What we know about the Proud Boys’ involvement on January 6
This is how some of the most intriguing developments related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol may have come from documentarians who accompanied key figures to the events of the day. There was the crew accompanying longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, who gave insight into both how Stone rushed out of Washington that day and his interactions with the members of the far-right group the Oath Keepers. And there was a documentary filmmaker filming members of another extremist group, the Proud Boys, whose experiences with the group go would have play a pivotal role in the first public hearing of the House Select Committee investigating the attack.
The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers sit in a strange place in the galaxy of events surrounding the Capitol Riot. According to the federal indictments, each group arrived at a similar approach — being in Washington that day, ready to fight — through different logics and with different preparation. Neither, nor necessarily even the central reason why the riot occurred, but the fact that each organization had multiple members who allegedly participated in the riot prompted federal law enforcement to obtain sedition-related indictments. Members of the Oath Keepers were charged with these charges in January; a replacement indictment adding charges of seditious conspiracy against members of Proud Boys was released on Monday.
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With the first public hearing scheduled for this week and the Proud Boys expected to feature prominently in the committee’s initial presentation to the public, it’s useful to skim through what we know of the group’s actions in the months leading up to the riot.
It should be noted at the outset that the Proud Boys are an independent organization that nonetheless overlaps with Trump’s political world. Stone was friends with Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys between the 2020 election and the Capitol Riot. As the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) wrote, “Proud Boys activity has been strongly correlated with former President Trump’s fortunes.” The group had gained a reputation for engaging in street violence with perceived political leftists, but in 2020 its focus was clear: ACLED notes that 97 of the 152 protests the Proud Boys took part in that year “were explicitly in favor of then-President Trump. ”
Importantly, nearly all of these events came after Trump called on the Proud Boys to “stand back and be ready” when asked to speak out against the group during a presidential debate. It’s likely that Trump simply fumbled the request that he ask the Proud Boys to “stand down,” but the band took Trump’s words at face value. From that September debate through the end of the year, the group was involved in 79 pro-Trump protests.
This, of course, includes a number of events after Election Day. As was the case with many Trump supporters, the results of the 2020 contest infuriated many Proud Boys. The replacement indictment released on Monday gives some idea.
“On November 16, 2020, TARRIO posted a message that read, ‘If Biden steals this election, [the Proud Boys] will be political prisoners. We will not go quietly. ..I promise,’” it reads. Then: “On November 25, 2020, TARRIO reposted a social media post from Joe Biden that stated, ‘We need to remember: we are at war with a virus, not with each other.’ TARRIO then posted: ‘No, YOU need to remember that the American people are at war with YOU.’ No Trump… No peace. No quarter.’ ”
The November 16 message came shortly after the Million MAGA March held in Washington in support of Trump. Members of the Proud Boys participated in this event, usually later participate in street fights with opponents. Some members of the group acted as bodyguards for Infowars founder Alex Jones.
The Proud Boys returned to Washington on December 12, two days before voters in every state officially cast their ballots to cement Trump’s loss. Although the protest at that time was smaller, the Proud Boys were singled out as a contributing factor to the violence that followed. Several churches were vandalized, with a Black Lives Matter banner removed from one and burned.
While the Oath Keepers had been planning an armed response to Trump’s loss for some time, the Proud Boys appear to have been mobilized around Jan. 6 only after Trump tweeted that there would be a “wild” protest in DC that day. -the. According to the government indictment, Tarrio and other Proud Boys formed a new chapter of the organization on December 20 called the Ministry of Self-Defense (MOSD). The goal, Tarrio said, is “planning for a national rally.” Trump’s tweet encouraging people to come to Washington was posted on December 19.
The group began to prepare. As I detailed in a timeline in March, Tarrio created an encrypted chat on December 27 focused on recruiting members for MOSD. Another Proud Boys member has started a crowdfunding campaign to buy protective gear for January 6. (The details here and below come from federal indictments and are stipulated as having to be proven in court.)
On Dec. 29, Tarrio bragged about the band’s expected footprint on Jan. 6 — and how he would approach security. Proud Boys, he wrote in a public message, “would be in record numbers on January 6, but this time with a twist. … We won’t be wearing our traditional black and yellow, we’ll be incognito and we’ll be spread across the downtown DC into smaller teams, and who knows…we might dress all in BLACK for the occasion” – in an apparent effort to be perceived as antifa, a loose leftist group.
Shortly after, someone sent Tarrio a nine-page plan titled “1776 Returns.” It included plans to occupy a number of buildings in Washington. In a video chat on Dec. 30, Tarrio told MOSD members that what would happen on Jan. 6 would be “completely different” from the group’s past protests and not just a “night march and bending.”
On January 3, members of MOSD’s secure chat posted messages about the Capitol’s submergence. “What would they do [if] 1 million patriots stormed and took the capital building,” one wrote. “Shoot into the crowd? I do not think so.”
The next day, a member posted a voicemail to MOSD chat claiming that the front of the Capitol should be the “main operating room” for Jan. 6. Tarrio later responded, “I haven’t heard that voice note until now, you want to storm the Capitol. It’s not clear from the indictment if he’s acted as an imperative (“You want to storm the Capitol”) or a question (“You want to storm the Capitol?”) The document “1776 declarations” would have included a section titled “Storm the Winter Palace”, suggesting the premiere was likely.
Several thousand dollars had been raised through a crowdfunding campaign to bring the Proud Boys to Washington, and they started rolling in. Tarrio arrived on January 4 – and was quickly arrested for being the person who burned the Black Lives Matter banner during the December protest. (He was sentenced to five months in prison last August.) Tarrio was ordered to stay out of Washington, but, after being released from prison and before leaving, he met briefly with the leader of the Oath Keepers. , Stewart Rhodes, in a parking lot in Washington on January 5. It’s unclear what was discussed, but the Justice Department obtained audio from the documentary makers who accompanied Tarrio and wrote in a court filing that “an attendee made reference to the Capitol.”
That evening, members of the Proud Boys discussed plans for the next day, including a meeting at the Washington Monument at 10 a.m. at the time) were at the northwestern entrance to the Capitol complex – ironically near the Circle of Peace. Just before 12:53 p.m., a man named Ryan Samsel speak with one of the Proud Boys leaders at the site, shortly before Samsel knocked down a bicycle barricade and became the first person to enter the Capitol grounds. (Samsel is the person who also spoke at the scene with Ray Epps, a former member of the Oath Keepers who became the center of a baseless right-wing claim.)
The Proud Boys advanced, pushing past the barriers and brawling with the police. In the group chat, others encouraged them to enter the building. One grabbed a riot shield from a police officer which he used to smash a window in the Capitol around 2:13 p.m. “The first members of the mob entered the Capitol through this broken window,” the indictment notes. The Proud Boys were part of this first group.
That evening, shortly before the Capitol was fully cleared, someone sent Tarrio two text messages.
“Brother, you know we made this happen,” the indictment read. The other said, “I’m so proud of my country today.
“I know,” Tarrio replied, later adding “the Winter Palace” — an apparent reference to the plan of “1776 Returns.”
If no member of the Proud Boys had been in Washington on January 6, it is very likely that there would still have been a violent attack on the Capitol. The group’s presence, however, is emblematic of both cause and effect. The strident Trump supporters who adopted violence as a political tactic, they believed that Trump had seen the election unfairly stolen and came to Washington to right that injustice.
They were ready, as always, to fight. And they fought.