The first public hearing of the U.S. House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hill attack highlighted two far-right extremist groups whose members are accused of conspiring for weeks to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
Top leaders and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were charged with seditious conspiracy in what officials described as an organized effort to subvert election results and keep former President Donald Trump in office.
Here’s a look at the two groups and the charges against them:
WHO ARE THEY?
The Proud Boys describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists”. Prior to the January 6 insurrection, members of the Proud Boys were primarily known for fighting with anti-fascist activists at rallies and protests.
Less than two months before the 2020 election, members of the group cheered when Trump refused to condemn the group during his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden. Instead, Trump said the Proud Boys should “stand back and wait.”
The Oath Keepers were founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper and a graduate of Yale Law School. The anti-government group recruits current and former military, police and first responders. Its members pledge to “fulfill the oath that all military and police officers take to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic’” and to defend the Constitution, according to its website.
WHAT ARE THEY ACCUSED OF DOING?
Messages and social media posts detailed in court documents show how members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were discussing in November 2020 the need to fight to keep Trump in office.
Days after the election, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, then president of the Proud Boys, posted messages online urging his followers to fight the results.
“No mercy. Raise the black flag,” Tarrio said in a post. In another, he wrote that the Proud Boys would become “political prisoners” if Biden “steals the election”, warning that the group “will not keep quiet”.
“The media constantly accuses us of wanting to start a civil war,” Tarrio wrote in another message. -k end one.”
Shortly before the riot, an unidentified person sent Tarrio a document outlining plans to occupy some “crucial buildings” in Washington on Jan. 6, including House and Senate office buildings around Capitol Hill, officials say. The document entitled “Returns of 1776” called for “as many people as possible” to “show our politicians that we, the people, are in charge”.
Tarrio was arrested in Washington two days before the riot and accused of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a protest in December 2020. He was ordered to stay away from Washington and was not at the Capitol on Jan. . .
Other Proud Boys, however, met at the Washington Monument on the morning of the riot and marched to Capitol Hill before Trump finished speaking near the White House. As the angry mob stormed the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys dismantled metal barricades and directed and led members of the mob into the building, officials say.
The Oath Keepers also spent weeks discussing the attempt to overturn the election results, drawing up battle plans and buying weapons, officials say. Two days after the election, Rhodes told followers in an encrypted group chat to prepare their mind, body and spirit for a “civil war”.
Rhodes urged members to go to Washington to inform Trump “that the people are after him,” and expressed hope that Trump will rally the militia to help him stay in power, officials say. Oath Keepers has repeatedly written in chats about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes allegedly wrote in one piece, “to scare the–outsiders” of Congress.
The group hid weapons in a hotel outside Washington as part of a “rapid reaction force” that would come to their aid if needed, prosecutors say. Days before January 6, a defendant suggested taking a boat to transport “heavy weapons” across the Potomac River to his “waiting arms,” according to prosecutors.
On January 6, Oath Keepers wearing camouflaged combat attire were seen on camera pushing their way through the crowd and entering the Capitol in a military-style pile formation. Rhodes is not accused of entering the Capitol building, but was seen gathered outside with several Oath Keepers after the riot, officials said.
WHAT WAS REVEALED AT THE HEARING?
The House committee hearing on Thursday highlighted how the Proud Boys were energized by Trump’s “stand back and wait” comment.
The committee also showed how members of the Proud Boys were among those who led the assault on Capitol Hill, having marched there while Trump was still speaking on the Ellipse.
Video shown during the hearing showed that Dominic Pezzola, a former Marine known as “Spaz” from Rochester, New York, used a stun shield stolen from Capitol Police to smash a window, allowing the first protesters to enter the building. . Pezzola was charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack.
A documentary filmmaker who was with the Proud Boys on January 6 testified about witnessing a meeting the day before the riot between Rhodes and Tarrio in an underground garage.
No new details about what the two leaders of extremist groups talked about were revealed during the hearing and prosecutors said only that one of the meeting’s participants “mentioned the Capitol”.
The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were indicted separately and the Justice Department did not charge them with conspiring with each other.
But prosecutors indicated that there was at least some communication between the two groups. In one message, a man described by authorities as the leader of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter discussed forming an “alliance” and coordinating with the Proud Boys ahead of the riot, officials said in court documents.
WHAT DO DEFENSE LEADERS SAY?
Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing presenters that there were no plans to storm the Capitol and that the members who did were rogue. But he continued to lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website portrayed the group as a victim of political persecution.
Oath Keeper defendants argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the rally before the riot or protect against possible attacks by far-left antifa activists. Text messages revealed in court documents show Oath Keepers discussing plans to provide security around January 6 for Trump’s longtime political confidant Roger Stone and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander.
Defense attorney Nayib Hassan said Tarrio never instructed or encouraged anyone to enter the Capitol or engage in any violence or destruction on January 6. Hassan also described the prosecutors’ arguments about the garage meeting with Rhodes as “frivolous at best”. Tarrio went to the nearby hotel to get information on a possible lawyer to represent him in the vandalism case, Hassan said in a court filing.
A jury trial for Tarrio and four other Proud Boys accused of seditious conspiracy is scheduled to begin on August 8. The trial of Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers members and associates is scheduled to begin on September 26. up to 20 years in prison.