The conviction of four leaders of the far-right “Proud Boys” gang on sedition charges along with a host of other felonies is being hailed in the media as a decisive, closing chapter in the prosecutions that followed the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol. Two other members of the group were convicted on charges short of seditious conspiracy. Those found guilty included the head of the organization, Enrique Tarrio.
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 and quickly rose to prominence on the back of Donald Trump’s political ascension. They distinguished themselves with their wanton displays of violence directed against left-wing protesters, along with their avowed white supremacist and male chauvinist ideology. They did not, however, become a mass movement in their own right, and remained relevant in large part due to the attention paid to them by elite political figures and commentators.
As prosecutors made their case in court, it became clear that the Proud Boys were low-hanging fruit for the government due to their own stupidity and bluster. Before, during and after the attack — both publicly and privately — members of the Proud Boys bragged about their exploits and all but admitted in writing to committing a range of criminal offenses.
The Jan. 6 attack temporarily dispersed Congress, sending some of the most powerful people on the planet fleeing for their lives and humiliating on the world scene a superpower that has always boasted of the superiority of its democratic process. It is laughable to think that a group of about 100 brawlers from the Proud Boys were the main culprits responsible for what transpired on that day, even if they were joined by members of the Oath Keepers and other fascist groups.
In this media narrative, which went into overdrive after yesterday’s convictions, the police are the heroes of Jan. 6. This sanitized version of the story, embraced by Democratic and Republican Party politicians, presents the cops primarily as the victims of the mob’s violence who battled on despite being badly outnumbered. It is designed to shield those in influential positions in the state from scrutiny over their own roles in the attack.
Police agencies in Washington, D.C., routinely conduct intelligence gathering around major demonstrations, especially ones as highly charged as the action called by then-President Trump for Jan. 6. Participants openly bragged about their intention to carry out violence in the run-up to the protest — why was the police presence outside the Capitol so small and lightly-equipped? Why did staffers hiding in Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley’s office find that the panic buttons that had been installed were mysteriously ripped out? What’s the story behind the “reconnaissance tours” right-wing members of Congress were seen giving members of the mob in the days leading up to the assault?
When the Capitol was stormed, the Department of Defense was led by acting Secretary Christopher Miller, whose authorization was required for National Guard troops to be deployed to the scene. Repeated requests for this authorization were ignored as the situation at the Capitol intensified. Miller, who had only taken up his position in late November, was an unlikely figure to lead the Pentagon — he had been a special forces Colonel who was for some reason plucked from obscurity by Trump to take up one of the most powerful military roles on the planet.
And Trump himself is a major beneficiary of the legal and political strategy that seeks to turn foot soldiers like the Proud Boys into the masterminds of the events of Jan. 6. He is the one who summoned his supporters to Washington, D.C., for a “wild” action with the explicit goal of overturning the 2020 election. And he is the one who used the mob’s attack as political leverage, calling top House Republican Kevin McCarthy in the middle of the riot to urge him to prevent the certification of the election result and remarking, “Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
A full investigation into the historic Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that spares no one — no matter how powerful and high ranking — would be an important tool to combat the menace of the far right. But this appears to be beyond the scope of what the so-called justice system of this country is able to deliver.