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Are Extremists in Your Union?

AP reports that authorities are looking at organized cells from the Capitol Siege

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 11, 2021

Since the January 6th Capitol Insurgency, UCOMM has reported on some of the people who were involved in the attack. While some people flew there on private planes, others like Will Pepe were blue-collar union workers.

Below is a story from the Associated Press about how authorities are now looking into the organized groups behind the attack, groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. These were people who were not “whipped into a frenzy” by Trump, but people who had been training for this day.

In light of this attack, we have to wonder, have these extremists infiltrated our local unions? Do they work side by side with us and would you be strong enough to turn them in if you believe they were a part of a dangerous group, hell-bent on overthrowing our government?

Extremist Groups Eyed

As members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group shouldered their way through the mob and up the steps to the U.S. Capitol, their plans for Jan. 6 were clear, authorities say. "Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud," someone commanded over an encrypted messaging app some extremists used to communicate during the siege.

A little while earlier, Proud Boys carrying two-way radios and wearing earpieces spread out and tried to blend in with the crowd as they invaded the Capitol led by a man assigned "war powers" to oversee the group's attack, prosecutors say.

These two extremist groups that traveled to Washington along with thousands of other Trump supporters weren't whipped into an impulsive frenzy by President Donald Trump that day, officials say. They'd been laying attack plans. And their internal communications and other evidence emerging in court papers and in hearings show how authorities are trying to build a case that small cells hidden within the masses mounted an organized, military-style assault on the heart of American democracy.

"This was not simply a march. This was an incredible attack on our institutions of government," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough said during a recent hearing.

The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers make up a fraction of the more than 300 Trump supporters charged so far in the siege that led to Trump's second impeachment and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer. But several of their leaders, members and associates have become the central targets of the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation.

It could mean more serious criminal charges for some rioters. On the other hand, mounting evidence of advance planning could also fuel Trump's and his supporters' claims that the Republican former president did not incite the riot and therefore should not be liable for it.

Defense attorneys have accused prosecutors of distorting their clients’ words and actions to falsely portray the attack as a premeditated, orchestrated insurrection instead of a spontaneous outpouring of election-fueled rage to stop Congress' certification of Trump's defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.

And prosecutors' case against a man described as a leader in the Proud Boys' attack took a hit last week when a judge ordered him released while he awaits trial, calling some of the evidence against him "weak to say the least."

The Oath Keepers began readying for violence as early as last November, authorities say. Communications show the group discussing logistics, weapons and training, including "2 days of wargames."

"I need you fighting fit" by the inauguration, one Ohio member, Jessica Watkins, told a recruit in November, according to court documents. "If Biden becomes president our way of life as we know it is over. Our Republic would be over. Then it is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights," she said in another message later that month.

As Jan. 6 neared, they discussed stationing a "quick reaction force" outside Washington that could bring in weapons "if something goes to hell," according to court documents. Days before the attack, one man suggested getting a boat to ferry "heavy weapons" across the Potomac River into their "waiting arms."

"I believe we will have to get violent to stop this," that man, Thomas Caldwell of Virginia, said in a November message to Watkins. On Jan. 1, he took to Facebook to decry what he viewed as a rigged election, saying "we must smite them now and drive them down," authorities say.

There were plans for some Oath Keepers to be there in "grey man" mode without identifiable militia gear so they could blend in with the crowd.

"For every Oath Keeper you see, there are at least two you don’t see," said a Jan. 4 email sent to members.

Two days before the attack, the Proud Boys’ top leader, Enrique Tarrio,was arrested shortly after he arrived in Washington and was charged with vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic Black church during a December protest.

Tarrio was ordered to stay away from the nation’s capital, so Ethan Nordean was given "war powers" to take charge of the group's Jan. 6 activities, prosecutors say.

Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Washington state known as Ruffio Panman, tapped his social media following to solicit donations of money and tactical gear for the rally, prosecutors said. On the day of Tarrio’s arrest, Nordean posted a link to a podcast in which he discussed baseless claims about fraud in the election.

"Democracy is dead? Well, then no peace for you. No democracy, no peace," he said.

Publicly, Tarrio announced on social media that the Proud Boys wouldn’t be wearing their customary yellow-and-black polo shirts on Jan. 6 so they could be "incognito." Joseph Biggs, a self-described Proud Boys organizer from Florida, echoed that in a social media post directed at counter-protesters.

"We will be blending in as one of you. You won’t see us," Biggs wrote. "We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you."

Privately, according to prosecutors, the Proud Boys arranged for members to communicate using specific frequencies on Baofeng radios, Chinese-made devices that can be programmed for use on hundreds of frequencies, making it difficult for outsiders to eavesdrop.

One of the Proud Boys who heeded the call to meet in Washington was Dominic Pezzola. He traveled from Syracuse, New York, on Jan. 5 and stayed with other members at a hotel, authorities say.

Another group of members came from the Kansas City area. Investigators believe their chapter leader, William Chrestman, brought a helmet, a gas mask and an ax handle that he would conceal as a flag.

They were ready for a fight, prosecutors say.

Long before the riot, Trump refused to condemn the Proud Boys during his Sept. 29 presidential debate against Biden, instead saying the group should "stand back and stand by." Proud Boys members celebrated his words on social media, before the president later claimed not to know who they were. It's unclear whether the Oath Keepers were on the White House radar.

Proud Boys members, who describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for "Western chauvinists," have frequently engaged in street fights with antifascist activists at rallies and protests. Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, who founded the Proud Boys in 2016, sued the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling it as a hate group.

The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of extremists who actively recruit current and former military, police and first responders who pledge to fulfill the oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign or domestic.

In the weeks before the attack, Trump and his supporters were making increasingly false and incendiary comments, designed to mobilize supporters to work to overturn the election results — even though there was no widespread fraud in the election, as was confirmed by election officials across the country and by Trump's attorney general.

Trump encouraged thousands at the rally preceding the riot to "fight like hell," but lawyers for the former president adamantly denied during his impeachment trial that he had incited the attack. They pointed to a remark during his speech in which he told the crowd to behave "peacefully" that day.

He was acquitted in a Senate trial of inciting the riot after he was impeached by the House, but GOP leaders said a more appropriate venue for his actions could be the courts.

As the mob swarmed the Capitol, Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, was communicating with some of the alleged rioters.

"All I see Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. So the patriots are taking it into their own hands. They’ve had enough," he said in a Signal message to a group around 1:40 p.m., authorities say. A little later, Rhodes, who has not been charged in the attack, instructed the group to "come to South Side of Capitol on steps."

Around 2:40 p.m., members of a military-style "stack" who moved up Capitol stairs in a line entered the building through a door on the east side, authorities say. Lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence had been evacuated from the House and Senate chambers just about 20 minutes earlier.

Click here to read more from the AP.

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