Former Proud Boys national chair Enrique Tarrio — the man prosecutors have portrayed as the ringleader of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — told jurors Tuesday that he’s merely a scapegoat for the real culprit: Donald Trump.
“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,” said Nayib Hassan, Tarrio’s lawyer, during closing arguments in a seditious conspiracy trial stemming from the Jan. 6 attack.
Hassan leaned heavily into the role Trump played in ginning up the crowd at his rally the morning of Jan. 6, just minutes before rioters began breaching police barricades at the Capitol. Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” just 36 minutes before the first wave of the mob charged at police, Hassan noted.
“It was not Enrique Tarrio. They want to use Enrique Tarrio as a scapegoat for Donald Trump and those in power,” Hassan said.
‘Donald Trump’s army’: Prosecutors close seditious conspiracy case against Proud Boys leaders
Trump has loomed in the background of Tarrio’s trial, the most significant to emerge from the Jan. 6 assault on Congress. He’s charged alongside four other Proud Boys leaders — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola — with orchestrating a violent effort to derail the transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden. The jury is expected to receive the case and begin deliberating Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors say the leaders, loyal to Trump and fearful of the Proud Boys’ survival in a post-Trump America, devised plans to keep Trump in office. And throughout the four-month trial, the Justice Department repeatedly emphasized how Tarrio and the Proud Boys keyed off and drew energy from Trump’s own bid to subvert the 2020 election. The group’s plan went into overdrive, prosecutors said, after Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020 tweet calling on supporters to descend on Washington on Jan. 6, 2021 to challenge the election results.
In tandem with their effort to support Trump, the Proud Boys also soured on their once close relationship with law enforcement, prosecutors say, becoming enraged at cops — particularly in Washington — after they failed to apprehend a man who stabbed four Proud Boys outside a bar on Dec. 12, 2020. That anger at police carried over into the Proud Boys’ posture toward law enforcement on Jan. 6, they say.
Hassan, though, said it was Trump pulling the strings and driving events ahead of Jan. 6 — not Tarrio. He noted that Trump contributed to a surge in Proud Boys recruitment after invoking the group — and urging members to “stand back and stand by” during a televised debate against Biden in September 2020. That membership boom harmed the group’s vetting and led to undisciplined members provoking unconstrained violence and street clashes in Washington in November and December 2020.
That led Tarrio to form a new Proud Boys chapter — dubbed the “Ministry of Self Defense” — to select Proud Boys who could be trusted to follow rules and obey orders. That chapter, which grew to hundreds nationwide, became the core of the group that Tarrio helped assemble in Washington on Jan. 6.
Prosecutors say the Ministry of Self Defense — or MOSD — was really a “fighting force” that Tarrio mobilized to attack the seat of government in service of keeping Trump in power. Hundreds of members joined Proud Boys leaders in Washington and were prominent parts of the crowd that breached the barricades in the first wave of the riot. In numerous cases, Proud Boys in this group were among those who helped topple barricades or tussled with police in ways that helped clear a path for the riot to advance closer to the Capitol.
But Hassan emphasized that Tarrio’s role in the entire sequence of events was tenuous. He was arrested in Washington on Jan. 4, 2021, for burning a Black Lives Matter flag after the Dec. 12, 2020 pro-Trump march. After he was released from police custody, he was ordered to leave Washington and went to a hotel in Baltimore, from where he observed the events of Jan. 6.
Prosecutors say Tarrio made public comments and social media posts that encouraged his men as they entered the Capitol, at one point saying “Don’t fucking leave,” as rioters occupied the Capitol. These comments, prosecutors say, prove the real purpose of the Proud Boys’ presence. As their handpicked members helped overwhelm police — and even after Pezzola used a stolen police riot shield to smash a Senate window and ignite the breach of the building — Tarrio and the other leaders never rebuked them or urged them to pull back.
“Make no mistake,” Tarrio told a group of national Proud Boys leaders in a private chat after the attack. “We did this.”
Hassan spent much of his closing argument urging jurors not to convict Tarrio because they disliked him. Tarrio was brash, said offensive things and often acted like an “entertainer,” Hassan said.
“Do not let your dislike for Henry Enrique Tarrio affect your judgment in that jury room,” Hassan said.
Dislike of the defendants was a theme in the Proud Boys’ closing arguments. Pezzola’s attorney, Steven Metcalf, urged jurors not to confuse their dislike for Pezzola with his potential guilt of the crimes he’s charged with.
“Even if you hate him … put that aside in judging these facts,” Metcalf said.
Metcalf agreed that Pezzola broke the law — as Pezzola largely did when he took the stand last week — but said he’s not guilty of seditious conspiracy, which he called a “fairy tale, fairy dust conspiracy created out of nowhere.”
Metcalf contended that Pezzola’s relationship with the other defendants was nearly nonexistent, even on Jan. 6. But he said prosecutors needed to link him to Tarrio and the other defendants to prove that violence, destruction and anger were part of the conspiracy.
“What did they need Dom for? You needed Dom to muddy up these guys. They needed dirt,” Metcalf said.
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