Richter refuses to dismiss the charges brought by the leaders of the Proud Boys

A federal judge declined to dismiss charges against four alleged leaders of the far-right Proud Boys conspiracy to attack the U.S. Capitol to prevent Congress from confirming President Joe Biden’s election victory.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly on Tuesday denied defense attorneys’ arguments that the four men – Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe – were charged with conduct protected by the freedom of expression provided by the First Amendment.

Kelly said the defendants had many nonviolent ways to express their views on the 2020 presidential election.

“Defendants are not charged, as they argue, for burning flags, wearing black armbands, or simply taking part in sit-ins or protests,” wrote Kelly in his 43-page verdict. “Also, the conduct charged, even if it had an expressive aspect, lost any First Amendment protection it might have had.”

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Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe were charged in March with, among other things, conspiracy and obstruction of an official trial. All four remain detained pending trial in May.

Defense attorneys also argued that the obstruction charge did not apply to their clients’ cases because the Congressional Certificate of Electoral College voting was not an “official process”. Kelly disagreed.

Earlier this month, another District of Columbia federal judge confirmed that prosecutors had brought the same obstruction charge in a separate trial against two riot defendants.

The case against Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe is a focus of the Justice Department’s far-reaching investigation into the January 6th uprising. More than three dozen people indicted in the siege of the Capitol have been identified by federal authorities as leaders, members or collaborators of Proud Boys, including at least 16 accused of conspiracy.

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Last Wednesday, a New Yorker pleaded guilty to storming the US Capitol with other Proud Boys members. Matthew Greene becomes the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty of conspiring with other members to prevent Congress from confirming the electoral college vote. He agreed to cooperate with the authorities.

Other members of extremist groups have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 people linked to the anti-government Oath Keepers.

Nordean from Auburn, Washington, was President of the Proud Boys Chapter and a member of the group’s national Elders Council. Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida, is a self-proclaimed Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was President of the Proud Boys Chapter in Philadelphia. Donohoe, of Kernersville, North Carolina, was also charged with serving as president of his local association.

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The four men’s lawyers refused to comment on Tuesday’s verdict.

On the morning of January 6, Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Capitol before President Donald Trump finished his address in front of thousands of supporters near the White House.

Just before Congress convened a joint session to confirm the election results, a group of Proud Boys followed a crowd as they broke barriers at a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, the indictment said. Several Proud Boys also entered the Capitol building itself after the mob broke windows and forcibly opened doors.

More than 700 people were charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. At least 165 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly for offenses punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment.

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