In the federal investigation into the Proud Boys and their role in the Capitol insurrection, the Justice Department is pursuing several members of the organization and arguing in court in recent days that the group poses an active threat to the public.
But prosecutors haven’t publicly connected all the dots yet between the group’s members, leaving Democrats in Congress to fill in these blanks on Wednesday as they made their impeachment case against former President Donald Trump.
At Trump’s trial in the Senate on Wednesday, the Democratic House impeachment managers repeatedly cited the role of the Proud Boys in the insurrection, and tried to connect them to Trump, who infamously refused to condemn them during the 2020 campaign.
The House managers dipped into the voluminous court record to highlight the most militant members of the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol last month. And the Democrats turned one alleged member of the Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola, into their poster child for the violence, starkly telling senator-jurors that he “came to the Capitol on January 6 with deadly intentions.”
Coincidentally, at the same time Pezzola was being discussed on the Senate floor on Wednesday, federal prosecutors were arguing in court that he was too dangerous to release before trial. A federal judge in DC agreed with that view and ordered him to remain in jail while he awaits trial on an 11-count indictment.
While prosecutors are gradually and slowly unfurling their cases in court, the Democratic House managers are aiming for maximum immediate impact, making their case on TV and in front of one of the most partisan juries imaginable.
The Proud Boys have gained infamy in recent years because of their clashes with antifa and strong support of Trump, who even mentioned them in a presidential debate, telling them to “stand back and stand by.” Some members of the group have been closely tied to Trump confidant Roger Stone and stood by him during his criminal trial for lying to Congress. (Trump eventually pardoned Stone.)
The House managers mentioned the Proud Boys more than dozen times on Wednesday, mostly during their methodical minute-by-minute breakdown of how the Capitol was breached.
“As we go through this evidence, I want you to keep in mind these words by President Trump when asked to condemn violence: ‘Stand back and stand by,’ ” said Del. Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands. “And see example after example of the kinds of people like the Proud Boys who he had standing by on January 6.”
Democrats played footage of Pezzola using a police shield to smash one of the windows of the Capitol. In addition to the widely shared footage from social media, the House managers showed some never-before-seen angles of that incident from surveillance cameras inside the Capitol, showing how dozens of rioters flooded the halls after Pezzola shattered the window.
What prosecutors are saying in court at the moment
The court cases have not tied the group closely to Trump’s inner circle so far and haven’t sketched out a broader group-wide effort to attack the Capitol.
So far in court, prosecutors have gone after men associated with the Proud Boys one by one, or occasionally in pairs. A larger conspiracy case or sedition charges hadn’t yet materialized as of Wednesday night, though prosecutors indicated they are considering pursuing those types of cases against right-wing extremist groups that took part in the January 6 attack.
In two cases over the past week, prosecutors have described how the Proud Boys could be “fomenting rebellion” if key members were allowed to be released from jail as they face their charges related to the riot.
In one case, against Seattle Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean, prosecutors described in court papers how the group could come together again for attacks.
“There is no reason to believe that Defendant, or any of his Proud Boy associates, are any more interested in ‘complacency,’ or any less interested in fomenting rebellion, than they were on January 5. If nothing else, the events of January 6, 2021, have exposed the size and determination of right-wing fringe groups in the United States, and their willingness to place themselves and others in danger to further their political ideology. Releasing Defendant to rejoin their fold and plan their next attack poses a potentially catastrophic risk of danger to the community,” prosecutors from the Justice Department wrote to a federal judge in Seattle on Friday night, in some of their strongest language to date regarding the group.
On Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Pezzola too could plug back into his group, “fomenting rebellion,” though the Justice Department has been careful not to refer to the group more explicitly in Pezzola’s proceedings.
Prosecutor Erik Kenerson described how Pezzola “was not some solitary actor” who came to DC – and instead might have planned and coordinated with others, even meeting up with contacts the morning of the pro-Trump rally.
Pezzola has pleaded not guilty and remains detained. His attorney on Wednesday tried to distance him from the Proud Boys, saying he did not have a history with the group.
Also in recent days, a federal grand jury indicted two men on charges of conspiring to obstruct the congressional Electoral College count – Nicholas Ochs, who runs the group’s chapter in Hawaii, and his associate Nicholas DeCarlo.
Court records have named other Proud Boys, including leaders Enrique Tarrio and Joseph Biggs, as investigators describe an effort to understand the group members’ possible communications to one another on January 6 and planning and operations before that day. Tarrio was arrested before the insurrection and does not face charges related to it; Biggs does. Prosecutors have said in at least one case they’ve seized a radio system that may have been used by the Proud Boys to communicate – after noting in other filings that the group’s associates may have worn earpieces on January 6– and found records about their operations after a home search.
In court filings in the Ochs, DeCarlo and Nordean cases, prosecutors have alleged the men sought funding as they planned their trip to Washington on January 6, with Nordean even asking on social media for help to buy “protective gear” and “communications equipment.”
Ochs and DeCarlo were indicted on several counts last week, including conspiracy. They have not yet appeared in court to formally respond to the charges. Nordean has not yet been indicted but is being held in jail as he awaits further proceedings.
CNN’s Kay Jones and Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.