USAWorld News

Proud Boys associates working as US informants exposed at trial


The man testified he joined a Kansas City chapter of the far-right Proud Boys organization in 2019. And sitting in federal court in Washington this week, he said he had another relationship that dated back to a decade, with federal law enforcement.

As Donald Trump supporters swarmed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the man, whose full identity was not revealed in court, sent a quick series of messages to an FBI agent.

“Lower the barriers at the Capitol building,” he said, according to evidence presented in court. “The crowd surged forward. Just about to [reach] the building now. He told his FBI handler, “PB didn’t do it, or inspire it.”

But in one of the most high-profile prosecutions on January 6, it’s not the government calling its own informants as witnesses. Instead, at least four FBI sources were approached by the defense. Two others are on trial. And it was federal prosecutors who undermined the credibility of a federal informant, suggesting that the man – who only pronounced his name as “Aaron” – had suppressed evidence and obtained testimony that he had underestimated at several times his own participation in the riot.

The role reversal underscores intelligence failures prior to Jan. 6, as the FBI was unprepared for the riot despite its inroads into groups now accused by the Justice Department of plotting violence. The five Proud Boys leaders on trial are charged with seditious conspiracy, a rarely used political charge, in a trial that lasted nearly three months.

Lawyers for the defendants say there was no intelligence failure – the FBI was surprised because the riot was spontaneous.

“There was a complex network available to the government, and they didn’t detect anything because there was nothing to detect,” Norm Pattis, who represents Joseph Biggs, said in court last week. Defense lawyers said in court that they had eight or nine informants referenced during the proceedings – a number that does not include the defendants.

Prosecutors say the Proud Boys’ criminal role in the violence is evident in internal communications before and after Jan. 6 as well as in video of the group’s leaders at the front of the crowd as barriers were broken and broken windows. Government witnesses included a high-level Proud Boy who agreed to plead guilty and cooperate after Jan. 6, but no one identified himself as an undercover informant.

Under cross-examination, ‘Aaron’ – who did not spell his name in the trial filing – admitted that a member of his Kansas City Proud Boys chapter “had said some pretty crazy things” about the violence before the 6 January that he did not share with the FBI. He admitted to entering the Capitol without FBI permission and did not disclose that he helped open a door for other rioters.

He then tried to justify his actions to officers by saying he believed he could help stop the destruction of “historically significant objects or historical artifacts”, according to the testimony.

Evidence presented in court indicates that many FBI sources within the Proud Boys were only asked about their left-leaning ideological opponents, even as the right-wing group was involved in threats and violence at protests across United States.

“Aaron” testified Wednesday that prior to Jan. 6, the FBI had never asked him to seek information on the Proud Boys. When he informed his handler that he was coming to DC for the protest, he was only asked “to try to see if I could locate anyone in DC who had nothing to do with the Proud Boys”, he testified.

But he also conceded that he had “no access” to the leaders or members of the Proud Boys allegedly in charge of planning and organizing January 6, the defendants in the case or their communications. The man has not been charged. His attorney declined to comment.

Biggs said in documents that he agreed to “share information about Antifa networks” with the FBI in 2020. (Tarrio, who cooperated in a federal health care fraud case before joining the Proud Boys, also spoke openly about getting involved with the FBI in the years that followed.)

Right-wing activist Jennylyn Salinas was about to come to Tarrio’s defense when prosecutors revealed she was a paid government informant who had been sharing information with the FBI for five years.

Salinas had in recent weeks offered unsolicited legal advice and emotional support to imprisoned Proud Boys, and defense attorneys initially expressed concern that she was doing so for the benefit of the government. Tarrio’s lawyer likened the situation to machinations in his home country, Cuba.

But within hours, he was convinced that Salinas’ FBI handlers had no idea she was involved in defending the Proud Boys and had never asked her about Tarrio. Salinas had sworn under oath that she only reported to federal agents on “antifa and the border” — not the Proud Boys.

“She was not assigned to report on Proud Boys,” Judge Timothy J. Kelly said Monday. “Everyone involved swore it didn’t happen, and his contact with the defense camp is easily explained by his sympathy for the defendants.”

The vice president of the Oath Keepers, also an informant, told the FBI about his concerns about a confrontation with anti-fascists in Portland, Oregon, in September 2020. Illness prevented him from testifying in defense of Chief Stewart Rhodes, who was later found guilty of similar acts. charges to those facing Tarrio, Biggs and three other Proud Boys.

