WASHINGTON — A right-wing extremist who admitted he wielded a police shield and shattered a window at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot called the charges against him "fake" as the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial, which has been underway for more than three months, nears an end.
Dominic Pezzola — a Proud Boy from New York who is on trial along with former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and three other members, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl — said during cross examination on Thursday that rioters on Jan. 6, 2021, were "acting as trespassing protesters." He also argued that law enforcement officers used excessive force on the mob that day.
Pezzola, who admitted that he lied to the FBI about one of his co-defendants having a firearm during the riot, also called the trial "phony" and "corrupt." He argued that he was speaking metaphorically when he said he was willing to fight for the Proud Boys, comparing his past remarks to “how I’m fighting this corrupt trial with these fake charges.”
Pezzola also admitted that he was wearing a hat that said “respect is earned, beatings are free” during parts of the riot.
All five defendants rested their case Thursday evening, and prosecutors rested their case on Friday morning.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly began instructing jurors on Friday morning, and told attorneys he thought the best idea was to hold off on closing arguments until Monday. Justice Department prosecutors opposed that plan, saying the jurors were ready to hear closing arguments on Friday afternoon.
During the lengthy trial, Pezzola said that he was “just interested in joining a group of like-minded men" when he signed up with the Proud Boys shortly before the insurrection. "I believed everyone’s freedom is under attack by radical socialists," he said.
Prosecutors had presented a journal entry in which Pezzola wrote about why he wanted to join the far-right organization. “If the time comes, I’m willing to stand first on the line to protect who I love and what we stand for," read an excerpt from the journal.
Pezzola has acknowledged that he yelled at law enforcement as the mob overran them on the day of the riot. “You better decide what side you’re on motherf-----s,” Pezzola admitted he yelled on Jan. 6. “You think Antifa’s bad? Just wait.”
He also used his courtroom testimony to advance a conspiracy theory. Pezzola argued that Ray Epps, a Trump supporter who tried to calm down rioters on Jan. 6, was a government informant.
Asked by prosecutors if he had any first hand knowledge that Epps is a government informant, Pezzola said: “I’ve seen no evidence that he isn’t."
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 last year that “the crazies started coming out of the woodwork” after conservative members of Congress and commentators referred to him by name.
Pezzola, who has cut his hair since the riot, said during the trial that he thought he looked like a "homeless man who went to the Capitol looking for food" that day.
About 1,000 defendants have been arrested in connection with Jan. 6, and hundreds of cases are in the works.