A video conference for prospective members of an elite cadre of Proud Boys known as the “Ministry of Self-Defense” that was held one week before the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol shows an effort by the group’s leadership to impose a top-down structure.
During the video conference, the leaders delivered a series of edicts that show how roles were compartmentalized in the elite chapter set up for national rallies, and how information was parsed out on a need-to-know basis.
At the outset of the meeting, Charles Donohoe, a Marine Corps veteran from North Carolina, briefed the prospects, and informed them that the new special MOSD chapter would “have a code of conduct stricter than other chapters when it comes to these national public events.” There were three rules. The biggest one was “no intoxication,” with the caveat that “a beer or two” would be “fine,” but anyone who was “noticeably stoned or drunk” during security operations would “get the boot.”
The second and third rules reinforced the elite group’s secrecy.
“Number two is OPSEC,” Donohoe said. “Do not release this information, any of it, to any other chat. No forwarding. No screenshots. Number three, no social media posting. Like, don’t mention that there’s a MOSD. Don’t mention anything like that. All three of those are zero tolerance.
“We’re bringing in guys that we trust in here,” Donohoe continued. “So, all of you that are in here, just to let you know, like, we have our eye on you and we trust you guys and expect you guys to behave properly and be a good molding cement for this chapter.”
Six other leaders, alongside Donohoe, addressed the dozens of prospects in the video conference. National chairman Enrique Tarrio and national organizer Joe Biggs were part of the three-man Marketing Council atop the leadership command. Zachary Rehl and John Charles Stewart, both from Pennsylvania, were part of the Operations Council. Donohoe, along with Jeremy Bertino of North Carolina and Aaron Whallon Wolkind of Pennsylvania, were designated as regional leaders.
In April, Donohoe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and to assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers, and has agreed to cooperate with the government. Tarrio, Biggs and Rehl are currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of seditious conspiracy. Among the seven leaders of the MOSD, Stewart, Bertino and Wolkind have not been charged.
Ethan Nordean (aka Rufio Panman) and Dominic Pezzola, two Proud Boys who were not present for the Dec. 30, 2020 prospects meeting, are also charged with seditious conspiracy.
Rehl has cited the video of the Dec. 30 meeting, which was first reported by the New York Times, in a pending motion to reconsider pretrial detention to argue that the objective of the MOSD was to prevent violence and that there was no plan to storm the Capitol.
“Throughout the meeting, the MOSD leaders focused on ways to make sure that rally members would behave properly and avoid violence,” wrote attorney Carmen Hernandez in the motion filed on behalf of Rehl. “There is zero discussion about a violent attack on the Capitol.”
Despite the absence of any discussion about specific plans for Jan. 6 during the meeting, which ran for almost an hour and 40 minutes, leaders repeatedly emphasized the importance of following orders. In a motion to oppose Rehl’s release filed on Wednesday, the government cited statements by the two members of the Operations Council during the meeting.
“The marketing team is going to start with a strategic objective that they want the Proud Boys to accomplish,” Wolkind told the prospects. He continued: “What the logistics team does — the operations — is we just basically figure out how to get that done safely and get everyone home in one piece. So, we basically just support the marketing team, and that’s how we use that nomenclature for how we structure it.”
Stewart delivered the message in blunter terms to the prospects.
“Another question I saw today was, there was concern about who directions were coming from,” Stewart said. “And they could come from any single person that you see on your screen right now, as well as about seven or eight more people that you don’t see yet, because they’re obviously not on the screen. But the one thing everybody has to understand is, yes, you might be getting told things from different people, but it’s all information from the same plan. Biggs isn’t going to tell you something different than I’m going to tell you. Enrique isn’t going to tell you something different than Zach is going to tell you. It’s all one operational plan. So, don’t get hung up on the delivery.”
At the close of the Dec. 30 meeting, Rehl reinforced the message of discipline.
“We’re not gonna be doing like a Proud Boy f***in’ 8 o’clock at night march and flexing our guns and s***,” he said. “We’re doing a completely different operation, and there’s gonna be a lot of contingencies and plans laid out of what we’re actually going to do, and there’s gonna be teams that are going to be put together — where they’re going to be going and what they’re doing. So, keep that in mind, too. When you tell your guys that kind of thing, spread that word a little bit. I mean, don’t spread it too far, but expose it to the guys you plan on bringing and everything so that we can actually work together and make this DC event a little more successful.”
During the video conference, Tarrio pointedly avoided answering questions about the specific plan for Jan. 6.
Roughly 20 minutes into the meeting, one of the prospects asked in the chat: “What exactly is our goal for DC? Should it be discussed in person or are we going over it here?”
“We’ll go over it a little bit later,” Tarrio responded. “I want to discuss the structure of this thing and how it works.”
The question came up again 20 minutes later.
“So, I’m not gonna go into too much detail on the 6th,” Tarrio said. “We’re gonna have a separate chat — video chat exactly like this where we’re gonna go over with people that are actually attending the event — we’re gonna go over those details at that time. Right now, we’re just talking about operational stuff and how this is structured.”
