Federal prosecutors investigating the violent riot at the Capitol this month announced conspiracy charges against two members of the Proud Boys on Friday night, accusing the two men of working together to obstruct and interfere with law enforcement officers protecting Congress during the final certification of the presidential election.
In an indictment filed in federal court in Washington, prosecutors charged two Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, N.Y., and William Pepe of Beacon, N.Y., with 11 counts, including conspiracy, assaulting an officer and civil disorder. Both Pezzola, a former boxer and Marine, and Pepe, an employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, were already facing lesser charges connected with the Capitol attack, which followed a Jan. 6 rally in support of then-President Donald Trump.
While more than 170 people have been charged in the deadly assault on the Capitol, most have been accused of relatively minor crimes such as disorderly conduct and unlawful entry. The only other serious conspiracy charges in the inquiry have been brought against three members of the militia group the Oath Keepers, who were accused of organizing since a week after the November election to stop the certification of the vote.
But unlike the Oath Keepers indictment, the one brought against Pezzola, 43, and Pepe, 31, describes only a two-person conspiracy that lasted through the day of the rally when, it notes, a large group of Proud Boys traveled to Washington and gathered near the Capitol grounds.
A Proud Boys "organizer" led the group -- with Pezzola and Pepe among them -- in a series of chants, including "We love Trump," before moving on to the Capitol, the indictment says.
Earlier this month, prosecutors described a virtually identical scene in court papers charging Joseph Biggs, a high-ranking member of the Proud Boys, with steering a crew of about 100 Proud Boys toward the Capitol. Another organizer, Ethan Nordean, helped Biggs lead the crowd, the court papers said, but he has not been charged.
The Proud Boys, a self-described "western chauvinist" group, have drawn the attention of investigators because they make up one of the extremist outfits that had a large presence on Capitol Hill during the assault. The FBI has started executing search warrants against the group, including one that permitted the collection of numerous electronic devices from a Proud Boys member who took extensive videos of Biggs and his crew.
Investigators have made a priority of exploring whether the attack was planned in advance by groups such as the Proud Boys. Last week, Michael Sherwin, the U.S. attorney in Washington, said that prosecutors were focused on bringing "more complicated conspiracy cases related to possible coordination among militia groups" and "individuals from different states that had a plan to travel" to Washington before Jan. 6.
The new indictment offers no evidence that members of the group worked in advance to plot the Capitol assault and describes only vague links between its two defendants, Pezzola and Pepe. Still, the indictment says the men worked with other individuals -- both "known and unknown" -- leaving open the possibility that further charges could be filed.
Court papers released Friday morning said that Pezzola was in the first wave of rioters to enter the building, shattering a window with a plastic police shield. After climbing through the window, prosecutors said, Pezzola joined a mob that confronted a Capitol Police officer, Eugene Goodman, in a stairwell near the Senate floor. According to court papers, someone in the mob called out: "Where they meeting at? Where they counting the votes?"
Prosecutors said that Pezzola later posted a video of himself online, smoking a cigar inside the Capitol. In the video, court papers say, he refers to the cigar as a "victory smoke," adding that he knew the mob would be able to take over the building if the rioters "tried hard enough."
When FBI agents searched Pezzola's home after the riot, prosecutors said, they found a thumb drive with several PDF files, some suggesting he had been studying bomb-making techniques. The computer files, court papers said, had titles such as "Advanced Improvised Explosives," "Explosive Dusts" and "Ragnar's Big Book of Homemade Weapons."
Michael Scibetta, Pezzola's lawyer, said Friday that authorities were not letting him see his client, who is now in custody in Washington.
"The matter is evolving," Scibetta said, adding that prosecutors were depriving Pezzola of "his constitutionally guaranteed right of assistance of counsel."
Pepe's lawyer, Susanne Brody, did not respond to an email seeking comment.