Proud Boys charged in Capitol riot may have been targeting the police
Members of the violent Proud Boys group are expected to attend a last-ditch rally for US President Donald Trump in Washington on January 6(AFP)

The Justice Department on Wednesday handed down its most serious charges yet in the Capitol riot investigation, targeting a pair of right-wing internet personalities who publicly boasted about entering the building, and "maybe" spitting on a riot officer.

Nick Ochs, leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys fascist organization, and Nick DeCarlo, a right-wing "vlogger," were charged with conspiracy to impede Congress after raising money to travel to Washington as part of a larger coordinated effort to obstruct the certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory. The pair were also charged with stealing flex cuffs from the Capitol Police, and face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to a Justice Department press release.

Salon first reported the full extent of DeCarlo's involvement and cooperation with Ochs, who had shared photos and video of them inside the building. In a livestream interview after the attack, DeCarlo boasted of smoking and spitting on a police officer during the riot.

"It felt great and I did a lot of shit I shouldn't have — maybe I did, maybe I didn't — in the Capitol," DeCarlo, a North Texas resident, said in the interview. "Maybe I smoked some cigarettes, maybe I spat on a riot officer. Maybe I didn't." He also acknowledged that he and Ochs spent "an hour and half, two hours" in the building and "got pretty far," and promised to release "hilarious" footage and a virtual "tour" of their raid.

The FBI's first complaint filed against DeCarlo, filed in District Court for the District of Columbia, notes that he had explained to the Los Angeles Times after the riot that he was a citizen journalist. The FBI pointed out that DeCarlo did not have a Capitol press credential, and the Times clarified that his YouTube channel had fewer than 600 subscribers.

DeCarlo himself appears to have undermined this particular defense, as Salon previously reported, claiming in an interview after the riot that "Me and Nick Ochs went there specifically to stop the steal," adding: "You're welcome America."

Ochs and DeCarlo, who scrawled "Murder the Media," the name of their Proud Boy-adjacent vlogging collective, on the exterior of the Capitol building's Memorial Door, had initially been arrested last month on counts of impeding Congress and participating in various unlawful activities on Capitol grounds. The new filing appends those charges to include conspiracy, which extends to other unnamed participants, some of whom are known to the grand jury, according to the indictment. The move suggests that federal prosecutors plan to pursue more serious crimes against Capitol insurrectionists, most of whom have been charged with comparatively petty offenses amid the deadly attempt to overturn the election results.

These conspiracy charges came the day after another Proud Boy leader, self-described "Sergeant at Arms" Ethan Nordean, was indicted for his role in the riot. (Authorities have so far charged nearly a dozen Proud Boys in connection with the attack.) In the criminal complaint against Nordean, prosecutors indicate that the group's pursuit of violence that day was in part a retaliation for what they perceived as unfair treatment at the hands of the police.

Proud Boys have often appeared at "Back the Blue" rallies, but since the 2020 election the group has repeatedly found itself sparring with law enforcement. One such clash in Oregon four days before the Capitol attack resulted in multiple arrests of Proud Boy members. By the time of the riot, the group had developed a new slogan, "Back the Yellow" — referring to their bumblebee-style outfits — which Nordean included in a video posted to social media on Jan. 4, featuring him and other members in military-style tactical gear.

In another video, recorded just before the group advanced onto Capitol grounds and first reported by Salon, a man authorities identified as Nordean throws out the slogan as he addresses a group of Proud Boys, including leader Joe Biggs, and issues vague challenges to the police through his bullhorn.

"Looking good, gentlemen, looking sharp. Back the yellow," Nordean says, before apparently directly addressing law enforcement. "You have to prove it to us now. You took our boy in and you let our stabber go. You guys have to prove your shit to us now. We'll do your goddamn job for you."

Here, Nordean appears to connect group chairman Enrique Tarrio's arrest in Washington two days earlier ("you took our boy in") with the failure of D.C. police to charge a man who allegedly stabbed several Proud Boys during their Dec. 12 march, which also devolved into violent clashes. (There are no police visible in the video — at least none in uniform.)

In another video, posted to social media on Jan. 4 and referenced in the indictment, Nordean apparently references a "war" with authorities: "Let them remember the day they decided to make war with us."

In a livestream interview with fellow Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino, recorded in December after the Washington stabbing incident and referenced in the indictment, Nordean expounds on the group's new attitude toward law enforcement, saying, "The police are starting to become a problem," and implying an element of betrayal: "We've had their back for years."

The complaint also says that on Jan. 8, Nordean posted a photo of a Capitol Police officer using pepper spray on a rioter, captioned: "If you feel bad for the police, you are a part of the problem. They care more about federal property than protecting and serving the people."

DeCarlo echoed the sentiment. Asked in a livestream interview after nightfall on Jan. 6 whether anyone involved in the riot had been "backing the blue," DeCarlo told the host, "No, absolutely not."

"In fact, there were much more people today shouting, 'Fuck these guys, they're traitors to us, they don't protect us. Look at what they're doing,'" DeCarlo said.