection, prosecutors say

Febraury 15, 2021

Chilling new details emerged on February 11—the third day of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump—about a plot by the Oath Keepers far-right militia group for an organized, weaponized, and adroit attack on the U.S. Capitol, The New York Times reports.

On Thursday, prosecutors outlined a brazen plan by group members to ferry “heavy weapons” in a boat across the Potomac River into Washington and to begin training sessions “for urban warfare, riot control and rescue operations” well before Election Day.

The new accounts about the Oath Keepers’ role in the Capitol assault included allegations that a member of the militia group was “awaiting direction” from Trump about how to handle the results of the vote in the days that followed the election. “POTUS has the right to activate units too,” the Oath Keepers member, Jessica M. Watkins, wrote in a text message to an associate on November 9, according to court papers. “If Trump asks me to come, I will.”

The Justice Department has brought charges against more than 200 people in the attack on the Capitol last month, but the case against Watkins and her two co-defendants, Thomas E. Caldwell and Donovan Crowl, is among the most serious to have emerged from the vast investigation.

Prosecutors say that the three Oath Keepers, who are facing conspiracy charges, appear to have worked with other far-right extremist groups and “began plotting to undo” the results of the election only days after it occurred.

Shortly after the three militia members were arrested last month, prosecutors said that they were some of the first rioters to have planned their part in the attack on the Capitol instead of merely storming the building spontaneously. Federal agents said that Caldwell, a 66-year-old former Navy officer, had advised his fellow militia members to stay at a particular Comfort Inn in the Washington suburbs, noting that it offered a good base to “hunt at night” — an apparent reference to chasing left-wing activists. Watkins, a 38-year-old bar owner from Ohio, apparently rented

In a pair of court papers filed on Thursday, prosecutors offered further evidence that the three Oath Keepers planned the attack, citing text messages reaching back to November. In one message from November 16, prosecutors say, Crowl told Caldwell, “War is on the horizon.” One week later, court papers say, Caldwell wrote Watkins saying he was “worried about the future of our country,” adding, “I believe we will have to get violent to stop this.”

Similar themes were also being struck around the same time by the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, who told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on November 10 that he had men stationed outside Washington prepared to act at Trump’s command. At a rally in the city on December 12, Rhodes called on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, suggesting that a failure to do so would result in a “much more bloody war.”

Both court papers filed on Thursday referred to Rhodes’s role in stoking the rampage, suggesting that he too may be a focus of the federal investigation.

The Oath Keepers, who largely draw their membership from former law enforcement and military personnel, appear to have coordinated before the Capitol attack with other extremist groups, prosecutors say. According to the court papers, Caldwell sent a text to an associate just before Christmas, saying he was “expecting a big turnout of the Proud Boys,” the far-right nationalist organization, in Washington on January 6. More than a dozen members of the Proud Boys have been charged in connection with the riot at the Capitol, including a group from Kansas City charged on Thursday with breaching the building.

According to the Times report, five separate major cases have been filed against members of the Proud Boys in the past few weeks, but investigators are working toward putting together an overarching case that shows how several members of the group worked together in the days and weeks before the riot to plan to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

Days before the riot, prosecutors say, Caldwell also reached out to a contact associated with another group, the Three Percenters, an extremist gun rights militia that takes its name from the supposed 3% of the U.S. colonial population that fought the British Army. In a text message, Caldwell suggested finding a boat that “could handle a Potomac crossing” and could carry a “Quick Response Team” with “heavy weapons” to militia members already at the Capitol.

Research contact: @nytimes

Reuters: Proud Boys leader was ‘prolific’ informer for law enforcement

January 28, 2021

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement—repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters.

Founded in 2016, the Proud Boys is known as a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only political organization that promotes and engages in violence in the United States and Canada. Miami-based Tarrio, 36, is a high-profile figure who has organized the right-wing Proud Boys since 2018 in their confrontations with those they believe to be Antifa, short for “anti-fascism,” an amorphous and often violent leftist movement.

The records uncovered by Reuters are startling because they show that a leader of a far-right group now under intense scrutiny by law enforcement was previously an active collaborator with criminal investigators.

In the 2014 Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, an FBI agent, and Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.

Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”

Law-enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Tarrio’s denial. In a statement to Reuters, the former federal prosecutor in Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”

That didn’t stop police from arresting Tarrio when he arrived in Washington, D.C., in early January, two days before the Capitol Hill riot—in which, Reuters says, the Proud Boys were involved on January 6. He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines, and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by supporters of former President Donald Trump. The D.C. Superior Court ordered him to leave the city pending a court date in June.

Indeed, although Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol insurrection, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged in the riot. The FBI previously said Tarrio’s earlier arrest was an effort to preempt the events of January 6.

What’s  more, the news outlet says, in  November and December, Tarrio led the Proud Boys through the streets of D.C. after Trump’s loss. Video shows him on December 11 with a bullhorn in front of a large crowd. “To the parasites both in Congress, and in that stolen White House,” he said. “You want a war, you got one!” The crowd roared. The next day Tarrio burned the BLM banner.

Former prosecutor Johannes said she was surprised that the defendant she prosecuted for fraud is now a key player in the violent movement that sought to halt the certification of President Joe Biden.

“I knew that he was a fraudster— but had no reason to know that he was also a domestic terrorist,” she said.

Research contact: @Reuters

Proud Boys deny sending threatening emails to Democratic voters in multiple states

October 22, 2020

Law enforcement officials have been notified that voters in multiple states have received personalized emails purporting to be from the Proud Boys—a far-right, neo-fascist white supremacist group. The messaging is filled with intimidating threats aimed at Democrats, if they do not change their vote to Republican, The Hill reports.

