Four former members of the far right, white nationalist group the Proud Boys, including the group’s former leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, were convicted of seditious conspiracy in federal court on Thursday for their role in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
On January 6, 2021, lawmakers had to be evacuated from the Capitol building after a mob of loyalists to former President Donald Trump — including members of the Proud Boys and other violent right-wing groups — stormed the Capitol to disrupt the congressional certification of the 2020 election, with hopes that doing so would allow Trump to remain in office.
Each member of the Proud Boys who received a guilty verdict from a federal jury this week could face up to 50 years in prison. An additional member of the group who was not found guilty of seditious conspiracy was found guilty of other crimes.
Sedition charges are rare, but have been used in other cases involving January 6 participants — six members of the Oath Keepers, for example, have been convicted of the charge.
Seditious conspiracy charges, which were enacted during the Civil War to address attempts to attack the U.S. government during that era, involve two elements: the agreement of at least two individuals to commit a crime against a government, and the incitement or advocacy of an insurrection against the government.
The convictions against the Proud Boys are yet another win for the Department of Justice (DOJ), which has produced a number of convictions and guilty pleas related to the Capitol attack. But experts are concerned that the convictions won’t prevent the far right group — and others like it — from continuing to engage and recruit like-minded individuals.
“The Proud Boys’ conviction is a huge win for the govt in its sweeping Jan. 6 prosecutions — but so far, it hasn’t had a chilling effect on the extremist crisis at large, including the Proud Boys’ mobilizations,” Andy Campbell, senior editor at HuffPost and author of a book on the Proud Boys, wrote on Twitter.
In an email to Truthout, Spencer Sunshine, an expert on right-wing violence and far right movements in the United States, said that the convictions are unlikely to slow down the group’s recruitment efforts.
“The Proud Boys have shown themselves to be particularly resilient, even through a major leadership change and previous arrests,” Sunshine said. “The group has been relatively quiet in the last couple of years — especially compared to their activity during the Trump era — but they also aren’t going away.”
Other observers noted that Thursday’s convictions could potentially indicate that the DOJ may convict Trump of similar charges. As prosecutors noted during the trial, which lasted for 15 weeks prior to the conviction this week, the Trump campaign had requested, after his electoral loss to President Joe Biden, that the Proud Boys appear, in plainclothes, at Trump rallies, including the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the breach of the Capitol.
According to communications that the DOJ shared with jurors, both the Proud Boys and the Trump campaign understood that violence could break out at these rallies. “Whatever happens … make it a spectacle,” Tarrio said in one of the texts, just two days before the attack on Congress.
The conviction of the four Proud Boys is an “important victory for accountability, for historical record, [and] for democracy,” wrote Ryan Goodman, co-editor-in-chief of Just Security and a former special counsel for the Department of Defense, adding that the “white supremacist paramilitary group would not have taken these actions without Trump’s messaging.”
“The verdicts on the obstruction of an official proceeding charge here are key,” Joyce Vance, a law professor at the University of Alabama and a former U.S. Attorney, wrote on Twitter. “That conspiracy forms the most likely type of charge that could be brought against Trump in connection with January 6.”