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Proud Boys blame Trump as defendants prepare to find out fate in sedition trial

An attorney for Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, told jurors prosecutors were using him as a "scapegoat" for Donald Trump. Jurors will begin deliberations Wednesday.
Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, walk toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean walk toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Carolyn Kaster / AP file

WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the Proud Boys placed blame for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on Donald Trump in closing arguments in their seditious conspiracy trial Tuesday.

An attorney for Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, said federal prosecutors were trying to make him a "scapegoat for Donald J. Trump and for those in power." A lawyer for Joe Biggs said the defendants came to Washington because their "commander-in-chief" told them it would "be wild," referring to Trump's infamous tweet on Dec. 19, 2020, that called on supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6.

“‘Be there, it’s going to be wild,’ the commander-in-chief said. And so they did,” Norm Pattis, an attorney for Biggs, told jurors, adding that “their commander-in-chief sold them a lie.”

Tarrio, Biggs and fellow Proud Boys Ethan Nordean, Dominic Pezzola and Zach Rehl each face at least nine counts, including seditious conspiracy, a rarely used Civil War era law. The trial has been underway for more than three months, and jury selection began in December 2022. The government said in closing arguments Monday that the Proud Boys wanted to be "Donald Trump's army" and were "thirsting for violence and organizing for action” ahead of the Jan. 6 attack.

The defense lawyers wrapped their closing arguments early Tuesday afternoon, and the Justice Department presented its rebuttal argument as the day came to a close. Jurors will begin deliberating Wednesday.

Two defendants testified during the trial: Rehl and Pezzola. Just before Rehl was set to be cross-examined, online sleuths surfaced videos that appeared to show him deploying a can of pepper spray on officers. Pezzola got heated on the stand, bringing up conspiracy theories about another Jan. 6 participant, Ray Epps, and ranting about the "fake" charges and the "phony" trial.

Biggs' lawyer, Pattis, told jurors that "Jan. 6 was a perfect storm" and that Trump played a large role. If "the case of United States v. Donald J. Trump" is ever brought, Pattis said, the "fight like hell" quote would be "exhibit one." But Trump wasn't on trial, he said.

Defense attorney Nayib Hassan, representing Tarrio, also pointed the finger at Trump, saying his anger caused what happened on Jan. 6 and reminding jurors that Trump said “fight like hell” or his supporters weren’t “going to have a country anymore.”

Hassan even partly blamed the membership of the Proud Boys on Trump, saying Trump’s “stand back and stand by” callout to the group brought new attention to the Proud Boys and they grew so quickly that “vetting became difficult.”

Hassan said Tarrio couldn’t have known what was going to happen at the Capitol from a “hotel in Baltimore,” where he was holed up on Jan. 6. (Unlike his co-defendants, Tarrio didn’t go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 after he was banned from Washington the day before.) Tarrio couldn’t have predicted the future, Hassan said, showing a photo of Nostradamus.

He reminded jurors that Tarrio was in communication with a Washington Metropolitan Police officer in the months leading up to Jan. 6 and even told the police official where he would be staying in Washington. Why, Hassan asked, would Tarrio give an officer that information if he was going to commit sedition, one of the most serious crimes against the U.S.?

“Enrique was an entertainer, a lover and a razzle-dazzler,” Hassan argued.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore said in the government’s rebuttal that it was more than just talk.

"Enrique Tarrio isn't being 'scapegoated' for Jan. 6. He's being held accountable for the crimes he committed," Moore said after having shown a video posted on Parler in which Tarrio stood in front of the Capitol wearing a mask. "Premonition," he titled the video.