After the death of George Floyd in May 2020, the Justice Department named far-left anti-fascists responsible for the violence and destruction at racial justice protests across the country, though there was little evidence of an organized left-wing effort to disrupt these rallies.

This posture “would naturally put pressure on FBI agents working in the area of ​​domestic terrorism to find this anti-fascist terrorist threat,” said Michael German, a former undercover agent who has long argued that counterterrorism efforts from the FBI were wrong. “It didn’t appear that the FBI was interested in pursuing a prosecution against the Proud Boys. While at the same time, they were aggressively infiltrating less violent, less organized groups.

The Intercept recently reported that a man with a violent criminal history was paid by the FBI to infiltrate left-wing protest groups in Denver, where he encouraged the use of force.

Salinas was ultimately not called to testify, after Kelly blocked questions about her relationship with the FBI.

Proud Boy Matthew Walter of Tennessee was also a potential defense witness. He said that although there is “no sort of relationship with the CHS” – using the acronym Confidential Human Informant – he had several conversations with an FBI agent between August 2020 and January 2021.

“The rules were, don’t ask me about the Proud Boys,” Walter said. “They didn’t want to know about the Proud Boys, they wanted to know about antifa.”

Under those rules, Walter said the only questions he was asked about Jan. 6 were, beforehand, whether he was leaving, and afterwards, whether he had committed any crimes. Otherwise, he said, “it was radio silence.” He said he did not believe the leaders of the Proud Boys were responsible for what happened.

Another FBI informant, according to evidence presented in court, drove Tarrio from the DC jail to Baltimore on January 5; in between, a meeting in the parking lot between the leader of the Proud Boys and Rhodes came under intense scrutiny by federal investigators. But the informant, Kenny Lizardo, was subpoenaed by the defense – a decision he successfully fought arguing he could incriminate himself.

Tom O’Connor, who investigated terrorism for the FBI for two decades, said agents follow “very strict guidelines” when using informants to monitor domestic extremist organizations “because the groups themselves are protected by the First Amendment in the vast majority of cases.” Moreover, he said, sources choose what they want to reveal; agents “don’t have a crystal ball to see what they know”.

Informants from other far-right groups reported Jan. 6 warnings to the FBI that were largely ignored as protected speech. A tip from inside the Oath Keepers was followed up only after the riot.

Authorities have relied on testimony from informants in other cases involving far-right violent movements, with mixed results.

Prosecutors say an informant was essential to building a case against former Army Pvt. Ethan Melzer, who was sentenced this month to 45 years in prison for sharing sensitive information about a US military installation as part of a neo-Nazi group’s plot to ambush troops. An informant also recently helped federal prosecutors charge a white supremacist with planning to attack Baltimore’s power grid.

However, as the Proud Boy trial shows, informants can be a gamble. Extremism watchers point to informant-mined cases that have been found to be dangerous, unstable, or seen as crossing the line between investigation and entrapment.

Amy Cooter, a research fellow at the Middlebury Institute’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counter-Terrorism, has written extensively about the failure of the Justice Department’s 2012 prosecutions of members of the Hutaree militia accused of fomenting a violent revolt against the government, a case that relied heavily on an undercover agent and a paid infiltrator. A federal judge ultimately dismissed all major charges, in part because “a defendant cannot be convicted of conspiring with someone working for law enforcement.”

Public reaction to the lawsuit, Cooter found, was that the case against the Hutarees was “overblown, at best, and the result of entrapment, at worst”.

The picture appears to be changing, Cooter said, alongside growing public awareness of the risks posed by armed extremist movements. Perhaps the most similar recent example is the prosecution of far-right militia members in a kidnapping plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) in 2020.

Fourteen people were arrested after a sting involving at least a dozen paid confidential informants. Several of the group’s factories have proven to be unreliable, including one described by prosecutors as a “double agent”. Two men have been acquitted, but others have been convicted and others are facing trial.

“It seems like more people are aware of the threats that can come from groups like this and are perhaps more willing to ignore some of these issues, let’s call them, in the interest of thinking about the bigger picture of safety,” Cooter said. .

Devlin Barrett and Tom Jackman contributed to this report.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button