Crime

A Busy Week for Florida's January 6 Defendants as Tarrio Inches Toward Trial

Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys at a  Virginia rally in January 2020.
Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys at a Virginia rally in January 2020. Photo by Anthony Crider
Key prosecutions of far-right activists accused of plotting the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol Building came to a head this week, culminating in the conviction of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and two Florida members of the group.

On November 29, jurors found Rhodes, Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs, and Central Florida member Kenneth Harrelson guilty of charges stemming from the Capitol Hill riot, including obstruction of an official proceeding, tampering, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties.

Rhodes and Meggs were convicted of seditious conspiracy, a rarely used federal charge that punishes those who "conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States."

The verdict follows an eight-week trial and several days of jury deliberations. A sentencing date has yet to be set.

“As this case shows, breaking the law in an attempt to undermine the functioning of American democracy will not be tolerated,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray after Meggs and Rhodes were convicted. “The FBI will always uphold the rights of all citizens who peacefully engage in First Amendment-protected activities, but we and our partners will continue to hold accountable those who engaged in illegal acts regarding the January 6, 2021, siege on the U.S. Capitol.”
With the trial of Rhodes and his Oath Keepers peers wrapped, D.C. prosecutors are gearing up for the planned December trial of Miami-born Enrique Tarrio, former leader of the far-right Proud Boys group.

Tarrio also faces seditious conspiracy charges for allegedly plotting to forcibly oppose the transfer of presidential power during the joint session of Congress on January 6. He is being prosecuted alongside Proud Boys defendants Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida; Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Washington; Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York.

This past October, South Carolina Proud Boys chief Jeremy Bertino pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy for helping Tarrio plot the Capitol Hill attack while recovering from a stabbing injury he had suffered in an altercation in Washington, D.C., in December 2020.

Tarrio was not present during the Capitol Hill riot, having been arrested two days earlier for burning a Black Lives Matter flag stolen from a D.C. church. Prosecutors allege, however, that he directed high-ranking Proud Boys, the group's self-described "Ministry of Defense," in the planning and execution of the Capitol attack.

Tarrio's co-defendants allegedly played a critical role in breaching security at the building. Pezzola pushed into police lines and smashed the window of the Capitol Building with a riot shield stolen from police, creating the initial entry point for members of the mob to storm the structure, the indictment states.

In a correspondence with a Proud Boys member about the siege, prosecutors claim, Tarrio sent messages stating, "Make no mistake... We did this."

This week, Tarrio lost a last-ditch bid to have the charges dismissed. To no avail, he and the co-defendants argued that trying them in D.C. and selecting a D.C. jury would violate their constitutional rights because the alleged conspiracy took place outside of the district. They cited the Sixth Amendment, which gives defendants the right to be tried by an "impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly denied the motion on November 28, replying that the conspiracy to attack the Capitol, and the attack itself, were a contiguous crime. The judge pointed to federal law that allows the government to prosecute a multi-district crime “in any district in which [it] was begun, continued, or completed.”

"Despite Defendants’ insistence otherwise, the District of Columbia is a constitutionally appropriate venue," the ruling reads.

Tarrio and his co-defendants' trial is set to begin on December 19.

Text messages released in court filings earlier this year reveal the line of communication between Tarrio and the Oath Keepers in the days before the capitol riot. After Tarrio's January 4 arrest for burning the Black Lives Matter flag, Meggs reportedly tried to call him.

“I just called him no answer,” Meggs told fellow Oath Keepers. “But he will [call if] he’s out.”

When Tarrio was released from custody the following day and ordered to leave the District of Columbia, he traveled to a nearby underground parking garage, where he met with Rhodes and other far-right figures on the eve of the January 6 attack, according to prosecutors.
click to enlarge
Federal authorities have said that Meggs plotted for weeks ahead of the January 6 attack before entering the capitol building.
Screenshot via U.S. District Court of Columbia Criminal Complaint against Meggs, et al.
Federal authorities alleged Meggs, who is from Marion County, Florida, discussed forming an "alliance" between the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Florida Three Percenters, another anti-government, militia-type group.

Meggs plotted for weeks ahead of the January 6 attack before entering the Capitol Building, even attending training sessions and recruiting people, according to a Buzzfeed report. The report revealed photographs and videos of Meggs taking part in two military-style training sessions in Florida prior to storming the Capitol on January 6.

Harrelson, a U.S. Army veteran and Titusville resident, was arrested on March 10, 2021, after footage captured him interacting with a group of Oath Keepers as they marched up the Capitol steps and he was photographed inside the Capitol rotunda alongside other Oath Keepers.

In August, an attorney representing Harrelson asked the judge for Harrelson to be tried separately — claiming that Harrelson did not know some of his fellow defendants and was not involved in plans to bring weapons, as alleged by prosecutors, Click Orlando reported.

Founded in 2009, the Oath Keepers is one of the largest far-right anti-government groups in the U.S today, boasting thousands of current and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the group directs its efforts toward recruiting members of the military and law enforcement and is often confrontational, having participated in a number of armed standoffs against the government.

Founded around the time of the 2016 presidential election by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys is a far-right, exclusively male militant organization that has been involved in numerous bouts of political violence. The group has engaged in violent clashes with leftist groups at dueling protests in cities across the nation. Its leadership promotes "Western Chauvinist" values, and members regularly espouse white nationalist, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic views.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca

Latest Stories