Proud Boy target of federal search warrant: ‘Main operating theater’ should be front of Capitol

Federal investigators obtained a search warrant for a Pennsylvania man allegedly designated by Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio as “upper tier leadership” in an encrypted message group set up for planning for the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol by the far-right street-brawling group.

LNP/Lancaster Online reported on Saturday that the Pennsylvania man subject to the search warrant, who is also identified as “Person 3” in a conspiracy indictment against Tarrio and five other Proud Boys, is John Charles Stewart aka Johnny Blackbeard, of Carlisle, Pa. The government also obtained a warrant to search the home of Proud Boy Jeremy Bertino in Belmont, NC. Federal agents raided Bertino’s home on March 8, the same day that Tarrio was arrested in Miami.

The warrants were disclosed in a motion filed by the government on March 7 to temporarily seal the indictment against Tarrio and his five co-defendants. The government requested that the indictment remain under seal “so that Tarrio and his two co-conspirators are not alerted of the existence of this indictment until Tarrio has been arrested and the related search warrants have been executed.”

The government warned that premature disclosure of the indictment could “affect the integrity of the investigation by causing alleged conspirators and witnesses to destroy evidence and/or hinder the ability of the government to safely arrest Tarrio and locate his two co-conspirators — who reside in different states and who are alleged in the indictment to have advocated for the use of force to obstruct the certification of the electoral college vote.”

The motion was unsealed, along with the indictment, on March 8.

Although Stewart has not been arrested, the indictment describes him as playing an integral role in the Ministry of Self-Defense, a closely vetted chapter described by Tarrio as a “national rally planning committee” for the events of Jan. 6, 2021. According to the government, Stewart and Bertino were added to the original MOSD Leaders Group encrypted chat by Tarrio on Dec. 20, 2020, along with Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zach Rehl and Charles Donohoe, who are charged with conspiracy alongside Tarrio. Later, Tarrio allegedly created an encrypted messaging group called the MOSD Prospect Group to vet Proud Boys for the Jan. 6 operation.

On Dec. 29, Tarrio posted a message to the MOSD Prospect Group to notify prospective members of a virtual meeting the following day to explain how the operation would work, according to the government. Tarrio’s message instructed prospects that the MOSD “will have a top-down structure,” adding that “if that’s something you’re not comfortable with” they should not bother attending the meeting. The government also alleges that Tarrio told prospects that the “upper-tier leadership” of the MOSD would consist of a three-person operations section led by Stewart, Rehl, who was the president of the Philadelphia chapter, and one other person not identified in the indictment.

As early as Jan. 3, Proud Boys discussed attacking the Capitol in the MOSD Members Group, according to the indictment. The government alleges that an unidentified member asked, “What would they do [if] 1 million patriots stormed and took the capital building. Shoot into the crowd? I think not.”

“They would do nothing because they can do nothing,” Stewart reportedly responded.

LNP/Lancaster Online reported that the newspaper reached Stewart’s wife on Saturday, but she said her husband was not available and hung up the phone.

The indictment indicates that Stewart played a critical role in developing the plan for the Proud Boys’ assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“I mean, the main operating theater should be out in front of the House of Representatives,” Stewart allegedly said in a voice note in the MOSD Leaders Group on Jan. 3, according to the indictment. “It should be out in front of the Capitol building. That’s where the vote is taking place and all of the objection. So, we can ignore the rest of these stages and sh*t and plan the operations based around the front entrance to the Capitol building. I strongly recommend you use the national mall and not Pennsylvania avenue though. It’s a wide-open space, you can see everything coming from all angles.”

The next morning, according to the government, Tarrio posted a voice note in the MOSD Leaders Group.

“I didn’t hear this voice note until now,” he said. “You want to storm the Capitol.”

Richard Schwetz, a former Proud Boy from Pennsylvania, and Asher Meza, a member of the Miami chapter, told LNP/Lancaster Online that Stewart was not in Washington, DC on Jan. 6 because he was in the hospital dealing with a medical issue. Bertino has also said he was not in DC during the storming of the Capitol because he was recuperating from a stab wound sustained during a previous rally on Dec. 12.

Even though Stewart was not present, the Proud Boys assault of the Capitol on Jan. 6 unfolded much the way Stewart had allegedly proposed.

The Proud Boys mustered at the Washington Monument on the National Mall at about 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, and 200 to 300 members marched to the Capitol before President Trump spoke at the Ellipse. At around 12:53 p.m., Nordean, Biggs and Rehl led the group to the First Street pedestrian entrance near Peace Monument. Ryan Samsel, another Pennsylvania man, spoke briefly to Biggs and then advanced on a line of Capitol police officers manning a barricade. The rioters quickly overwhelmed the police line, and the crowd with the Proud Boys at its core poured onto the Capitol lawn. At 2:13 p.m., Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy from upstate New York, used a stolen police riot shield to bash out a window, allowing the first members of the mob to enter the Capitol building.