On the night before the riot at the Capitol, prosecutors say, a group chat among the Proud Boys was abuzz with orders from a leader: Be decentralized. Use good judgment. Avoid the police. And then, in a nod to the group’s hard-drinking habits, “Don’t get drunk until off the street.”
The account of these communications on an unidentified encrypted app was contained in an indictment unsealed on Friday that accused four leaders of the far-right nationalist group of conspiring to resist law enforcement officers at the Capitol and storm the building on Jan. 6 in a plot to disrupt the final certification of the presidential election. The indictment, filed in federal court in Washington, provides perhaps the most thorough look to date at how the Proud Boys planned and participated in the assault.
Two of the defendants — Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Fla., and Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Wash. — were already facing charges in connection with the riot, accused of having led a mob of about 100 Proud Boys and supporters into a restricted area at the Capitol. The two other men named in the indictment — Zach Rehl, the president of the Proud Boys’ Philadelphia chapter, and Charles Donohoe, a chapter leader from North Carolina — were arrested on Wednesday, weeks after photos of them in the mob had circulated online and in the media.
The Proud Boys, who have emerged in recent years as some of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal and violent supporters, have long described themselves as “Western chauvinists” and have a history of bloody street fights with left-wing antifascist activists since shortly after their founding in 2016. But the group achieved new prominence in September after Mr. Trump told its members during a presidential debate to “stand back and stand by.”
Lawyers for Mr. Biggs, Mr. Nordean and Mr. Donohoe declined to comment on the charges. It was not immediately clear who was representing Mr. Rehl.
From the start of the investigation, the federal authorities have focused on the Proud Boys, who were almost certainly the largest single group to have appeared at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Fifteen members of the organization have been charged in connection with the riot, and some are accused of being among the first attackers to shatter windows at the Capitol, breach the building and aggressively confront police officers inside.
The new indictment lays out a conspiracy that began within days of the election in November when, prosecutors say, Mr. Biggs posted on social media calling for “war” over what he described as stolen votes. That same month, prosecutors say, Mr. Nordean echoed the cry for action, writing on social media: “Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.”
In late December, the indictment says, Mr. Nordean solicited donations for “protective gear and communications” in anticipation of action on Jan. 6. Within days, Mr. Rehl began his own online campaign for “Travel Expenses for Upcoming Patriot Events” that ultimately raised more than $5,000, prosecutors say.
In documents filed in other Proud Boys cases, prosecutors have noted that some members of the group had their travel costs and lodgings paid for by others. Investigators have said that the group's sources of funding is a subject of intense, ongoing interest.
The leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, was not in Washington on Jan. 6. He had been arrested two days earlier and banned from the city by a local judge handling his case. Mr. Tarrio had been taken into custody in connection with the burning of a Black Lives Matter flag that was stolen by his group from a Black church after a Proud Boys rally in December.
According to the indictment, the arrest sent shock waves through the Proud Boys’ leadership. That same night, prosecutors say, Mr. Donohoe, in North Carolina, posted a message on one of group’s encrypted channels saying, “Everything is compromised and we can be looking at Gang charges.” Mr. Donohoe, who goes by the nickname YutYut, took steps to “nuke” an earlier version of the group’s encrypted channel and to create a new one, prosecutors say.
By Jan. 5, court papers say, the Proud Boys had settled on a channel called “Boots on the Ground” to communicate and more than 60 members joined it, including all four defendants in the new indictment and an unnamed co-conspirator. That person, prosecutors say, was the one who issued orders on the eve of the assault, telling his colleagues that Mr. Nordean would be in charge on the ground in the morning and that no one should wear their “colors” — an apparent reference to the Proud Boys’ typical black-and-yellow polo shirts.
No one in the mob was wearing those colors when Mr. Nordean, carrying a bullhorn, joined Mr. Biggs and Mr. Rehl in leading the Proud Boys toward the Capitol at just before 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, crossing over barricades that had been “violently disassembled and trampled by the crowd,” the indictment says. Minutes later, prosecutors say, Mr. Donohoe helped part of the mob advance up a flight of stairs, overwhelming the police.
By 2:15 p.m., the indictment says, one Proud Boy — Dominic Pezzola — used a riot shield stolen from the police to break a window, allowing several other members of the group to enter the building.
Five minutes later, court papers say, a message flashed across “Boots on the Ground.”
“We just stormed the Capitol,” it said.
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