December 30, 2021
On Tuesday, December 27, a federal judge refused to dismiss an indictment based on an argument from the attorneys for four men associated with the right-wing group the Proud Boys that their actions leading up to and on January 6 were protected under the freedom of speech rights in the First Amendment, reports Newsweek.
Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe were indicted in March and charged with conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding, among other charges; and remain in jail leading up to their trial scheduled for May 2022.
Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter president and member of the group’s national “Elders Council.” Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, is a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia. Donohoe, of Kernersville, North Carolina, also served as president of his local chapter, according to the indictment.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said the four men had many other options that actually are protected under the First Amendment to protest the election and express their thoughts about its results in a nonviolent, legal manner.
“Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote in a 43-page ruling. “Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”
At least three dozen of the over 700 people who have been charged in the insurrection at the Capitol building on January 6 have been identified as leaders or associates of the Proud Boys, the far-right organization that was one of many that
organized events on the day that led to rioters breaking windows and forcing their way through doors into the Capitol. Five people were dead when the insurrection finally ended.
Defense lawyers also argued that the obstruction charge doesn’t apply to their clients’ cases because Congress‘ certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official proceeding.”
The case against Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe is a focus of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation of the January 6 insurrection. More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members, or associates—including at least 16 defendants charged with conspiracy.
Last Wednesday, December 23, a New York man pleaded guilty to storming the U.S. Capitol with fellow Proud Boys members. Matthew Greene is the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty to conspiring with other members to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote. He agreed to cooperate with authorities.
Other extremist group members have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 people linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers.
Lawyers for Nordean and Donohoe declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling. Attorneys for Rehl and Biggs didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Research contact: @Newsweek