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Jan. 6 rioter who wielded police shield invokes Ray Epps conspiracy theory at Proud Boys trial

Epps has been a target of those on the far right who have claimed that he was working with the federal government and sought to provoke violence during the attack on the Capitol.
Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

WASHINGTON — A member of the Proud Boys who is on trial charged with seditious conspiracy used his courtroom testimony on Wednesday to try to advance a conspiracy theory about a fellow Jan. 6 participant.

Dominic Pezzola, a member of the far-right extremist group who smashed in a U.S. Capitol window with a stolen police shield, said while testifying is his own defense that the pro-Trump protester Ray Epps was a "suspected government operative.” Federal prosecutors moved to strike Pezzola's claim, and U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, agreed to remove his comments from the court record.

Far-right conspirators have alleged that Epps was working with the federal government and sought to provoke violence during the 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Epps, who has said conspiracy theories had a significant impact on his life, told the House Jan. 6 committee that "the crazies started coming out of the woodwork" after conservative members of Congress and commentators referred to him by name. On the eve of the insurrection, Epps had called for protesters to enter the Capitol, but the next day he was seen on video trying to calm protesters and maintain a line between police and the pro-Trump mob.

Epps is seeking a public retraction from Tucker Carlson and Fox News over “false and defamatory statements” alleging that he was secretly working with the federal government on Jan. 6.

Pezzola is on trial alongside fellow Proud Boys members Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl. The seditious conspiracy trial has been underway for more than three months. Jury selection began in December, and opening statements took place the next month.

Under questioning by his attorney Steven Metcalf on Wednesday, Pezzola said there was no plan to storm the Capitol ahead of Jan. 6, and he depicted himself as an average Joe who had just stumbled into situations and made some poor decisions.

“Our only plans were to maybe storm the liquor store. That was it,” he said.

Pezzola said he woke up on Jan. 6 with no clue what was going to happen and met up with the Proud Boys at the Washington Monument around 10 a.m., then joined them on their march to the Capitol. He said that he was frustrated that they were missing Trump’s speech and that he eventually headed back toward the White House before he followed a stream of protesters back to the Capitol and rejoined the Proud Boys.

Pezzola said that when he entered the restricted grounds of the Capitol and moved to the front of the stage that had been set up for Joe Biden's inauguration, it “almost felt like being under sniper fire” as police used so-called less-lethal munitions.

“There was definitely fear and concern for my safety and my life,” Pezzola said, adding that he couldn’t believe the level of force against what he called an “unarmed crowd” of “people who were just pushing on riot shields.”

“In my mind this is pretty much what I thought combat would be like,” he said.

Pezzola said he saw Joshua Black, a fellow Capitol rioter, get shot through the cheek with a less-lethal round. Black, who was convicted in January, made it onto the Senate floor on Jan. 6.

Pezzola, a Marine Corps veteran, testified that his military training took over during clashes with police and that he didn’t run away because that’s not what the military trains you to do. “I guess I’m just programmed to charge toward danger," he said.

“My intent was never to rob or take or steal,” Pezzola said of the moment he grabbed a police shield. “My only intention was to protect myself from a similar fate of Joshua Black.”

Pezzola testified Tuesday that he “got caught up in all the craziness” and was “angry,” “upset” and “not thinking clearly” on Jan. 6. He said the rest of the Proud Boys “should not be roped into my actions" and insisted that there wasn't a coordinated plan ahead of the attack.

The government is expected to begin its cross-examination of Pezzola on Thursday before the trial moves to closing arguments.

About 1,000 defendants have been arrested in connection with Jan. 6, and hundreds of cases are in the works. On Wednesday, cases were unsealed against Christopher Pearce of Pennsylvania and Tricia LaCount of Oklahoma. Pearce entered the building wearing goggles and a respirator, authorities said, while LaCount joined the mob in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, which she called "so gaudy."