WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio is set to be sentenced on Wednesday for a failed plot to keep Donald Trump in power after the Republican lost the 2020 presidential election, capping one of the most significant prosecutions in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Prosecutors are seeking 33 years behind bars for Tarrio, who had already been arrested and ordered to leave Washington, D.C., by the time Proud Boys members joined thousands of Trump supporters in storming the Capitol as lawmakers met to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. But prosecutors say Tarrio organized and led the group’s assault from afar, inspiring followers with his charisma and penchant for propaganda.
Tarrio was a top target in one of the most important Capitol riot cases prosecuted by the Justice Department. He and three lieutenants were convicted in May of charges including seditious conspiracy — a rarely brought Civil War-era offense that the Justice Department levied against members of far-right groups who played a key role in the Jan. 6 attack.
“Using his powerful platform, Tarrio has repeatedly and publicly indicated that he has no regrets about what he helped make happen on January 6,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
The Justice Department has also recently charged Trump with conspiring to subvert American democracy, accusing the Republican of plotting in the days before the attack to overturn the results of the election that he lost. The Tarrio case — and hundreds of others like it — function as a vivid reminder of the violent chaos fueled by Trump’s lies around the election and the extent to which his false claims helped inspire right-wing extremists who ultimately stormed the Capitol to thwart the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Trump, who is the early front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, insists he did nothing wrong. His trial is set for March 4.
The 33-year prison sentence that prosecutors have recommended for Tarrio, 39, of Miami, is nearly twice as long as the harshest punishment that has been handed down so far in the Justice Department’s massive Jan. 6 prosecution. The longest prison sentence so far went to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who got 18 years for seditious conspiracy and his conviction on other charges.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly isn’t bound by prosecutors’ recommendation when he sentences Tarrio and separately sentences former Proud Boys chapter leader Ethan Nordean on Wednesday in Washington’s federal courthouse, which sits within view of the Capitol. Later this week, Kelly is scheduled to sentence three other Proud Boys members who were convicted by a jury in May after a trial alongside Tarrio and Nordean.
Tarrio, Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl were convicted of seditious conspiracy. A fifth Proud Boys member, Dominic Pezzola, was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges.
Prosecutors also recommended prison sentences of 33 years for Biggs, 30 years for Rehl, 27 years for Nordean and 20 years for Pezzola. Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, and Rehl, of Philadelphia, led local Proud Boys chapters. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Pezzola was a group member from Rochester, New York.
Tarrio’s lawyers denied the Proud Boys had any plan to attack the Capitol. They argued that prosecutors used Tarrio as a scapegoat for Trump, who spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6 and urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”
In urging the judge for a lenient sentence, Tarrio’s lawyers noted in court papers that he has a history of cooperating with law enforcement. Court records uncovered in 2021 showed that Tarrio previously worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was accused of fraud in 2012.
Tarrio’s lawyers urged the judge “to see another side of him — one that is benevolent, cooperative with law enforcement, useful in the community, hardworking and with a tight-knit family unit and community support.”
Police arrested Tarrio in Washington two days before the riot on charges that he defaced a Black Lives Matter banner during an earlier rally in the nation’s capital, but law enforcement officials later said he was arrested in part over concerns about the potential for unrest during the certification. He complied with a judge’s order to leave the city after his arrest.
On Jan. 6, dozens of Proud Boys leaders, members and associates were among the first rioters to breach the Capitol. The mob’s assault overwhelmed police, forced lawmakers to flee the House and Senate floors and disrupted the joint session of Congress for certifying Biden’s victory.
Tarrio picked Nordean and Biggs to be his top lieutenants on Jan. 6 and created an encrypted Telegram group chat for group leaders to communicate, according to prosecutors. The backbone of the case against Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders was messages that they privately exchanged before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack.
“Make no mistake … we did this,” Tarrio wrote to other group leaders.
Tarrio also posted encouraging messages on social media during the riot, expressing pride for what he saw unfold at the Capitol and urging his followers to stay there. He also posted a picture of rioters in the Senate chamber with the caption “1776.”
Several days before the riot, a girlfriend sent Tarrio a document entitled “1776 Returns.” It called for storming and occupying government buildings in Washington “for the purpose of getting the government to overturn the election results,” according to prosecutors.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol attack. More than 600 of them have been sentenced, with over half receiving terms of imprisonment.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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