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Philly Proud Boy testifies at seditious conspiracy trial that he doesn't 'recall' if he used pepper spray on officers on Jan. 6

The Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial has been underway for three months.
Proud Boys members Ethan Nordean, left, and Zachary Rehl walk toward the U.S. Capitol
Proud Boys members Ethan Nordean, left, and Zachary Rehl walk toward the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Carolyn Kaster / AP

WASHINGTON — The president of the Philadelphia chapter of the far-right Proud Boys testified Tuesday that he could not recall whether he used pepper spray against officers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Zachary Rehl, 37, of northeast Philadelphia, is both the son and the grandson of Philadelphia police officers. He is on trial accused of seditious conspiracy alongside four other defendants: Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Dominic Pezzola, who was captured on video smashing in a window during the initial breach of the Capitol.

Jury selection began in December, and the trial got underway in January. As Rehl testified this week, federal prosecutors presented video evidence that they suggested showed he using pepper spray against police officers on the western front of the U.S. Capitol during the attack, although the government has not explicitly charged him with it.

An assistant U.S. attorney asked Rehl on cross-examination Tuesday whether he pepper-sprayed officers.

"Not that I recall," Rehl said.

When prosecutors displayed images that appeared to show him pepper-spraying officers, Rehl at first said he wasn't sure whether it was him and then suggested that if it was him, perhaps he was holding a recording device.

A prosecutor asked him whether recording devices have liquid streams coming out of them, and Rehl claimed he didn't see any stream in the video.

Isaiah Giddings, who pleaded guilty in December, said in his agreed-upon statement of offense that Rehl was angrier than Giddings had ever seen him and had “asked other rioters if they had bear spray,” but the statement said Rehl did not obtain bear spray.

Rehl admitted that he witnessed some violence on Jan. 6, 2021, but he downplayed what he saw and claimed that he believed protesters were trying to get to stages that had been set up for permitted demonstrations at the Capitol. The stage on the western front was, in fact, set up for President Joe Biden's coming inauguration.

"I seen pepper spray and I seen people scuffling with the cops," Rehl said, but he chalked it up to normal protest activity. "I seen some scuffles."

Messages Rehl sent to his mother, however, show that he described what happened much differently.

"I'm so f---ing proud," Rehl wrote, saying "our raid" of the Capitol had set off events across the country.

Rehl said he now regrets smoking inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6 and his other actions that day, even if he did not think he had done anything wrong at the time. He said he feels much differently about Jan. 6 today than he did about the Capitol attack in its immediate aftermath.

“It was terrible. There’s no way to chop it up. I think a lot of cops were assaulted. Parts of the building were destroyed, I guess you could say," Rehl testified. "At the time I didn’t think I did anything wrong."

Rehl told jurors that he did not go to the Capitol with "any intentions to do any of the stuff that we've seen" in videos shown during the trial, saying he "literally went there to protest." Rehl said it would have been better if he'd never gone to Washington in the first place.

Closing arguments in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial are likely to late this week or early next week.

Pezzola, who smashed out the Capitol window during the initial breach, also began his testimony on Tuesday. He said he "got caught up in all the craziness" and was "angry," "upset" and "not thinking clearly" that day. Pezzola said that he had met only one of his co-defendants — Tarrio — before they became co-defendants and that the other Proud Boys "should not be roped into my actions."

Pezzola testified that he viewed the Proud Boys as an organization with a culture of “toughness and strength” and that he joined the far-right extremist group after his floor-installation business slowed after the coronavirus pandemic and his wife told him to find a hobby and make some friends.

About 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the Capitol attack, and hundreds of additional cases are in the works.