During the meeting, the leaders introduced the concept of “10-man squads” to the prospective MOSD members. A New York Times visual investigation of the Proud Boys’ role in the Capitol attack found that some worked in teams, including a group that wore orange hats and another equipped with tactical gear. The Times analysis of publicly-sourced video identified at least three teams that appeared to be conducting a tactical retreat after riot police partially regained control of the West Plaza. The teams, one of which included Biggs and Nordean and another that included Donohoe and Pezzola, can be seen together. One team can be seen marching in stack formation, another linking arms, while Donohoe and Pezzola carried a stolen police shield, later to be used by Pezzola to break out the first window in the breach of the Capitol building.
The orange hats worn by some of the Proud Boys involved in the breach appear to have gone against the advice of leadership.
“I don’t think as a massive group we should be using identifying markers, right, because those identifying markers are counterproductive to what we’re trying to do at this particular time,” Tarrio told the prospects on Dec. 30. “Right, so you’re gonna familiarize yourself that night with 10 people, and those 10 people you’re going to roll with together.”
The Times investigation identified a repeated pattern of tactics by hundreds of Proud Boys involved in the attack on the Capitol that appear to have created a force multiplier to leverage the thousands of Trump supporters unaffiliated with militant groups. The newspaper’s video analysis found that Proud Boys identified access points to the building and ground, riled up other protesters, joined directly in the violence, engaged in tactical retreat when met with resistance, and then repeated the sequence.
Stewart told prospects not to worry about the big picture during the Dec. 30 meeting.
“So, turn your brains off a little bit on trying to figure out what the big picture is and follow the 10 guys you’re with,” he said. “You’re gonna have a leader of those 10 guys. So, handle it that way and make sure you’re tight.”
Stewart, who was not in Washington, DC on Jan. 6, suggested a course of action in a voice note posted in the MOSD leadership chat four days later, according to the indictment for seditious conspiracy.
Identified in the indictment as “Person 3,” Stewart reportedly advised: “I mean, the main operating theater should be out in front of the house of representatives. It should be out in front of the Capitol building. That’s where the vote is taking place and all of the objections.”
As part of his plea, Donohoe agreed to certain factual stipulations. His statement of offense indicates that as early as Jan. 4, "Donohoe was aware that members of the MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol" and that doing so "would achieve the group's goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power."
Reflecting the top-down structure of the MOSD and the understanding that direction would come from the three-man Marketing Council, Donohoe's statement of offense indicates that Biggs reported in the New MOSD Member Group that he had spoken with Tarrio on the evening of Jan. 5, following Tarrio's arrest for his participation in burning a Black Lives Matter flag. Biggs also reported that he was with Nordean, the third member of the Marketing Council, according to the government.
"What's the plan so I can pass it on to the MOSD guys?" Donohoe asked.
"I gave Enrique a plan," Biggs responded. "The one I told the guys and he said he had one."
Rehl and the Proud Boys supporters have cited the video of the Dec. 30 meeting as evidence that there was no plan to storm the Capitol.
In particular, Rehl’s motion to reconsider pretrial detention pointed to a statement by Tarrio, who said, “We’re never going to be the ones to cross the police barrier or cross something in order to get to somebody. We’re always going to be the one standing back, right? And we’re always going to be the one to f***ing defend.”
But a couple of minutes later, Tarrio struck a different tone, exulting in the Proud Boys’ show of dominance during a night of violence that followed a previous pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC on Dec. 12, 2020.
“Listen, there was enough of us there to do whatever we wanted to do in DC,” Tarrio said. “Nobody was going to be able to stop it.”
“Not the cops,” Bertino agreed. “Not nobody was gonna stop us.”
The Dec. 30 meeting also included a discussion of so-called “normies” — unaffiliated Trump supporters — that, at least on the surface, appears to undercut the theory that the Proud Boys deliberately incited the mob at the Capitol.
For their self-protection, the Proud Boys were concerned that their marching columns not be infiltrated by outsiders.
“And that has to extend to normies and women,” Stewart said. “What I’m telling you is stop the formation and very politely and professionally go up to them and say, ‘Listen, you can’t walk in here right now. You gotta step out to the side,’” Stewart said.
During the conference, a Proud Boys leader from New Hampshire recounted a frustrating experience that occurred when the group attempted to march to Black Lives Matter Plaza to confront left-wing counter-protesters after the Dec. 12 rally.
“When we walked to fuckin’ BLM Plaza with Biggs and Rufio, one of the things they told the rest of us was to be quiet,” he said. “We had a bunch of normies screaming on the top of their lungs, going, ‘F** antifa’ and ‘Babies lives matter’ and the f***in’ normies, every time we told them to shut the f*** up, they wouldn’t shut the f*** up, they were f***in’ screamin’ and yellin’. So much for trying to be f***in’ tactical and, you know, trying to do something on the f***in’ down low, but goddamn dude.”
Bertino sympathized, but suggested there was only so much they could do.
“Yeah, unfortunately, there’s no way with the notoriety that we have that people are not gonna f***in’ start following us,” he said. “They’re gonna follow us now because we’re the tip of the spear.”
You can watch the video below or at this link.