Judge doubts Proud Boy leader's 'intention to plan violence is in the past' -- and orders his continued detention
YouTube screengrabs courtesy US government

A federal judge has ordered Proud Boy Charles Donohoe, who is indicted along with three other members of the nationalist gang for conspiracy to disrupt the electoral college certification, to remain in detention as he awaits trial.

Judge Timothy Kelly noted during a detention hearing on Wednesday that government evidence that Donohoe carried a riot shield that was stolen by fellow Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola and later used by Pezzola to shatter a Capitol window, allowing rioters to stream through.

"There's no evidence that Donohoe laid his hands on anyone or fought with anyone, but the video evidence proffered by the government showed that he was part of a group, along with Pezzola, that pushed against law enforcement at a key access point," Kelly said. "He also said, 'We are regrouping with a second force,' although that plan appears to have been short lived. And he said, he 'felt like a fucking warrior.'"

Judge Kelly previously ordered Joseph Biggs and Ethan Nordean — two other top Proud Boy leaders who are co-defendants in the conspiracy case — to remain in custody. Kelly said his reasons for keeping Donohoe in detention are substantially the same as his reasons for holding Biggs and Nordean.

As with Biggs and Nordean, Kelly said the charges against Donohoe, when considering he is accused of destroying federal property as part of a conspiracy to disrupt the electoral certification, meet the standard of a "federal crime of terrorism."

"Mr. Donohoe stands charged with interfering with the peaceful transfer of power, which is a grave offense, to say the least," Kelly said. "Mr. Donohoe carried a riot shield that was stolen from the police." Kelly added that while there's no evidence that Donohoe himself used the riot shield as a weapon or fought with police officers, "he aided and abetted others to forcibly enter the Capitol, thereby creating more than $1,000 worth of damage.

If convicted, Kelly noted, Donohoe could face a 20-year prison sentence.

Kelly took note of a series of Telegram chats among Proud Boys following the failed Jan. 6 insurrection that included Donohoe. According to the government evidence, Donohoe wrote, "Facial recognition doesn't mean shit when you've got a 5.56 green tip," in response to another member who lamented that the Proud Boys would be out of options once Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20.

"The government's understanding is that 5.56 refers to ammunition," Assistant US Attorney Jason McCullough told the court. "'Green tip' refers to steel-wrapped ammunition that would be considered armor-piercing."

Kelly said characterized the Telegram comment as "quite a statement."

"Certainly, I have a situation where I have a defendant saying, 'Joe Biden will be calling us all criminals,' and another person said, 'By then, it's too late,'" Kelly said. "And then your defendant says, 'It's never too late,' and then references ammunition. Part of the analysis looks at forward-looking analysis of the danger your client poses. That's one thing that's going to get a judge's attention and it certainly got mine."

Donohoe's lawyer, Lisa Costner, said the court should consider her client's actions over his words, adding that he had no firearms in his possession at the time of his arrest.

"I would argue to the court that certainly emotions were high," Costner said. "There was a lot of adrenaline not of carrying out a plan but just what happened that day, not just for Mr. Donohoe, but for everybody…. Certainly it's an unfortunate comment. I would ask the court not to take it that Mr. Donohoe is planning to get a gun and shoot up a government agency. His history belies that."

Donohoe's motion, which was denied by Judge Kelly, had requested that he be released to home detention with his grandparents in North Carolina. The president of the Piedmont North Carolina chapter of the Proud Boys, Donohoe is a single father who was working at a bottle shop in Kernersville at the time of his arrest. He served in the Marine Corps and was deployed for two tours of duty in Iraq.

"Ms. Costner raises the point that Mr. Donohoe served his country and did two tours," McCullough said. "That is to be honored and celebrated. It also raises the point that Mr. Donohoe knows better. He knows he is attacking a government building. Even if he doesn't like the results of the election, he is attacking people who have taken an oath to serve his country."

Costner argued that there's no danger of Donohoe interfering with an electoral count because the election is over and no danger of him interfering with law enforcement because he would have been in home detention. She added that "the chances of Mr. Donohoe being able to interfere with democracy are nonexistent."

Costner's argument did not address the danger to the public by the Proud Boys, whose members have committed multiple assaults, including a rampage through downtown Washington DC after a rally to support President Trump on Dec. 12, in which they randomly attacked individuals whom they perceived to be adversaries.

Judge Kelly said the key factor in his decision to keep Donohoe in detention is his dangerousness to the community, if released.

"There is significant evidence of a leadership role, significant evidence that Mr. Donohoe was part of a network," Kelly said. "Mr. Donohoe has the capability to assist in events that produce violence. He's now shown the capability to produce violence, whether against law enforcement or other civilians. These capabilities on behalf of Mr. Donohoe and his cohorts remain."

Beyond Donohoe's dangerousness to the public, Kelly said he believes the convictions that led Donohoe and other Proud Boys to launch the attack on the Capitol remain unchanged.

"I don't think there's any reason to believe that Mr. Donohoe's demonstrated intention to plan violence is in the past," Kelly said. "Many of his co-conspirators express strong views that the 2020 election was stolen, and violence was justified in response. Many of them spoke of revolutions and war, and concepts like that. Even if the election has passed, the idea that the election was stolen remains a live issue in our national politics."

"We've seen evidence that I described that suggests, again, that Mr. Donohoe and his co-defendants think that, again, 'facial recognition doesn't mean shit when you've got 5.56 green tip,' that there is a need for violence going forward," Kelly added. "And, as both parties have said, emotions have run high regarding the election."