Before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, the FBI had well-placed informants in the Proud Boys who the government hoped could glean information about the notorious far-right street-fighting gang’s inner workings.
Now, some of those same informants are being called as witnesses in the Proud Boys’ high-profile seditious conspiracy trial—by the defense, who think their testimony will help get their clients off the hook and prove they had no plot to storm the Capitol.
According to defense lawyers, those informants were privy to Proud Boys’ chats and even marched alongside them to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
After several delays, opening arguments finally got underway Thursday in the high-profile seditious conspiracy trial against the Proud Boy ‘s ex-“chairman” Enrique Tarrio, top organizers Joseph Biggs, Zach Rehl, and Ethan Nordean, and member Dominic Pezzola.
All five men are accused of entering into a secret agreement to storm the Capitol, with the ultimate goal of disrupting and even preventing the peaceful transition of power. They face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Each of the defendants has their own legal teams—an array of personalities and characters who are employing a grab bag of strategies and arguments they hope will exonerate their clients. But it’s clear that the biggest asset to the defense’s case, by far, could be the testimony of those government informants.
For example, attorney Nick Smith, who’s representing Nordean, showed jurors a screenshot of messages from one of the informants. “PBs did not do it or inspire,” the informant wrote. “Crowds did, herd mentality. Not organized.”
Many questions remain, however, about just how much information these informants were privy to before the riot, which will likely be cleared up in the coming weeks. For example, Smith indicated that these informants were in a Proud Boy Telegram channel, but we don’t know which one—in particular, whether they’d gained access to a private channel that was created by Tarrio on Dec. 29, 2020, for a special chapter called “Ministry of Self Defense” (or “MOSD) channel.
We also don’t know how many informants were present on Jan. 6, or when the FBI gained access to the Proud Boys.
“You’ll hear them testify that the march to the Capitol was “just for the camera,” Smith told jurors Thursday, referring to the informants. “Despite being involved in the Telegram channel, there was no plan.”