'Very Strong' Evidence: Why a Federal Judge Wants a Top Jan. 6 Defendant Jailed Until Trial

Enrique Tarrio — the national chairman of the Proud Boys during the events of Jan. 6, 2021 — will stay in jail pending his trial on charges that he led a conspiracy to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College.

Federal District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled on May 27, that “the evidence against Tarrio [is] very strong,” including that Tarrio “approved of and took credit for the events of the day.”

Weighing whether to grant Tarrio bail, the judge pointed to the fact that he has “seven adult arrests that have resulted in three convictions,” and that the Jan. 6 crimes for which he’s charged transpired when Tarrio was on pretrial release. The judge ruled that the government’s evidence underscored Tarrio’s “willingness to resort to similar violent tactics against the United States government in the future.”

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Tarrio’s case is somewhat unique among top Jan. 6 defendants in that he is charged for events he didn’t take part in directly. Tarrio had in the days leading up to Jan. 6 been arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a D.C. church. Tarrio got bailed out for that offense, and his release included an order to vacate the nation’s capital.

Tarrio monitored the events as they unfolded from nearby Baltimore, Maryland, and the feds allege that he not only took steps to reestablish “command and control” of his Proud Boy followers before he left town, but that took credit for the assault on the Capitol they helped lead.

Tarrio was arrested in Miami on conspiracy charges in March, and has been jailed since then, most recently in northern Virginia. A hearing on Wednesday, May 18, followed a formal request to revoke that detention order. A federal memo opposing release laid out a stark case against Tarrio, insisting he was cheering on a plan he’d set in motion.

The government claims Tarrio hand-selected an elite group of Proud Boys, who called themselves the “Ministry of Self Defense,” that plotted to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a private Telegram channel that Tarrio created. Despite being in Baltimore on Jan. 6, Tarrio remained in charge of this group, the government alleges, and, as his men breached the Capitol complex, posted public social media comments like, “Do what must be done,” “Don’t fucking leave,” and “Proud Of My Boys and my country.”

Simultaneously, Tarrio was chatting in encrypted private messages with fellow Proud Boys. One deputy allegedly asked, “Are we a militia yet?,” to which Tarrio replied, “Yep.” Tarrio then allegedly bragged, “Make no mistake… We did this…” He later posted, “They’ll fear us doing it again…” And when another member asked, “What do we do now?,” Tarrio allegedly responded, “Do it again.”

At the May 18 hearing, Tarrio lawyer Nayib Hassan emphasized that his client has stepped down from Proud Boys leadership, and suggested he is no longer in a position to stir up trouble. Hassan argued that Tarrio should be released to family in South Florida, wear a GPS monitor, be shut off from social media, and live with his parents. He said a $1 million surety bond backed by properties owned by Tarrio’s aunt and grandfather would ensure Tarrio’s return to court. The lawyer, in an odd twist, highlighted Tarrio’s previous criminal record to insist that his client had comported himself while out on bail previously.

Hassan dedicated substantial time in an attempt to allay concerns about a now-infamous Jan. 5 meeting between Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in the garage of a Washington D.C. hotel. The meeting took place after Tarrio was ordered to vacate Washington D.C. and the feds have pointed to this action as evidence Tarrio should not be trusted to comply with court ordered conditions of release.

Hassan insisted that the meeting was casual, and that its garage location wasn’t intended to hide secretive communications, but was prompted by hotel staff who told those gathering outside the building to move their cars off the street. Tarrio, his lawyer said, was not flouting court orders, but just interested in meeting Kelly SoRelle, then the Oath Keepers’ general counsel, for legal advice on a gun charge he faced.

The government has claimed that a participant in the meeting — which was filmed by a documentary crew — could be heard on tape making a possibly incriminating remark about the Capitol. Hassan seemed to resolve a key curiosity about the speaker, alleging in court that this person was Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who now faces seditious conspiracy charges for his own role in Jan. 6. But in Hassan’s telling, Rhodes made the remark while on a telephone call, and Tarrio was not a part of that conversation, standing well away from Rhodes.

The government, in its arguments to the judge, responded that the garage meeting was not so innocent. In addition to seeking out SoRelle, federal trial attorney Jason McCullough said, Tarrio spoke to a subordinate about Jan. 6 operations security. Tarrio also reassured the subordinate that though he had to surrender his phone when he was jailed in D.C., he’d cleared his messages ahead of time, and the phone’s “two-step” validation would keep it away from prying eyes. The government leaned on these garage exchanges as evidence that Tarrio was seeking to regain a secure line of communication with his deputies to reestablish “command and control” of their operations.

According to the government, by Jan. 6 Tarrio was well aware of Proud Boys’ plans to storm the Capitol and praising his “foot soldiers” as they helped tear down police barricades and break open an entrance to the halls of Congress.

Judge Kelly, a Trump appointee, has presided over other Proud Boy cases. He appeared skeptical of Hassan’s arguments, including that having an established criminal history would make Tarrio less of a flight risk. The judge also underscored the seriousness of the alleged offenses and the “steep hill” to climb to rebut the presumption that Tarrio should stay in jail. (One member of the Proud Boys has already pleaded guilty in the charged Jan. 6 conspiracy.)

Judge Kelly kept returning to how Tarrio appeared to gloat and take ownership of invading the Capitol, chuckling as he quoted Tarrio saying, “We did this,” and exhorting fellow Proud Boys to, “Do it again.”

“You’d have a stronger argument” Judge Kelly told Hassan, if Tarrio’s comments were “less seeming to take credit or responsibility.”

Read Judge Kelly’s detention memo bellow:

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