The Proud Boys are buried under numerous lawsuits and criminal charges thanks to their poorly thought out insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In one of the more major cases, a federal judge has ruled to allow a case brought by the Justice Department to continue, rejecting a motion to dismiss charges against four Proud Boys leaders based on the First Amendment.
Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Charles Donohoe and Zachary Rehl all pleaded not guilty to charges of felony obstruction, trespassing, destruction of property and more.
One of these days, y’all will realize “free speech” doesn’t absolve you of literal crimes.
The Root previously reported that court filings have shown that Biggs was recruited by FBI agents in 2020 as an informant and Nordean penned an emotional rant aimed at Trump for abandoning the Proud Boys following his 2020 loss.
“No matter Defendants political motivations or any political message they wished to express, this alleged conduct is simply not protected by the First Amendment,” Judge Timothy Kelly wrote in a 43-page opinion issued on Tuesday, according to CNN.
“Quite obviously, there were many avenues for Defendants to express their opinions about the 2020 presidential election, or their views about how Congress should perform its constitutional duties on January 6, without resorting to the conduct with which they have been charged,” Kelly wrote.
The four Proud Boys members argued that Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6 couldn’t have been obstructed by them because it was not an “official proceeding” under the law. They argued, for example, that witnesses aren’t ordered to appear at the joint session like they are at impeachment hearings for other investigative proceedings.
“The Court is not persuaded,” Kelly wrote. “The relevant actors here — Vice President Pence and the members of Congress — were ‘directed to appear’ by both statute and the Constitution.”
Kelly also rejected their argument that the law against obstructing official proceedings is too vague to be used in the Capitol riot case.
Trump drew bipartisan criticism during the 2020 presidential race when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a debate with Biden rather than unambiguously condemn the militant group.
The case is U.S. v. Nordean, 1:21-cr-00175, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington).
Nordean, Biggs, Rehl and Donohoe led local chapters of the alt-right group in Washington state, Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina respectively, according to Bloomberg.
The aftermath of the Jan.6 coup has been a political circus, with emerging details this month including texts from government leaders and Fox News personalities.
“Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote, according to CNN. “Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”
With their luck, these four men will have to “stand back and stand by” from their jail cells.