Before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, the FBI had well-placed informants in the Proud Boys who the government hoped could glean information about the notorious far-right street-fighting gang’s inner workings.
Now, some of those same informants are being called as witnesses in the Proud Boys’ high-profile seditious conspiracy trial—by the defense, who think their testimony will help get their clients off the hook and prove they had no plot to storm the Capitol.
According to defense lawyers, those informants were privy to Proud Boys’ chats and even marched alongside them to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
After several delays, opening arguments finally got underway Thursday in the high-profile seditious conspiracy trial against the Proud Boy ‘s ex-“chairman” Enrique Tarrio, top organizers Joseph Biggs, Zach Rehl, and Ethan Nordean, and member Dominic Pezzola.
All five men are accused of entering into a secret agreement to storm the Capitol, with the ultimate goal of disrupting and even preventing the peaceful transition of power. They face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Each of the defendants has their own legal teams—an array of personalities and characters who are employing a grab bag of strategies and arguments they hope will exonerate their clients. But it’s clear that the biggest asset to the defense’s case, by far, could be the testimony of those government informants.
Federal prosecutors appear to have made their biggest breakthrough yet in their sprawling investigation into the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A high-ranking Proud Boy has flipped, agreeing to testify in any and all cases where his testimony might be “deemed relevant by the government.”
It’s the latest example of the government strengthening its case against the far-right street-fighting gang that’s become a national household name since its leaders and dozens of members have been charged in relation to the Capitol riot.
Late last week, the Justice Department announced that Charles Donohoe, leader of the North Carolina Proud Boys chapter, had pleaded guilty to two charges—conspiring to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results, and assaulting, resisting, or impeding law enforcement officers.
Donohoe was charged with conspiracy along with five prominent Proud Boys, including the group’s former national chairman Enrique Tarrio.
But Donohoe’s agreement with the government could have cascading effects beyond his case.
Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012, according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters.
In the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.
Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters Tuesday, denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”
Law-enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Tarrio’s denial. In a statement to Reuters, the former federal prosecutor in Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”