A federal judge has refused to dismiss an indictment accusing four alleged leaders of the far-right Proud Boys of conspiring to attack the US Capitol to prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s election victory.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly on Tuesday rejected defense attorneys’ arguments that the four men – Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe – are accused of conduct protected by the First Amendment’s right to freedom of expression.
Kelly said the defendants had many non-violent ways of expressing their views on the 2020 presidential election.
“Defendants are not, as they claim, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote in his 43-page verdict. “Moreover, although the conduct of the accused had an expressive aspect, it lost the protection it may have had.”
Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe were indicted in March on charges including conspiracy and obstruction of justice. All four of them remain in jail pending a trial scheduled for May.
Defense attorneys also argued that the obstruction charge did not apply to their clients’ cases because congressional certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official procedure.” Kelly disagreed.
Earlier this month, another judge in the District Court of Columbia upheld the prosecution’s use of the same obstruction charge in a separate case against two rebel defendants.
The case against Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe is a focus of the Justice Department’s comprehensive investigation into the January 6 uprising. More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates, including at least 16 defendants accused of conspiracy.
Last Wednesday, a man from New York pleaded guilty to storming the US capital along with other Proud Boys members. Matthew Greene is the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty to conspiring with other members to prevent Congress from confirming the polling station’s vote. He agreed to cooperate with the authorities.
Other extremist group members have been accused of conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 people linked to anti-government Oath Keepers.
Nordean from Auburn, Washington, was chairman of the Proud Boys Chapter and a member of the group’s national “Council of Elders.” Biggs from Ormond Beach, Florida, is a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of the Proud Boys branch in Philadelphia. Donohoe of Kernersville, North Carolina, also served as president of his local chapter, according to the indictment.
Lawyers for the four men declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling.
On the morning of January 6, Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Capitol before President Donald Trump finished speaking to thousands of supporters near the White House.
Just before Congress convened a joint session to certify the election result, a group of proud boys followed a crowd of people breaking barriers at a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol area, the indictment states. Several proud boys also entered the Capitol building itself after the mob smashed windows and forced doors open.
More than 700 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. At least 165 of them have pleaded guilty, mainly to offenses punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.