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Sunday, March 3, 2024

FBI Informant Testifies for Proud Boys Defense: ‘Did Not Do It, nor Inspire’

'It was almost a circus before things got serious...'

(Headline USA) An FBI informant who marched to the U.S. Capitol with fellow Proud Boys members on Jan. 6 testified on Wednesday that he didn’t know of any plans for the anti-socialist group to invade the building and didn’t think they inspired any violence that day.

The informant, who was identified in court and in a court record only as “Aaron,” was a defense witness at the trial of former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants charged by the far-left Biden Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy” for what prosecutors claimed, without evidence, was a plot to keep Donald Trump in the White House after the disputed 2020 presidential election.

The informant was communicating with his FBI handler as the throng of Trump rally-goers approached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, writing in a text message that police barriers were down and the crowd was almost at the building.

He also told his handler that the Proud Boys “did not do it, nor inspire.”

“The crowd did as a herd mentality. Not organized,” he wrote. The handler’s response was redacted from a screenshot that a defense attorney showed to jurors.

A prosecutor later suggested that the informant sent that text only after it became clear that he and other members could be in serious trouble. The prosecutor also suggested that the informant wasn’t a mere observer to the uprising, showing video that captured him helping another Proud Boy use a podium to block a security gate from closing.

The Jan. 6 event resulted in four deaths—including the violent killing of veteran Ashli Babbitt at the hands of Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, who lay waiting in ambush as she crawled through a broken entrance in the the Speaker’s Chamber.

Since then, the Biden DOJ has arraigned at least 1,000 tourists who entered the Capitol believing they were respectfully abiding by the law. It recently suggested that it may seek to arrest some 1,200 additional Capitol tourists.

Democrats have shamefully claimed that several police officers who died in the days and weeks afterward of unrelated causes were casualties of the mostly peaceful protest.

To the extent that there was violence and vandalism, theories abound that members of the federal intelligence community itself may have been involved in a so-called psy-op campaign to ensure that legislative challenges to Democrat Joe Biden’s legitimacy could not be brought forward during the Joint Session of Congress to certify the Electoral College votes.

The presence of government informants in the Proud Boys has repeatedly come up in the lengthy trial, as defense lawyers seek to undermine prosecutors’ claim that the Proud Boys plotted to attack the Capitol.

“Aaron,” who was allowed to withhold a last name when he testified, is one of several Proud Boys associates who were informants before or after the Jan. 6 attack. He is the first to testify at the trial, one of the most important to emerge from the Justice Department’s massive dragnet of right-wing political dissidents.

The informant, who joined the Proud Boys in 2019, said he wasn’t a group leader and didn’t know Tarrio or any of the other leaders on trial. He was not in any Telegram chats the Proud Boys leaders on trial were accused of using to organize an alleged insurrection.

The informant told jurors that his relationship with the FBI began around 2008. He said investigators didn’t ask him to join the Proud Boys or direct him to gather information about the group. The FBI also didn’t ask him to go to Washington on Jan. 6 or march with the Proud Boys that day, he added.

The informant planned his travel to Washington with members of a Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys, including at least four who were charged with conspiring on Jan. 6, he said.

The informant told jurors that marching from the Washington Monument to the Capitol appeared to be a photo opportunity for the Proud Boys. He said he reached out to his handler when skirmishes between rally-goers an Capitol Police erupted outside the building because he saw it as an “emergency situation.”

“If there was any violence and all that, they would have wanted to know,” he said of the FBI.

The police have been criticized for instigating and fomenting unrest by firing cannisters of tear-gas as part of their crowd-control efforts.

On cross-examination, prosecutor Conor Mulroe showed videos of the informant near two of the Proud Boys members who breached police lines. In one video, the informant is seen pumping a fist.

Asked why he didn’t try to de-escalate the situation, the informant said he couldn’t believe the rally-goers would ignore police officers guarding the building.

“At that point, it was almost a circus before things got serious,” he said.

The trial was briefly disrupted last week when prosecutors told defense attorneys that another person the defense had wanted to put on the witness stand secretly worked as a government informant for two years after the Jan. 6 uprising.

Defendents accused the DOJ of attempting to plant a mole within the group’s legal defense team, undermining its constitutional right to due process.

Prosecutors insisted that the alleged mole was never told to gather information about the defendants or their lawyers. They further claimed the FBI ended its relationship with her in January 2023 after it learned she might testify.

Tarrio’s lawyers ultimately decided not to put her on the witness stand after the judge said attorneys couldn’t ask about her relationship with the FBI because it’s not relevant to the trial.

Alongside other Proud Boys members, Tarrio, a Miami resident who served as national chairman of the group, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of seditious conspiracy—even though he wasn’t in Washington on Jan. 6.

Tarrio had been arrested in a separate case days earlier, but authorities say he helped put into motion the alleged violence that day.

Two other former Proud Boys members, who agreed to cooperate with the government, also testified they didn’t know of any specific plan to rush the Capitol.

But Bertino, a former regional leader from North Carolina who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, told jurors that the group was trying to “save the country” from what they feared would be a tyrannical government.

Hundreds of privately exchanged messages shown to jurors show the Proud Boys becoming increasingly agitated as Trump’s legal challenges failed in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6—and subsequently celebrating their role in the uprising.

“Do what must be done,” Tarrio wrote on social media as the crowd breached the Capitol.

Later that day, someone asked in an encrypted group chat what they should do next.

“Do it again,” Tarrio responded.

Also on trial with Tarrio are Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola. Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was a Proud Boys chapter leader.

Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia. Pezzola was a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York.

Prosecutors rested their case on March 20. Jurors are expected to hear several more days of testimony from defense witnesses before they hear closing arguments.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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