Opening arguments began today in U.S. District Court in D.C. where four leading members of the Proud Boys stand trial for obstruction of official proceedings and seditious conspiracy. Both charges stem from events that happened at the nation’s capitol on January 6, 2020.

The rarely-used seditious conspiracy law is found at 18 U.S. Code § 2384. It states

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.

The law was enacted by Congress shortly after the Civil War in an attempt to quashes further rebellion in the South.

Although charges based on seditious conspiracy are rare, prosecutors were recently able to win convictions against members of the Oath Keepers using the charge.

However, the facts in the present case are far less favorable for prosecutors. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The Proud Boys defendants aren’t accused of beating or otherwise attacking officers like some other Capitol riot defendants. Instead, prosecutors are relying on a theory that the Proud Boys’ weapons consisted of the crowd itself, arguing that they were instrumental in riling up the other rioters and leading them to attack. 

This theory could make the case more challenging than the seditious-conspiracy case against members of the right-wing Oath Keepers group. In that case, prosecutors built their case around a stash of weapons the Oath Keepers had left just outside Washington, arguing the members planned to potentially bring them into the city to support their efforts.

In the same article, the WSJ reported that some of the defendants offered to plead guilty to “obstruction of official proceedings” in exchange for the prosecutors dropping the seditious conspiracy charge. However, the offer was rejected by prosecutors.

The defendants charged include

  • Enrique Tarrio who was, at the time, the Proud Boys’ national chairman;
  • Joe Biggs, a Proud Boy member and radio host; and
  • Ethan Nordea who made news in 2018 for defending himself against Antifa rioters in Portland, Oregon.

According to one of the defendant’s attorneys “The Proud Boys are basically a drinking club. Contrary to what you have heard, the Proud Boys aren’t a sexist, racist, homophobic organization.”