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Far right Proud Boys leader charged with seditious conspiracy related to Jan. 6

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A grand jury says some of the Proud Boys committed seditious conspiracy. That essentially means leaders of the right-wing group are charged with a crime against the government. The federal indictment is in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. It names Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four associates. They're in federal custody until trial. NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the case, and she says this is significant.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: These charges are brought very rarely. Basically, they require the Justice Department prosecutors to prove an attempt to overthrow the government by using force. So this is quite a significant moment. The grand jury here in Washington, D.C., says the facts it's reviewed in connection with the January 6 attack meet that high bar. Enrique Tarrio and four of his top lieutenants are presumed innocent for now. They've been in federal custody. That's likely where they're going to stay until trial.

FADEL: OK, so apparently there's information that will meet the bar. What led to these charges now? Does the Justice Department have new information?

JOHNSON: There isn't a lot of new detail in these court papers. We do know one change. One member of the Proud Boys, a leader from North Carolina, pleaded guilty in April and agreed to help prosecutors. But we don't know much more than that. You might remember Enrique Tarrio was not on the Capitol grounds on January 6, but prosecutors say he still directed other Proud Boys and communicated with them all day on social media and other channels. This indictment quotes Tarrio as posting, quote, "Proud of my boys and my country" after the violence began. And then later that night that court papers quote an unnamed member of the group crowing about how they might have made history when the certification process got delayed.

FADEL: Some members of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, are also fighting sedition charges. What's the latest there?

JOHNSON: Yeah, remember that case involved Stewart Rhodes. People might recall him because he has a very distinctive look and wears an eyepatch.

FADEL: Right.

JOHNSON: Rhodes and 10 members of the Oath Keepers are also facing a seditious conspiracy case. Authorities say in that case, they assembled a quick reaction force and stockpiled weapons across the river in Virginia on January 6 and the days before. Prosecutors say Rhodes kept buying weapons even after the assault on the Capitol, and they have a lot of his own messages to try to use against him in court. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty, but three different Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty and agreed to help the government build that big case.

FADEL: Now, these charges come as the House committee investigating January 6 prepares for its first public hearings. Did that influence the timing?

JOHNSON: It's not clear. Members of that congressional committee have been very tough on the Justice Department. They want to see a lot more action on what they consider an attack on democracy. The panel already planned to highlight some of the activities of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during its public hearings, including a meeting in a parking garage the day before the January 6 attack.

FADEL: And what is the DOJ doing?

JOHNSON: Well, Attorney General Merrick Garland said recently the DOJ doesn't want to discuss who it is and is not investigating. It doesn't want to jeopardize anyone's constitutional rights. But more than 800 people have been arrested in nearly every state related to January 6. What we don't know is how close the DOJ might be to that next level, the funders and organizers of the political rallies they've been investigating. Last week, a grand jury charged a former Trump White House advisor, Peter Navarro, with contempt of Congress for not complying with the committee's subpoenas. We know the FBI has been hot on the case. We're waiting to see what happens next.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.