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Proud Boys sentenced: Leaders receive multiple decades in federal prison

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Photo by Paula Bronstein / AP
Photo by Paula Bronstein / AP

Two years after the January 6 insurrection, federal judges are handing out sentences for some of the most prominent ring leaders.

On Tuesday, September 5, Federal District Judge Timothy J. Kelly sentenced the former national chairman of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, to 22 years in prison. His sentence is the harshest any of the 1,100 people charged with participating in the insurrection have faced yet.

Tarrio's federal trial took three days. Lead prosecutors characterized him as calculating. "His leadership over the Proud Boys was about violence and manipulation," Justice Department prosecutor Connor Mulroe said. "He demonized his perceived adversaries. He glorified the use of force against them. He elevated the street fighting element in his group — the so-called rally boys — and he practiced and endorsed the use of disinformation, deceiving the public, and cultivating fear."

In the days leading up to the insurrection, Tarrio was in Baltimore, not Washington DC. Despite Tarrio not being at the Capitol that day, the judge still found him guilty of planning and organizing it.

He was previously kicked out of the city by a local judge overseeing a criminal matter wherein Tarrio burned a Black Lives Matter banner that belonged to a Black church. (He later received a five-month sentence.) At the time, Tarrio carried two high-capacity rifle magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo. He then relied on the leadership of Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean to carry out his plans on the ground in DC following his removal from Washington.

Members of the far-right Proud Boys, including leader Enrique Tarrio (center) — Photo by Hannah McKay / Reuters  

A calculating leader
Tarrio has served as the leader of the Proud Boys since 2018. In the days following January 6, 2021, the FBI determined that the Proud Boys were the leading organizers of the attack.

"The Justice Department proved in court that the Proud Boys played a central role in setting the January 6th attack on our Capitol into motion," said Attorney General Merrick Garland.

"No organization put more boots on the ground at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, than the Proud Boys, and they were at the forefront of every major breach of the Capitol's defenses, leading the on-the-ground efforts to storm the seat of government," added Matthew Graves, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Court documents showed that Tarrio and co-defendant Nordean started a chapter of the Proud Boys specifically to conspire, hinder, prevent, and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote.

The Proud Boys started to gain steam as an influential conservative organization following Tarrio's rise in leadership. Prosecutors noted that Tarrio's charisma had helped him rise in the ranks of the organization.

In recent years, the group has caused conflict at the local level, protesting COVID-19 shutdowns, vaccines, and critical race theory. Members have also been responsible for several LGBTQ+ Pride protests. The organization has seen a significant increase in regional chapters since the insurrection.

Despite the serious charges he has faced over the last two years, Tarrio has continued to promote a laid-back façade, often appearing in public in a ball cap and sunglasses. During jury deliberations, he gave an interview in which he insisted that the insurrectionists did nothing wrong . When federal marshals escorted him out of the courtroom following his sentencing, Tarrio raised two fingers in a peace sign for photographers.

Ethan Nordean — Photo by Carolyn Kaster / AP  

Seattle chapter leader gets 18 years in prison
Tarrio's sentencing came just days after another Proud Boys leader faced harsh verdicts. Ethan Nordean earned the second-highest sentence (18 years) just days before Tarrio's trial wrapped. His charges included seditious conspiracy and obstruction of law enforcement.

Nordean, a 33-year-old from Auburn, Washington, was on the ground leading a pro-Trump mob during the insurrection. He was the self-described "sergeant at arms" for the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys, which has become well-known in the region for starting street brawls and antagonizing anti-fascist protesters at pro-LGBTQ+ events.

Nordean led one of the first groups to breach the Capitol. He tore down a fence and led nearly 200 men onto Capitol grounds. Prosecutors in his case noted that he used his muscular physique and background in bodybuilding to intimidate and "dole out physical violence."

The grand jury that convicted Nordean relied on his social media accounts as evidence of his preplanning and intent to cause harm. Following the 2020 election, Nordean wrote on social media, "We tried playing nice, and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys, and we will not be extinguished."

Additional sentencing arguments provided a lengthy trail of violent threats by Nordean, both online and through his podcast, Warboys, in which he talked about "the day of the rope."

"Over the past week, four members of the Proud Boys received sentences that reflect the danger their crimes pose to our democracy," said Attorney General Garland. "Today, the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, learned that the consequence of conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of power is 22 years in federal prison.".

Tarrio will be up for parole in 2045. Nordean will be up for parole in 2041.