Proud Boys were ‘point of the spear’ post-election

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A former Proud Boys member who pleaded guilty to conspiring with group leaders to violently stop the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden told jurors Tuesday that he considered their far-right extremist organization “the tip van de spear” after the 2020 elections.

Jeremy Bertino, testifying against former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and four lieutenants as part of a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors, recalled being stunned and then thrilled when Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” during his first debate with Biden.

After the election, Bertino viewed the Proud Boys as leaders of the conservative movement, a perspective fueled by his regular viewers of the Infowars website promoting the conspiracy theory.

“I believed we had to be the leaders of the country, of the right wing,” said Bertino. “The tip of the spear.”

Bertino, 43, of North Carolina, is the only member of the far-right extremist group to plead guilty to an incendiary conspiracy charge stemming from the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. The five Proud Boys associates be charged on trial with the same number of felonies, a Civil War crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The trial will resume on Wednesday with more testimony from Bertino. The trial was suspended on Tuesday before a prosecutor began questioning Bertino about the January 6 attack.

Bertino is the second former Proud Boys member to testify at the trial. The first, Matthew Greene, testified in January that group members were becoming increasingly angry about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and expecting a “civil war.”

Jurors have heard testimony from government witnesses for more than a month in the trial of Tarrio, a Miami resident, and co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola.

Nordean, of Auburn, Washington, was president of the Proud Boys chapter and a member of the group’s national Elders Council. Biggs, from Ormond Beach, Florida, was a self-proclaimed Proud Boys organizer. Rehl was president of a Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia. Pezzola was a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York.

Bertino said he believed Trump’s election was stolen and hoped the US Supreme Court would quash the election results. He wasn’t in Washington when the uprising broke out in the Capitol. He was stabbed during an altercation in downtown Washington following a Proud Boys march on December 12, 2021, and was still recovering from his injuries on January 6.

Bertino said he grew increasingly angry after learning his alleged attacker had been released on bail. He directed much of his anger at the police, feeling that they had ‘abandoned’ the Proud Boys.

“I felt like they weren’t on our side anymore,” he testified. “And actually, if you weren’t with us, you were against us.”

Bertino said Tarrio, Nordean and Biggs shared his anger at police after his stabbing. Bertino added that many Proud Boys began calling the police “coptifa,” a variation on the term “antifa,” which refers to anti-fascist activists.

The indictment in Tarrio’s case alleges that the Proud Boys held meetings and communicated via coded messages to plan an attack in the days leading up to January 6. On the day of the riot, Proud Boys dismantled metal barricades set up to protect the Capitol. and mobilized, directed and directed members of the mob to the building, prosecutors said.

Tarrio was also not in Washington on January 6. Police arrested him two days before the riot at the Capitol and charged him with vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a protest in December 2020. Tarrio followed a judge’s order after his arrest to to leave town.

Bertino joined the Charlotte chapter of Proud Boys in 2018 after seeing videos of group members fighting with anti-fascist activists. He said he enjoyed the camaraderie of men who shared his right-wing political views. He viewed their enemy as “pretty much anyone who didn’t vote the same way we did.”

Bertino said he became “really close” to Tarrio and was friends with Biggs, Nordean and Rehl, but he remembers meeting Pezzola only once. He met Tarrio in person at a Proud Boys convention in Las Vegas and later at a January 2020 gun rights rally in Virginia, where he said they bonded over their escape from a confrontation with “armed opposition.”

Proud Boys members describe their group as a politically incorrect men’s club for ‘Western chauvinists’. Bertino said there was tension within the Proud Boys ranks between “rally boys” who liked to fight antifa in public forums and “party boys” who preferred to drink together.

Bertino recalled his growing anger in the summer of 2020, when protests erupted across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd in police custody. He blamed antifa for violence and riots, calling them the “foot soldiers of the left wing.”

“I thought we should have gone there to stop them, to restore order,” he said.

Bertino pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in October 2022 and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation into the role Proud Boys leaders played in the Mafia attack on the Capitol. He hasn’t been convicted yet.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising included video testimony from Bertino at the first hearing last year. The commission showed an excerpt in which Bertino said the group’s membership likely tripled following then-President Trump’s comment during a debate with Biden that the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by.”

In his trial testimony, Bertino recalled being stunned and then thrilled by Trump’s comment.

“I just couldn’t believe the president was talking about our club,” he said. “I thought the club would grow exponentially at that point.”

Bertino joined Tarrio at a Washington bar on the night of the 2020 presidential election. He said he had become a “fourth-degree” member of the Proud Boys — the group’s highest rank — after intervening that night in a bloody altercation.

Jurors saw text messages that Bertino and Tarrio exchanged four days after the election, as news outlets declared a win for Biden.

“They called it. Now we must mobilize. Should we roll out to the state houses? Bertino asked.

“Yes,” Tarrio replied.

___

For full coverage of the Capitol uprising, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege

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