CNN and The Washington Post first reported that voters in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Alaska, and Florida all said they received threatening emails warning them to vote for President Donald Trump in the upcoming election, adding that the mysterious sender claimed to have access to voter history and “will come after you” should they fail to vote for the president.

“You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you,” reads one email obtained by the Post,. Dozens were reportedly sent, including more than 180 to students, faculty and staff of the University of Florida, a school spokesperson told CNN.

Chris Krebs, the director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency tweeted that the agency was “aware of threatening emails with misleading info about the secrecy of your vote.”

“This is what we mean by not falling for sensational and unverified claims. The last line of defense in election security is you—the American voter. So be prepared, be a smart consumer and sharer of information. Vote with confidence,” added Chris Krebs.

Elections officials in Alaska and Florida confirmed to CNN that they were aware of the emails, with Alaska’s Division of Elections telling the network that federal authorities had been alerted. Representatives with elections boards in Pennsylvania and Arizona did not immediately return The Hill’s requests for comment. A spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Anchorage also did not immediately return a request for comment from the Post.

The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, told USA Today and CNN in a statement that his group was not responsible for the emails, which appeared to have been sent from an email address affiliated with the group but may have been the result of spoofing software, one expert told CNN.

“No, it wasn’t us. The people [who sent the emails] used a spoofing email that pretended to be us,” Tarrio said. “Whoever did this should be in prison for a long time.”

“We have spoken to the FBI and are working with them. I hope whoever did this is arrested for voter intimidation and for maliciously impersonating our group,” he added.

Trump recently faced criticism after he demurred follow his prompting by Fox News’s Chris Wallace to disavow the group during the first presidential debate between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“Stand back and stand by,” Trump said during the contentious debate.

Research contact: @thehil

Editor’s note: According to multiple sources, U.S. officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with faked but menacing emails and warned that both Iran and Russia had obtained voter data that could be used to endanger the upcoming election.

 

Trump allies squirm as they spin Proud Boys remarks he made at presidential debate

October 1, 2020

White House and GOP campaign aides struggled on Wednesday morning, September 30, as they attempted to clean up Donald Trump’s comments made a night earlier at the first presidential debate. Going head-to-head with Democrat Joe Biden, the POTUS declined to explicitly condemn (even at Biden’s urging) white supremacy; instead directing the far-right hate group Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” The Hill reports.

Multiple Trump surrogates faced questions about the remarks during cable news hits, where they downplayed his calls for the group to “stand by” and pointed to the president’s past denunciations of white supremacists.

“I don’t think that there’s anything to clarify,” White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah said on Fox News.

“He’s told them to stand back. This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading. He doesn’t need any sort of vigilantism,” she continued. “That’s never what we’ve called for. What we’ve called for is Democrat mayors and Democrat governors to call up the resources we’re prepared to make available.”

Pressed on if Trump missed an opportunity to condemn white supremacy, Farah noted that the president said “sure” when asked at the outset whether he would tell white supremacists to “stand down.”

“What the president’s referring to there is when we see unrest in our streets and private citizens try to defend themselves or their businesses, that’s a right that they have,” she added.

Hogan Gidley, the national press secretary for the Trump campaign, was more forceful, The Hill noted—both in his own condemnation of the Proud Boys and his interpretation of the president’s words.

“He wants them to get out of the way. He wants them to not do the things they say they want to do,” Gidley commented.”This is a reprehensible group.”

Multiple Trump allies have argued that Trump has on multiple occasions condemned white supremacist groups. The president has in fact done so, including in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, last year, but he has typically only denounced them after being repeatedly coaxed to do so.

On the debate stage on Tuesday night, however, Trump stopped short, The Hill said..

Moderator Chris Wallace asked if Trump was willing to condemn “white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down.”

Trump responded that he would be willing to, but when Wallace and Democratic nominee Joe Biden urged him to actually do it, the president asked for a name of a group to condemn.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said after Biden named the far-right group. “But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

The group celebrated Trump’s comments. One social media account affiliated with the self-described “white chauvinist” organization added Trump’s comments to the Proud Boys logo.

The group’s Telegram account took Trump’s remarks as an order. “Standing down and standing by sir,” the account wrote.

A prominent Proud Boy posted on conservative Twitter-alternative Parler that “Trump basically said to go f— them up! this makes me so happy.”

“President Trump told the proud boys to stand by because someone needs to deal with ANTIFA… well sir! we’re ready!!” the organizer added.

Founded by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes in the midst of the 2016 election, the Proud Boys are known for their white nationalist pandering, blatant anti-Muslim rhetoric and close ties with more publicly violent extremists.

The male-only group, named after a song from the Aladdin musical, gained national prominence for its involvement in the 2016 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It has staged multiple counter-rallies aimed at disrupting the anti-police brutality protests that have swept the country since the police killing of George Floyd in May.

According to The Hill, “Trump’s invocation of “antifa” to dodge condemning white supremacists fits into a pattern of the president trying to equivocate right- and left-wing violence. Antifa, short for anti-facist, refers to a loose collection of primarily far-left activists. FBI Director Christopher Wray in a hearing earlier this month pointed out that the term refers to an ideology, not an organization.”

Indeed, the president’s reluctance to unequivocally condemn white supremacists on the debate stage exasperated some of his allies on Wednesday.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (R) called it a “huge gaffe,” while Fox News host Brian Kilmeade lamented that Trump whiffed on “the biggest layup in the history of debates” by failing to condemn white supremacy.

GOP Senator Tim Scott (South Carolina) the lone Black Republican in the Senate, said the president should “correct” his comments.

“I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn’t correct it, I guess he didn’t misspeak,” Scott said.

Research contact: @thehill