Despite months of messaging that the January 6 insurrection was either an Antifa plot or a completely peaceful protest, a lawyer for the former leader of the Proud Boys has laid blame for the riot singularly at the feet of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump to Blame?
Several senior members of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group that has been a staple of street violence in American cities for the last several years, are now on trial for their part in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
And while much of the far right — including now-fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson — has embraced outlandish conspiracy theories alleging that the insurrection wasn’t what it appeared to be, some Proud Boys on trial are claiming that Donald Trump’s words were the reason the insurrection happened.
“It was Donald Trump’s words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on January 6th in your amazing and beautiful city,” the attorney for Enrique Tarrio, the former national leader of the Proud Boys organization, said in court during closing arguments this week, per Politico. The attorney has sought to show that it was Trump, not Tarrio, who had been the driving force behind the defendants’ actions that day.
Tarrio is accused of seditious conspiracy, along with four other top Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Dominic Pezzola. The case went to the jury Tuesday, after a nearly four-month trial.
“The leader of the free world sold this narrative, and many members of the Proud Boys believed it,” Norm Pattis, the longtime Alex Jones attorney who is representing Biggs in the trial, said in court, per Politico. “People believe their president … He’s not on trial here, much though I wish he were…“If my president tells me my republic is being stolen, who do I listen to?”
Pezzola is the person who the government says first pierced the Capitol windows with a riot shield.
Months before January 6, Trump invoked the Proud Boys during a presidential debate, telling them to “stand back and stand by.” Shortly thereafter, the Proud Boys were seen wearing t-shirts with that same catchphrase on it.
Tarrio, who had been arrested days earlier for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a Washington church, was not physically present for the riot — he spent that day at a hotel in Baltimore after he was ordered to leave Washington — but has been accused of helping to orchestrate it. It also reported shortly after January 6 that Tarrio had been a “prolific” informant for law enforcement for many years.
Prosecutors, in addition to arguing that the Proud Boys followed Trump’s direction, have pointed out that the group’s once-friendly relationship with law enforcement has deteriorated.
Tarrio also saw it fit, with the jury still out, to participate in a Twitter Space from jail on Tuesday.
“I’m the next stepping stone,” Tarrio said while assailing Democrats and the Justice Department, and praising the work of Republicans in Congress, who have sought to pursue alternative explanations of the events of January 6.
“What’s happening is, in these cross-examinations, they’re bringing things in from years past — things from 2015, 2016, 2017 is fair game,” Tarrio said in the Twitter discussion. “It has nothing to do with January 6th. We were afraid they were going to use old statements, muddy up the waters.”
Tarrio also used a defense for some of the violent language used in court against him – it was “locker room” talk — familiar from former President Trump’s history.
The trial coincides with the start of the civil trial in New York in which Trump is accused of rape and defamation by journalist E. Jean Carroll. According to journalist Marcy Wheeler, “In the course of a day, Trump was accused in closing arguments of being responsible for the Proud Boys launching an insurrection in the morning and of rape in the afternoon.”
Expertise and Experience:
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.