WASHINGTON — The leader of a local chapter of the Proud Boys extremist group pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to obstruct Congress and assaulting police at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, taking a deal that includes an agreement to cooperate with the investigation going forward.
Charles Donohoe’s cooperation gives prosecutors inside access to a Proud Boys leadership circle that included the group's former national chair Enrique Tarrio. As part of his plea, Donohoe not only admitted to his own role in planning and participating in the assault on the Capitol but also offered up confirmation that other leaders “were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol” at least two days in advance.
“Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power. Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal,” his written statement of offense reads.
Donohoe, of Kernersville, North Carolina, entered his guilty plea a month after a federal grand jury returned a new indictment that expanded the original conspiracy case he’d been part of to include Tarrio and ramped up the severity of the charges they faced. He’s the first Proud Boys leader charged in the insurrection to cooperate with the feds, at least in cases that are public so far; Matthew Greene, a member of a local chapter in New York, pleaded guilty in another conspiracy case in December and is also working with the government.
Donohoe admitted to working with Tarrio and other Proud Boys leaders to organize members to travel to DC and coordinate their activities on the ground on Jan. 6. Critically, he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy offense that specifically states that their goal was to try to disrupt Congress’s certification of the election results. He also admitted assaulting and interfering with police at the Capitol by throwing two water bottles at them.
In a statement, Donohoe’s lawyer, Ira Knight, a federal public defender in Greensboro, North Carolina, wrote: “Charlie regrets his actions, and is remorseful for the conduct that led to these charges. He accepts responsibility for his wrongs, and is prepared to accept the consequences.”
Donohoe’s estimated sentencing range at this stage is between 70 and 87 months in prison, according to the terms of his plea agreement, although that isn’t binding on the judge and doesn’t account for prosecutors agreeing to support a lower sentence if they’re satisfied with his cooperation. He’ll remain in jail for now; the judge asked for an update by July 8 on whether the government wants more time with him or whether they’re ready to go ahead with sentencing.
A federal grand jury first indicted Donohoe in March 2021, and he’s been in custody since then. He unsuccessfully challenged his pretrial detention, appealing US District Judge Timothy Kelly’s order up to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The appeals court upheld Kelly’s decision in September, finding that the allegations against Donohoe set him apart from other Jan. 6 defendants who had been allowed to go home, including that he’d taken a leadership and planning role, showed a desire for violence, and was part of efforts to destroy evidence of communications.
Donohoe joined the Proud Boys in 2018 and was a “fourth-degree member,” the highest rank possible, according to a written description of his conduct filed in court as part of his guilty plea.
Donohoe admitted to being involved in different elements of the Proud Boys’ planning activities leading up to Jan. 6. He was part of a leadership group created in December 2020 called the “Ministry of Self Defense” that included Tarrio and several of their codefendants. They communicated via an encrypted messaging chat. That same month, he posted a message in a separate chat for prospective members, updating them on what to expect as far as law enforcement presence in Washington.
“They want to limit the presence so that they can deny Trump has the People’s support. We can't let them succeed. This government is run FOR the People, BY the People...Congress needs a reintroduction to that fact,” Donohoe messaged.
Tarrio was arrested in DC on Jan. 4, 2021, on charges related to an earlier Proud Boys demonstration in the city that involved burning a stolen “Black Lives Matter” banner. Donohoe created a new messaging channel that didn’t include Tarrio, advised other leaders to “personally clear our history” from the original chat, and wrote: “Well at least they won't get our boots on ground plans because we are one step ahead of them.” He also created a separate channel for members, posting a message to stop planning and writing, “Everything is compromised and we can be looking at Gang charges.”
The next day, an unidentified person created another new messaging channel called “Boots on Ground,” and Donohoe was included in that. After arriving in DC on Jan. 5, Donohoe sent other messages asking for a radio and reposted various instructions to members that he’d received via another chat; he also added Tarrio to the members' group chat.
That night, Donohoe said one of his codefendants, Joseph Biggs, sent messages to one of the group chats saying he’d been in touch with Tarrio and that there’d been discussion about different plans. Donohoe had asked what the plan was so that he could share it with other members. He wasn’t given details but “understood” from discussions within the leadership group and with other Proud Boys members “that the objective in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, was to obstruct, impede, or interfere with the certification of the Electoral College vote. Donohoe understood from discussions that the group would pursue this through the use of force and violence, in order to show Congress that ‘we the people’ were in charge.”
On the morning of Jan. 6, Donohoe sent more messages asking about a possible “commanders briefing” and alerting others about his status. He met up with roughly 100 Proud Boys members at the Washington Monument and was part of a group that walked to the Capitol, making their way past barriers toward the West Plaza. During that approach, he threw the two water bottles at police who were trying to hold off the mob. He also worked with codefendant Dominic Pezzola to carry a riot shield that Pezzola is charged with stealing from a police officer.
Donohoe was part of the mob that advanced up a set of stairs on the west side of the Capitol, but he didn’t go inside the building. He turned back after being hit by pepper balls deployed by police officers.
Throughout the rest of the day, he sent messages confirming the Proud Boys’ role in the breach of the building and celebrating the attack, including writing that they “stormed the capitol unarmed” and that “[t]hepeople are fucking done.”
“Def a video of one of our guys smashing out the window with a stolen police riot shield,” he wrote at 4:03 p.m.