Proud Boys given conspiracy charges relating to Capitol riots

Prosecutors say four leaders communicated with as many as 60 users of an encrypted channel called ‘“Boots on the Ground’

Spencer S. Hsu,Emily Davies
Saturday 27 March 2021 15:31 GMT
File photo of a member of the Proud Boys watches from the stage as Trump supporters gather at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, California last November
File photo of a member of the Proud Boys watches from the stage as Trump supporters gather at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, California last November (EPA)

A Proud Boys member and his brother from Oregon have been ordered jailed pending trial on federal charges of conspiring to breach the US Capitol on 6 January, including by allegedly wrenching open a door and impeding police using a pole with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

The arrests Tuesday of Jonathanpeter Allen Klein, 21, of Heppner, Oregan, and Matthew Leland Klein, 24, of Sherwood, Oregan, bring to at least 25 the number of Proud Boys members and associates charged in the rioting that forced lawmakers to evacuate, delayed Congress’s confirmation of the 2020 election results and led to assaults on nearly 140 police officers.

Prosecutors have alleged that four leaders communicated with as many as 60 users of an encrypted “Boots on the Ground” channel to coordinate actions in Washington that day by members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence. On Friday, a federal magistrate released one of the four, Zach Rehl, 35, of Philadelphia, to house arrest from jail pending trial, but stayed his order pending any appeal.

US Magistrate Zia Faruqui of the District of Columbia ordered the younger Klein detained after a video teleconference hearing Friday. A Portland magistrate earlier ordered Matthew Klein held, and an arraignment is set for Monday.

Prosecutors accused the pair of “malice to the rule of law” and of being ready and willing if not eager “to engage in violence” to promote their political beliefs, even against police and the federal government.

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“I look at the defendant’s history with grave concern,” Faruqui said.

Jonathanpeter Klein is a self-proclaimed Proud Boys member who confronted Black Lives Matter protesters in Salem, Oregan, on 7 September, according to prosecutors. He was wearing body armour and goggles and carrying a baseball bat and a paintball gun, chasing one person who was beaten by a person seen with Klein, prosecutors alleged.

The younger Klein also faces pending misdemeanour counts of possessing a loaded firearm in public and unlawful possession of firearms after police stopped him with a 9mm handgun in a truck departing a26 September Proud Boys rally in Portland, prosecutors said. The truck was also carrying paintball guns, shields, three bats and an axe handle, prosecutors said.

“Just a few months ago, the defendant was charged at another riot, rally, whatever you want to call it . . . armed, with tactical gear, and then went to another one,” Faruqui said.

The Capitol riot “was an attack on the lawful and peaceful foundation of our democratic society,” Faruqui concluded, saying it appeared that the younger Klein’s “repeated conduct” was motivated by the “same ideology.”

An indictment handed down 19 March and unsealed Thursday accuses both brothers of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding as well as police during a civil disorder, and of felony destruction of federal property. The charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.

Matthew Klein helped rioters use a police barricade to climb a wall and reach a stairwell leading to the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol as police were being overrun at about 2:11 p.m. on 6 January, charging papers say.

They accuse the men of entering the Capitol through a door on its northwest side, where the younger Klein allegedly celebrated with an unnamed Proud Boys member.

The men exited and returned to another entrance with a Gadsden flag and pole, the indictment alleges, where they worked to forcibly open another door while “surrounded and assisted by a mob of rioters” in a “second or third wave of attacks,” before police repelled them.

Arguing for Jonathanpeter Klein’s conditional release pending trial, assistant federal defender Michelle Sweet of Portland said the home-schooled son of missionaries in South America was a responsible and hard-working man. He formed a landscaping business and worked in construction before returning with his family to the United States with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in February 2020.

Ms Sweet said her client tried to “remove himself” from the city after 6 January, finding work with another relative at a ranch.

Portland “was an emotionally charged place” following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, when racial justice protests erupted into violence, Ms Sweet argued.

“There were horrific fires” and the constant smell of tear gas, she said, adding, “I don’t think there was a single person that didn’t have their political view tested over those months.”

In his ruling, Mr Faruqui cited an opinion Friday by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District Circuit overturning a district judge’s pretrial detention order for Lisa Eisenhart and Eric Munchel.

Prosecutors have accused the Nashville mother and son of entering the Capitol in tactical gear and armed with a stun gun, later picking up plastic “zip tie” flex-cuffs and entering the Senate chamber searching for “traitors.”

In the appeals court’s first Capitol-related case, Judge Robert Wilkins noted for a three-judge panel that the courts have found pretrial detention appropriate for otherwise nonviolent defendants in cases involving “non-physical harms, such as corrupting a union.”

Mr Faruqui cited that language in his ruling on Mr Klein. Similarly, a judge had concluded that Eisenhart “by word and deed . . . supported the violent overthrow of the United States government” and posed “a clear danger to our republic.”

In a setback for prosecutors, however, the appeals panel said the lower court did not specify why Mr Eisenhart and Mr Munchel, who are not accused of violence, posed a threat of future dangerousness.

The panel ordered a rehearing, directing the trial judge to also consider the circumstances of 6 January, when planned rallies drew crowds to Congress’s joint session, without which two individuals on their own “seemingly would have posed little threat,” Wilkins wrote. The panel also directed the trial judge to consider how judges have treated similarly situated defendants.

The appellate decision was also cited by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in ordering the release of Connie Meggs, 59, of Dunnellon, Fla., and Donovan Crowl, 50, of Woodstock, Ohio, two of 10 co-defendants charged with conspiring with members of the Oath Keepers to storm the Capitol. The judge did order a third co-defendant, Meggs’s husband, Kelly Meggs, 52, jailed pending trial.

Mehta said there is no evidence that Connie Meggs or Crowl brought weapons or engaged as a “recruiter” for the Oath Keepers, a large but loosely organized network founded in 2009 under a disinformation-fueled ideology that the U.S. government is inevitably collapsing toward totalitarian dictatorship.

Mehta released Meggs to pretrial house arrest with no firearms; no access to computers, smartphones or tablets; and no contact with other Oath Keepers, except her husband.

Mehta also released Crowl to home confinement with electronic monitoring, but cautioned, “Do not take this as a sign of my views of the seriousness of the crimes you’ve been charged with or your conduct on that day.”

Prosecutors released photographs of the couple and other members receiving firearms and combat training from a company in Leesburg, Florida, in September.

Prosecutors alleged Kelly Meggs recruited others, said he was named the group’s Florida “state lead” for 6 January, and wrote in December that he had forged an alliance in December among Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, another militant group whose name is drawn from the belief that a small armed force can achieve a revolution.

Article courtesy of the Washington Post

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