Hundreds of Proud Boys assembled near the Capitol on the mid-morning of Jan. 6 — well before Donald Trump’s speech at the ellipse — and appeared to perform reconnaissance for the attack on the Capitol that they would spearhead later that afternoon.
That was the testimony of British documentary filmmaker Nick Quested, live before the Jan. 6 Committee on Thursday night. Quested was embedded with Proud Boys on that day, and his raw footage of violence during the insurrection was featured at length by the committee.
In his testimony, Quested recalled how hundreds of Proud Boys had ditched the Ellipse and made straight for the Capitol complex at about 10:30 on Jan. 6. They watched as the cops set up bike-rack style barricades, and donned riot gear on the west side perimeter of the Capitol, before circling to the other side of the halls of Congress to see the East side. The Proud Boys finished their recon mission so early that they had time to go out for tacos.
They would later return to the Peace Circle on the West side, positioned to receive the angry mobs sent their way after his speech. Committee chair Bennie Thompson, remarking on Quested’s testimony, said: “The central question is whether the attack on the Capitol was coordinated and planned. What you witnessed is what a coordinated and planned effort would look like.”
The January 6th Committee’s prime time hearing highlighted the role of violent right wing groups now each facing seditious conspiracy charges for their roles seeking to block the peaceful transfer of power of power on Jan. 6: the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The committee’s presentation did not definitively answer a pressing question, however: Were those alleged conspiracies, in fact one, and the same?
But the committee presentation did indicate crossover between the two groups. It highlighted Quested’s footage of the two group’s leaders together in a Washington D.C. parking garage on Jan 5. And it presented a video clip of then Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio saying of the Oath Keepers: “There’s mutual respect there; we’re fighting the same fight and I think that’s what’s important.”
Shared Values, Different Tactics
The Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys share extreme right-wing politics and a love of Donald Trump, but they’re culturally distinct.
The Oath Keepers are part of the militia movement and recruit heavily from among veterans of the military and law enforcement. They imagine themselves as keepers of the constitutional order, but they are steeped in conspiratorial thinking about a tyrannical forces within the U.S. government.
The Proud Boys are a “Western Chauvinist” fraternity that rails against “The Left” for devaluing the legacy of white men. They are often denounced as white supremacists. In contrast to the regimentation of a militia, the Proud Boys are agents of chaos, notorious for street brawling, in particular with anti-fascist demonstrators. (Asked to denounce the group during a 2020 presidential debate, Trump notoriously told them instead to “Stand back and stand by.”)
The sedition charges faced by both groups are exceedingly rare, and underscore the gravity of the events of Jan. 6. The Jan. 6 committee’s presentation made the case that both groups began preparing in earnest for their trips to Washington after a Donald Trump tweet calling his backers to come protest on Jan. 6, exhorting: “Be there. Will be wild!”
The Oath Keepers
The Oath Keepers were hit with the seditious conspiracy charge first, in January of this year. Federal court documents allege that Stewart Rhodes, the milita’s founder, plotted with lieutenants starting in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, predicting that a “civil war” was imminent.
In advance of Jan. 6, Rhodes and his loyalists allegedly plotted to travel to the Washington, D.C., area, heavily armed, including with thousands of dollars of weapons that Rhodes purchased on the drive east from Texas.
The militia allegedly kept a large cache of weapons across the river in Northern Virginia, with a “Quick Reaction Force” that Rhodes expected to be able to mobilize when, he hoped, Trump invoked the Insurrection Act and called up militias like the Oath Keepers into what Rhodes forecast would be a “bloody” battle against the president’s enemies.
On the day of Jan. 6., as the insurrection began to unfold, Rhodes was delighted by the uprising of “patriots” who were “taking it into their own hands,” according to court documents. Rhodes and his lieutenants allegedly breached the restricted area of the Capitol grounds. While Rhodes stayed outside the building, other top Oath Keepers entered the Capitol in military “stack” formation, allegedly determined to disrupt the counting of the votes of the Electoral College. When Rhodes learned that members of Congress were endangered inside, he allegedly replied, “Fuck ‘em!”
Three Oath Keepers have already pleaded guilty to the seditious conspiracy charge. The latest member to admit to the plot alleged that Rhodes and others regrouped at the Phoenix Hotel on the evening of Jan. 6, and that Rhodes placed a call to a member of Trump’s inner circle, asking to be connected to the president and demanding, even at that late hour, that Trump invoke the Insurrection Act.
The Proud Boys
The seditious conspiracy charge against the Proud Boys was not unveiled until this week, targeting Tarrio who led the organization during the events of Jan. 6, and several deputies.
Following the election, Tarrio allegedly recruited and led a select cadre of Proud Boys known as the Ministry of Self Defense. Starting in late December, Tarrio is alleged to have discussed a document, called “1776 returns,” that called for occupying buildings in the Capitol complex, to “show our politicians We the People are in charge.”
The hardcore MOSD members, who took their marching orders from Tarrio, are alleged to have plotted to dress “incognito” on Jan 6. instead of wearing the usual Proud Boy markings. But Tarrio was not on the ground on the day of the insurrection — he’d been arrested days earlier for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a church and had been ordered to leave Washington D.C. as part of the conditions of his release.
Yet Tarrio allegedly cheered on his liutenanants from Baltimore, reveling in their actions to storm the Capitol. Proud Boys were at the vanguard of the insurrectionists, with one member allegedly stripping a riot shield from a Capitol Police officer and using it to smash open a window that let the first invaders inside the building. Tarrio allegedly sent celebratory messages including, “Make no mistake… We did this,” and, “Do it again.”
Evidence of Collaboration?
Did the streams of these two conspiracies cross?
Neither the Jan. 6 Committee nor the Justice Department has said so explicitly.
But in making its case against the Proud Boys in preliminary court proceedings, federal prosecutors have repeatedly pointed to the suspicious meeting in the garage of the Phoenix Hotel on Jan. 5, just before Tarrio left town, where the Proud Boy leader briefly met Rhodes and the Oath Keepers’ then-general counsel Kellye SoRelle.
This meeting — caught on tape by Quested’s team — certainly points to coordination. But Tarrio has insisted he was merely seeking legal advice from SoRelle on a gun charge he faced connected to his recent arrest. Federal documents alleged that a member of the meeting could be overheard talking about the Capitol. Tarrio’s lawyer has alleged in a court hearing that that person was Rhodes.
In a Wednesday court filing, Tarrio legal team bashed the new federal case against him as based on public relations rather than new evidence. The memo accused the government of levying “trumped up” sedition charges in a move “suspiciously” timed to “coincide with the January 6th Select Committee Hearings.”
Tarrio has pleaded not guilty to the seditious conspiracy charge. Tarrio’s lawyer suggested the Proud Boy was the victim of a conspiracy, himself, that had been “orchestrated at the highest levels of government.”