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Proud Boys Members Allegedly Warned That Cops Were “The Primary Threat” The Night Before The Capitol Insurrection

A grand jury indicted four Proud Boys leaders in the latest conspiracy case to come out of the riot investigation.

Posted on March 19, 2021, at 2:29 p.m. ET

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Members of the Proud Boys outside the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

WASHINGTON — The day before the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, members of the Proud Boys exchanged a series of planning messages across encrypted messaging channels, including one that warned that “cops are the primary threat,” according to newly unsealed charging documents.

The Justice Department on Friday released a new indictment against four Proud Boys leaders charged with conspiring to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election, as well as to interfere with police efforts to protect the Capitol. The indictment, which was returned by a grand jury under seal on March 10, lays out a host of new allegations about what members of the far right men’s group were doing in the days and hours before a mob of hundreds of people — mostly supporters of former president Donald Trump — descended on the Capitol.

Prosecutors said that an unidentified person created a new encrypted messaging channel on Jan. 5 called “Boots on the Ground” for Proud Boys members to use while they were in Washington. More than 60 people participated in the channel, according to the indictment, including the four Proud Boys leaders charged in the latest conspiracy case: Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe.

Later in the evening, Biggs allegedly sent a series of messages to the group about plans for Jan. 6, including, “We are trying to avoid getting into any shit tonight. Tomorrow’s the day.”

The indictment quotes messages allegedly sent by an unnamed person described by the government as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” This person sent a message on Jan. 5 saying that Nordean, who goes by the nickname Rufio Panman, was “in charge.” This person also messaged members about not wearing identifying “colors” — the Proud Boys have identified themselves at previous demonstrations wearing black and yellow — and telling them to “be decentralized and use good judgment until further orders.”

“Rufio is in charge, cops are the primary threat, don’t get caught by them or BLM, don’t get drunk until off the street,” the unnamed person messaged the “Boots on the Ground” channel and another encrypted channel, along with a radio frequency number, according to the indictment. “BLM” is an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement; no one associated with Black Lives Matter has been charged in connection with the riot, and court filings haven’t included evidence that the movement’s supporters were involved.

More than 300 people have been charged with participating in the insurrection so far, and the government has said it expects to bring cases against at least 100 more. The US Attorney’s office has charged a handful of conspiracy cases that involve members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, a militia collective that focuses its recruitment efforts on current and former members of the military and law enforcement. In recent court filings, prosecutors have said that they continue to investigate “conspiratorial activity” leading up to Jan. 6.

Prosecutors allege in the latest indictment that the Proud Boys conspiracy included encouraging members to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally with Trump on Jan. 6; raising money online to finance equipment and travel to DC; bringing “paramilitary gear and supplies”; “scheming” to avoid detection by not wearing Proud Boys colors; using handheld radios and encrypted apps to “communicate and coordinate” the assault on the Capitol; and pushing past law enforcement and entering the Capitol.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service had been monitoring the Proud Boys’ activities before Jan. 6, and officials sent updates about the group’s presence at the Capitol on the day of the assault, BuzzFeed News previously reported. Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson has filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking to hold the Proud Boys liable for the riot, along with the Oath Keepers, Trump, and Trump’s longtime lawyer and ally Rudy Giuliani.

The messages that prosecutors quoted in the latest indictment from the 48-hour period before the riot don’t include specifics about what exactly Proud Boys leaders were planning for Jan. 6. The government linked their presence in Washington that day to messages members allegedly posted online following the election in November accusing Democrats of voter fraud and calling for “war” and “firing squads.”

“We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created,” Nordean allegedly posted online on Nov. 27, according to charging documents. “The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like the love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this country we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.”

On Jan. 4, Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio was arrested in Washington, DC, and charged with burning a “Black Lives Matter” banner during December protests. Donohoe, the president of a local Proud Boys chapter in North Carolina, had allegedly expressed concern about the group’s internal communications being compromised and took steps to delete a previous channel they had used, according to the indictment.

“Hey have been instructed and listen to me real good! There is no planning of any sorts. I need to be put into whatever new thing is created. Everything is compromised and we can be looking at Gang charges,” Donohoe allegedly posted in several channels, along with “Stop everything immediately” and “This comes from the top.”

On the evening of Jan. 4, the unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator sent a message on a new encrypted channel that Donohoe allegedly created about “breaking the guys into teams” and picking out radio communications channels.

Donohoe, whose lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment, was arrested on March 17 and will remain in jail pending a pretrial detention hearing set for March 24 in federal court in North Carolina.

Nordean, described by the government as a Proud Boys “elder” and president of his local chapter in Washington State, and Biggs, a Proud Boys organizer who lives in Florida, had previously been charged and arrested separately for their alleged involvement in the Capitol riot. Nordean earlier this week filed a motion challenging the government’s allegation that he aided and abetted the destruction of property at the Capitol, including the breaking of a window, by leading other rioters. Nordean’s lawyers argued the government should be ordered to present specific claims about his role in property destruction that day, known as a “bill of particulars.”

Lawyers for Nordean and Biggs declined to comment about the new indictment. Judges agreed to allow both men to return home while their cases are pending; the government had unsuccessfully argued to keep Nordean in jail.

The fourth defendant, Zachary Rehl, is president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia, according to court filings. The government alleged in the indictment that after Jan. 6, he and his co-defendants sent messages and posted on social media platforms celebrating the insurrection.

“I’m proud as fuck what we accomplished yesterday, but we need to start planning and we are starting planning, for a Biden presidency,” Rehl allegedly wrote.

Rehl made his first court appearance in federal court in Philadelphia on Friday and a judge scheduled a detention hearing for March 23, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.