WASHINGTON -- Ready for "all-out war," leaders of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group viewed themselves as foot soldiers fighting for Donald Trump as the former president clung to power after the 2020 election, a prosecutor said Monday at the close of a historic trial over the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.
After more than three months of testimony, jurors began hearing attorneys' closing arguments in the seditious conspiracy case accusing Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants of plotting to forcibly stop the transfer of power from Trump to President Joe Biden.
The Proud Boys were "lined up behind Donald Trump and willing to commit violence on his behalf," prosecutor Conor Mulroe told jurors. "These defendants saw themselves as Donald Trump's army, fighting to keep their preferred leader in power no matter what the law or the courts had to say about it."
The prosecution's words underscore how the Justice Department has worked throughout the trial to link the violence on Jan. 6, 2021, to the rhetoric and actions of the former president. Prosecutors have repeatedly shown jurors a video clip of Trump telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during his first presidential debate with Joe Biden.
Tarrio is one of the top targets of the Justice Department's investigation of the riot that broke out at the Capitol. Tarrio wasn't in Washington, D.C., that day but is accused of orchestrating an attack from afar.
One of Tarrio's lawyers is expected to address jurors today when the trial resumes for a second day of closing arguments.
Defense attorneys say there's is no evidence of a conspiracy or a plan for Proud Boys to attack the Capitol.
Nicholas Smith, attorney for former Proud Boys chapter leader Ethan Nordean, said prosecutors built their case on "misdirection and innuendo." Smith accused prosecutors of repeatedly playing the clip of Trump from the debate to try to manipulate jurors.
"Does that prove some conspiracy by the men here?" Smith asked jurors. "We all know it doesn't."
Seditious conspiracy, a Civil War-era charge that is rare and can be difficult to prove, carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The Proud Boys also face other serious charges.
Mulroe said a conspiracy can be an unspoken and implicit "mutual understanding, reached with a wink and a nod."
The Justice Department has already secured seditious conspiracy convictions against the founder and members of another far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers. But this is the first major trial involving leaders of the far-right Proud Boys, a neofacist group of self-described "Western chauvinists" that remains a force in mainstream Republican circles.
The foundation of the government's case, which started with jury selection in January, is a trove of messages that Proud Boys leaders and members privately exchanged in encrypted chats -- and publicly posted on social media -- before, during and after the Jan. 6 riot.
The messages show Proud Boys celebrating when Trump, a Republican, told the group to "stand back and stand by" during his first debate with Biden, a Democrat. After the 2020 election, they raged online for weeks about baseless claims of a stolen election and what would happen when Biden took office.
"If Biden steals this election, (the Proud Boys) will be political prisoners," Tarrio posted on Nov. 16, 2020. "We won't go quietly ... I promise."
Jurors also saw the string of gleeful messages that Proud Boys members posted during the Jan. 6 riot. A group of Proud Boys marched to the Capitol that day. Some entered the building after the mob of Trump supporters overwhelmed police lines.
"Make no mistake," Tarrio wrote in one message. "We did this."
Prosecutors showed multiple videos from Jan. 6 during their closing statements, including one that appeared to show defendant Zachary Rehl spraying police officers with pepper spray outside the Capitol. Confronted with the images during his testimony earlier in the trial, Rehl said he didn't remember doing such a thing and couldn't tell whether it was him.
Mulroe said the images show "he did it and he lied under oath about it." Rehl's attorney, Carmen Hernandez, said the video isn't clear enough to prove Rehl used pepper spray then.
Information for this article was contributed by Alanna Durkin Richer of The Associated Press.