Capitol riot the trial of the leaders of the “Proud Boys”. promised to be a historic demonstration of some of the most compelling evidence of an alleged conspiracy by far-right extremists to stop the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election.
There were plenty of fireworks during the one month trial, but mostly when the jury wasn’t in the courtroom.
Attorneys representing the five Proud Boys, who are charged with a seditious conspiracy, repeatedly argued with U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly during breaks in testimony. At least 10 times, those lawyers argued in vain for him to declare the trial a mistrial.
The judge regularly admonishes lawyers for interrupting him and threatens to charge them with contempt if they continue. The two attorneys once floated the idea of dropping the case if Kelly did not rule in their favor on the evidentiary issues.
A flurry of arguments has stalled proceedings at the federal courthouse, where some windows overlook the Capitol. In court, defense attorney Norm Pattis once compared the trial to visiting “Gilligan’s Island,” the name and setting of the 1960s sitcom about the crew and passengers of a shipwreck.
“It was supposed to be a three-hour tour, and people were stuck together for an interminable amount of time while they worked out their interpersonal difficulties,” Pattis quipped.
The courtroom tension reflects the high stakes for the Justice Department and the defendants. This is one of the most serious cases Riot in the Capitol on January 6, 2021and former Proud Boys national party chairman Enrique Tario is perhaps the most senior figure to date to be charged over the attack.
Proud guys faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy. The acquittals on the rarely used charge — which goes to the heart of what prosecutors say happened that day — would be a setback in the government’s Jan. 6 investigation, which continues to grow two years later.
Torrio and four lieutenants are accused of participating in a week-long plot to keep Democrat Joe Biden out of the White House after he defeated then-President Donald Trump in The 2020 election. Prosecutors say it culminated in a coordinated storming of the Capitol by the Proud Boys, along with hundreds of other Trump supporters.
Lawyers say there is no evidence that the Proud Boys planned to attack the Capitol and prevent Congress from approving the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6. Attorneys say prosecutors are wrongly classifying militant online jokes as a violent conspiracy. They tried unsuccessfully to move the trial out of Washington, arguing that their clients could not get a fair trial before a D.C. jury.
The trial of the Proud Boys could last several weeks longer than last year’s landmark trial of Oath Keepers leaders and members, who were indicted in a separate case on January 6.
In November, a jury convicted Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes and another leader of the sedition plot after three days of jury selection, 26 days of testimony and two days of closing arguments. A separate trial also began this month involving members of the Oath Guard, who face multiple charges but not sedition.
Jury selection in the Proud Boys case lasted 12 days. After opening statements at the Jan. 12 trial, jurors heard testimony for 16 days until Friday. Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case in late February or early March before the defense begins to testify.
A dozen of the first 14 prosecution witnesses in the “Proud Boys” trial were FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. Jurors also heard testimony from a former member of the Proud Boys, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, and a British documentary filmmaker who was inducted into the Proud Boys on January 6.
Jurors often wait while lawyers challenge the admissibility of evidence. In one such exchange, Pattis urged Kelly to reconsider a ruling allowing prosecutors to subpoena messages from the social media platform Parler.
“We’re offering you a lifeline because we believe you’ve made a mistake,” Pattis told the judge.
“Well, I offer you a lifeline—doing my bidding,” Kelly replied.
Kelly often scolded attorneys for interrupting him and talking over him, warning that he might find them disrespectful. At one point, attorney Nicholas Smith interrupted the judge as the judge chastised him for an earlier interruption.
One of Tario’s lawyers asked for a mistrial after a witness said Tario burned a banner reading “Black Lives Matter” at a Washington protest during a pro-Trump rally in December 2020.
Tario was arrested two days before the January 6 riots, charged with defacing a banner and ordered to leave town. Kelly ruled that prosecutors could discuss the vandalism, but not the specific details of the banner. Prosecutors say Tario remained in command of the Proud Boys at the site on Jan. 6, even though he wasn’t there.
Carmen Hernandez, the attorney for Proud Boys chapter leader Zachary Rella, has repeatedly moved for mistrials, including when she accused the prosecutor of using inflammatory and false accusations in his opening statement. Hernandez asked for a mistrial after jurors saw violent videos of the Proud Boys street fighting at rallies before Jan. 6.
“There wouldn’t be a day in this trial without a motion for a mistrial,” said Kelly, who denied her request.
At least one juror may have sent a signal that the trial was moving slowly.
J. Daniel Hull, one of Biggs’ attorneys, told the judge Jan. 19 that he saw the juror nod that morning. In response, the judge told the attorneys that “concentrating their statements may help in this matter.”
The rancor began even before the jury was sworn.
A day before the trial began, Hernandez said she felt compelled to drop the case if the judge allowed prosecutors to show a particular video as evidence. Smith, who represents Proud Boys chapter leader Ethan Nordin, made a similar comment about withdrawing if the judge doesn’t rule in his favor on the evidentiary issue.
Pattis, a Connecticut lawyer representing Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs, was briefly disbarred after a judge in his home state suspended his license to practice law for six months. The decision came in connection with Pettis’ handling of confidential documents during his representation of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in a civil lawsuit. After an appeals court stayed his suspension, Kelly allowed Pattis to rejoin the court after opening statements.
On February 6, the judge did not summon the jury so that the lawyers could argue about the relevance of the messages that the Proud Boys posted on the Telegram platform. Pattis warned that the Telegram evidence alone could add two weeks to the trial “if we’re not careful.”
“I jokingly told my office that I hope to be home by Easter today at the rate things are going,” Pattis added.