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A Congressional Subpoena Is The Latest In A Long Line Of Legal Entanglements For The Oath Keepers And Proud Boys

Members of the groups are already sitting in jail, staring down felony charges, and facing civil lawsuits.

Posted on November 23, 2021, at 7:33 p.m. ET

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, counter-protesting a rally for George Floyd.

WASHINGTON — The special House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol announced Tuesday that it was issuing subpoenas to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, adding to the already very long list of investigations, lawsuits, and charges that members of both far-right groups are facing in connection with the Capitol riot.

The subpoenas open up a new front in the ongoing efforts to shed light not only on the role that these organizations and their members played in the insurrection, but also more broadly on their scope and function in recent years and the extent of any ties to elected officials and the rest of the conservative political universe.

Chair Bennie Thompson said in a statement that the committee believed the Oath Keepers, an extremist group that’s focused on recruiting members from the military and law enforcement; the Proud Boys, which has described its members as “western chauvinists”; and a third group that was subpoenaed, the 1st Amendment Praetorian, which reportedly has ties to QAnon and that the committee noted provided security at pro-Trump rallies leading up to Jan. 6, “have relevant information about how violence erupted at the Capitol and the preparation leading up to this violent attack.”

The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys organizations, their leaders, and others with some connection to these groups are already enmeshed in multiple legal fights, some of which could complicate the committee’s efforts to immediately get the information and documents that members want.

The committee subpoenaed the Proud Boys organization as well as the group’s leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, but Tarrio is in jail at the moment. He’s serving a five-month sentence after pleading guilty this summer to burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was taken from a historic Black church in December and for bringing two high-capacity ammunition magazines to the city. Earlier this month, Tarrio lost an effort to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement, citing the “allegedly inhumane” conditions at the DC jail facility; he’s appealing that loss. His lawyer in the criminal case and a different attorney who entered an appearance this month in a civil case Tarrio is facing related to Jan. 6 filed by police officers did not immediately return a request for comment.

The subpoena to Proud Boys International LLC was directed to Jason Lee Van Dyke, a former Proud Boys leader who served for a time as the group’s attorney. Van Dyke was named in a civil suit brought by the DC church whose banner Tarrio pleaded guilty to burning, and has represented in court that he hasn’t been associated with the Proud Boys since 2018; he blamed Tarrio for failing to “take any action with respect to the legal apparatus” of the organization. The committee wrote that it had subpoenaed Van Dyke since he was listed as the last director before the Proud Boys’ corporate entity dissolved in February; he was directed to turn over any relevant records in his possession.

Van Dyke wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News that the only documents he had that he believed he was “legally permitted” to give to the committee were a final copy of the Proud Boys’ bylaws and incorporation records filed with the Texas secretary of state. He wrote that he either didn’t have other records the committee wanted or that he was barred from turning over certain materials shielded by attorney-client privilege and other ethical obligations that he still owed the group as its former attorney.

“It is my position that the House of Representatives lacks the authority to compel me to breach these privilege[s] or to violate the rules of professional conduct. I will not violate said rules in response to their subpoena,” Van Dyke wrote.

The committee subpoenaed Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes III individually along with the organization that he founded in 2009. Rhodes hasn’t been charged in connection with Jan. 6. He told the New York Times that he’d sat for an interview with the FBI in the spring. In the indictments returned against members of the Oath Keepers charged with conspiracy and illegally going to the Capitol, prosecutors have described some of Rhodes’ communications before Jan. 6 — including an article posted on the Oath Keepers’ website on Jan. 4 stating it was “CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in DC get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight” — as well as that day with defendants, referring to him as “Person One.” The Los Angeles Times reported that his estranged wife, Tasha Adams, had spoken with the Jan. 6 committee’s investigators last month.

Kellye SoRelle, the general counsel for the Oath Keepers, wrote in a text that there wasn’t an official “full statement” from the group yet in response to the subpoena announcement, but “from me, I look forward to the truth being finally told about the what occurred on the 6th.”

The Proud Boys, Tarrio, the Oath Keepers, and Rhodes are all named as defendants along with former president Donald Trump and other high-profile Trump allies in civil lawsuits filed by Democrats in Congress and police officers who responded to the riot on Jan. 6. The Oath Keepers initially hired attorney Kerry Morgan to fight the suit filed by Democrats, but earlier this month Morgan received the judge’s permission to leave the case after filing notice that the group hadn’t been responding to his communications and hadn’t paid its legal bills. No one from the Oath Keepers responded to Morgan in court.

Dozens of people affiliated with both organizations are facing criminal charges for their alleged participation in the assault on the Capitol. Some of these defendants are pressing challenges to the validity of charges that prosecutors have brought against them, including that they obstructed an “official proceeding” — Congress’s certification of the election results. Judges have ordered Proud Boys leaders Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs and some, but not all, of the 16 people currently facing charges in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case to remain in jail while their cases are pending, citing the seriousness of the allegations against them and agreeing with prosecutors that they continue to pose a danger to the community.

Five people with ties to the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement; four of those defendants were specifically linked to the alleged conspiracy. In several of those cases, defendants admitted coordinating with other members to stash guns at a hotel in Virginia so that they could be readily accessible to bring into Washington on Jan. 6.

The committee has spoken with or asked for testimony from several defendants charged in connection with the riots, according to media reports and accounts from defense attorneys in court, but it wasn’t clear if any of the four rioters who pleaded guilty in the Oath Keepers conspiracy had appeared; their lawyers either declined to discuss it or did not immediately return requests for comment. A committee spokesperson declined to comment.



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.