A federal judge overseeing the jury trial for members of the Proud Boys accused of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6, 2021, breach of the U. S. Capitol ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors can use a statement made by former President Donald Trump months prior to the attack as evidence.
Judge Timothy J. Kelly from the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia made his decision over the objections of one of the defendants’ lawyers, who claimed that the evidence could bias the jury against his client.
The statement under consideration was made during a 2020 presidential debate between Trump and President Joe Biden. During that debate, Trump was asked whether he condemned far right violence, including from militia groups that supported him politically, such as the Proud Boys. Trump initially tried to deflect the question, but relented when pressed by debate host Chris Wallace, saying, “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by.”
Trump’s refusal to unequivocally condemn the violent white supremacist organization was widely criticized. Many correctly predicted that the Proud Boys would be emboldened by Trump’s words — and reports later emerged that members of the Proud Boys were celebrating his statement.
Prosecutors in the trial, which features five members of the Proud Boys, argued that the group viewed the former president’s words as a directive prior to their participation in the Capitol attack. The group also capitalized off of Trump’s statement at the debate by using it as a recruitment tool.
Nick Smith, a lawyer for one of the Proud Boys, Ethan Nordean, argued against including Trump’s comment in the trial, claiming it didn’t reflect actions by Nordean and others, and that it would prejudice the jury.
Kelly, who Trump appointed to his current judgeship in 2017, rejected that notion, noting that Enrique Tarrio, a former chair of the organization who is also facing charges at the trial, responded to Trump’s command that night by tweeting “standing by, sir” — a message clearly intended as a response to Trump’s statement.
Indeed, prosecutors’ claims have already been confirmed by Proud Boys members who have testified to the January 6 committee, with one witness saying that Trump’s order helped grow their ranks “exponentially.”
A guilty verdict for members of the Proud Boys could be detrimental to Trump, confirming yet again that his incendiary rhetoric motivated many of his loyalists to take part in the Capitol attack.
“A conviction now will bolster [the] theory” that the Proud Boys were motivated by the former president “and help tie Trump to the coup,” Los Angeles Times Legal Affairs columnist Harry Litman said on Twitter.