WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury indictment filed Tuesday accused the former chairman of the Proud Boys of joining with other leaders of the group in discussing a plan to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The new charges, against Enrique Tarrio, are the closest federal prosecutors have come to answering a lingering question: Was there actually a plan well in advance to storm the Capitol, or was it a case of seizing the moment?
“This is the furthest the U.S. government has ever gone in arguing there was specific planning. Now we have a clearer picture than we’ve ever had, more than a year later,” Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told NBC News.
The charges added Tarrio to an existing indictment against other members of the far-right group that accused them of plotting to come to Washington with tactical gear so they could stage protests to disrupt the electoral vote count on Jan. 6. They were charged with being among the first to fight past the barricades around the Capitol and force their way into the building that day.
But the revised indictment filed Tuesday contained a host of new details. On Dec. 20, it said, a member of the Proud Boys leadership sent a message to a small group: “I am assuming most of the protest will be at the capital building given what’s going on inside,” the message said, according to the indictment.
Ten days later, a person Tarrio was communicating with sent him a nine-page document entitled “1776 returns,” prosecutors said. The file outlined a plan to occupy the House and Senate office buildings near the Capitol.
The indictment said discussions among a small group of Proud Boy leaders shifted in the days before the riot to focusing on the Capitol building itself. “On January 3, as efforts to plan for January 6 intensified,” the document said, “Tarrio stated … that he wanted to wait until January 4 to make final plans.”
That prompted a person, who was not identified in court documents, to send the group this voice message: “The main operating theater should be out in front of house of representatives … based around the front entrance to the Capitol building.”
Tarrio responded, “I didn’t hear this voice note until now, you want to storm the Capitol,” the indictment said.
On Jan. 6, prosecutors said, members of the Proud Boys led rioters to the Capitol from a pro-Trump rally near the Washington Monument. They charged past police barricades, and one member of the group used a riot shield taken from a Capitol Police officer to break a window, allowing the first members of the mob to enter the Capitol, prosecutors said.
Tarrio himself is not accused of joining the rioters. He was arrested two days earlier, charged with burning a banner from a Black Church at a pro-Trump rally on Dec. 12. He was released from custody at 5 p.m. on Jan. 5 and ordered to leave the District of Columbia.
But prosecutors said he did not immediately comply with the order. The indictment said he met at an underground parking garage near the Capitol with Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, and a few others. One of them “referenced the Capitol,” according to the document.
The indictment did not offer any other details of the alleged meeting. Rhodes and 10 other Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy, accused of planning to carry out acts of violence to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes.
Tarrio appeared by video from a Miami jail Tuesday after for a brief court hearing. Prosecutors said they would ask the judge to order him held until his trial. A detention hearing was scheduled for Friday.
More than 775 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol, including over 245 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, according to the Justice Department.
Teaganne Finn contributed.