The first public hearing of the US House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has spotlighted two far-right extremist groups, whose members are accused of conspiring for weeks to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
Top leaders and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have been charged with incendiary conspiracy in what authorities have described as an organized attempt to undermine election results and keep former President Donald Trump in office.
Here’s a look at the two groups and the allegations against them:
WHO ARE THEY?
Proud Boys describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for ‘western chauvinists’. Before the January 6 uprising, Proud Boys members were best known for brawling with anti-fascist activists at rallies and protests.
Less than two months before the 2020 election, group members celebrated when Trump refused to outright condemn the group during his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden. Instead, Trump said the Proud Boys should “step back and be on standby”.
The Oath Keepers were founded in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a former United States Army paratrooper and a graduate of Yale Law School. The anti-government group is recruiting current and former military, police and first responders. Its members pledge to “abide by the oath taken by all military personnel and law enforcement officers to ‘defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic,'” and to defend the Constitution, the website said.
WHAT ARE THEY INVOLVED?
Social media posts and posts detailed in court documents show how members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers discussed the need to fight to keep Trump in office as early as November 2020.
Days after the election, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, then president of the Proud Boys, posted online urging his followers to fight the results.
“Not fifteen minutes. Raise the black flag,” Tarrio said in one post. In another, he wrote that the Proud Boys would become “political prisoners” if Biden “steals the election” and warned the group “will not go quietly.” .
“The media is constantly accusing us of wanting to start a civil war,” Tarrio wrote in another post. “Be careful what you ask for, we don’t want to start one… — finish one.”
Shortly before the riots, an unnamed individual sent Tarrio a document outlining plans for the Jan. 6 occupation of a few “critical buildings” in Washington, including the House and Senate office buildings surrounding the Capitol, the officials say. authorities. The document entitled “1776 Returns” called for as many people as possible to “show our politicians that We are leading the people”.
Tarrio was arrested in Washington two days before the riots and charged with vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a December 2020 protest. He was ordered to stay out of Washington and was not seen on January 6. in the Capitol. †
However, other Proud Boys met at the Washington Monument the morning of the riots and marched to the Capitol before Trump finished speaking near the White House. As the angry mob flooded the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys dismantled metal barricades and led and herded members of the mob into the building, authorities say.
The Oath Keepers also spent weeks discussing attempts to overturn the election results, drafting battle plans and buying weapons, authorities say. Two days after the election, Rhodes told followers in a coded group chat to prepare their minds, bodies and spirits for a “civil war.”
Rhodes urged members to go to Washington to let Trump know “that the people are behind him,” and expressed hope that Trump would call on the militia to stay in power, authorities say. Oath Keepers wrote repeatedly in chat about the prospect of violence and the need, as Rhodes reportedly wrote in one text, “to deter Congress”.
The group hid weapons in a hotel outside Washington as part of a “rapid response force” that would come to their rescue if needed, prosecutors say. Days before Jan. 6, a defendant suggested taking a boat to carry “heavy weapons” across the Potomac River to their “waiting arms,” prosecutors said.
On January 6, Oath Keepers in camouflaged combat clothing were seen on camera as they made their way through the crowd and inside the Capitol in a military stack formation. Rhodes is not accused of entering the Capitol Building but was seen outside with several Oath Keepers after the riots, authorities said.
WHAT WAS REVEALED DURING THE HEARING?
Thursday’s House committee hearing highlighted how the Proud Boys were encouraged by Trump’s remark to “step back and stand by.”
The commission also showed how members of the Proud Boys were among those who led the attack to the Capitol, after marching there while Trump was still speaking at the Ellipse.
Videos shown during the hearing showed that Dominic Pezzola, a former Marine known as “Spaz” from Rochester, New York, used a stolen Capitol Police riot shield to break a window, causing the first rioters could enter the building. Pezzola has been charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack.
A documentary filmmaker who was with the Proud Boys on January 6 testified that he witnessed a meeting the day before the riots between Rhodes and Tarrio in an underground garage.
No new details were revealed at the hearing about what the two extremist group leaders were talking about, and prosecutors have only said one of the participants in the meeting “referred to the Capitol.”
The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have been charged in separate charges and the Justice Department has not charged them with conspiracy to do so.
But prosecutors have indicated that there was at least some communication between the two groups. In one post, a man described by authorities as the leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers discussed forming an “alliance” and coordination with the Proud Boys ahead of the riots, authorities said in court documents.
WHAT HAVE THE LEADERS SAY ABOUT THE DEFENSE?
Rhodes has said in interviews with right-wing hosts that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that the members who did went rogue. But he has continued to lie that the 2020 election was stolen, while posts on the Oath Keepers website portray the group as a victim of political persecution.
Oath Keeper defendants have argued in court that the only plan was to provide security at the pre-riot rally or to protect themselves from possible attacks by far-left antifa activists. Text messages revealed in court documents show Oath Keepers discussing plans to provide security for Trump’s longtime political confidant Roger Stone and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander around Jan. 6.
Defense attorney Nayib Hassan said Tarrio never instructed or encouraged anyone to enter the Capitol or engage in violence or destruction on January 6. Hassan also described the prosecutors’ arguments over the garage meeting with Rhodes as “frivolous at best.” Tarrio went to the nearby hotel to get information about a possible lawyer to represent him in the vandalism case, Hassan said in a lawsuit.
A jury trial for Tarrio and four other Proud Boys charged with seditious conspiracy is set for August 8. The trial for Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers members and associates will begin on September 26. up to 20 years in prison.