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Proud Boys leader and 4 top members are charged with seditious conspiracy for Jan. 6

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Explosive new charges today against the leader of the far-right Proud Boys. A grand jury has accused Enrique Tarrio and four associates of seditious conspiracy in connection with the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

NPR's Carrie Johnson has been following the case, and she's here now with details. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: Carrie, how significant is this charge of seditious conspiracy?

JOHNSON: It's very significant. These charges are brought very rarely. Basically, they require the Justice Department to prove an attempt to overthrow or destroy the government by using force. The grand jury here in Washington, D.C., says the facts it's reviewed in connection with the January 6 attack meet that bar. And Enrique Tarrio, the leader, four of his top lieutenants are presumed innocent for now. And they've been detained in federal custody, and that's where they're going to stay until trial.

PFEIFFER: For the Justice Department to unveil these charges now, what new information has come to light?

JOHNSON: You know, that's less clear. There isn't a lot of new detail in these court papers. We do know one member of the Proud Boys in this group pleaded guilty earlier this year, but not much more than that.

And you might remember Enrique Tarrio wasn't on the Capitol grounds on January 6, but prosecutors say that he directed other Proud Boys and communicated with them on social media and using other channels. The indictment quotes Tarrio as posting, quote, "proud of my boys and my country" after the violence began. And later that night, it quotes him crowing with one of his associates about how the certification process got delayed.

PFEIFFER: Carrie, as you know, members of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, are also fighting sedition charges. What's the latest there?

JOHNSON: Yeah. That case involves Stewart Rhodes. People might remember him because he's pretty visible. He wears an eyepatch. Rhodes and 10 members of the Oath Keepers are also facing these seditious conspiracy charges. Authorities say they assembled a sort of quick reaction force and stockpiled weapons across the river in Virginia. Prosecutors say Rhodes kept buying weapons even after January 6, and they have a lot of his own messages to try to use against him. He's pleaded not guilty. But three Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty and agreed to help the government build that bigger case.

PFEIFFER: These charges come as the House committee that's investigating January 6 prepares for its first public hearings. Is it clear whether that influenced the timing today?

JOHNSON: You know, it's not clear. Members of the panel have been very tough on the Justice Department. They want to see 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. But what we don't know is how close the DOJ might be to that next level, the funders and organizers of the political rallies in late December and early January 2021.

We do know the FBI has been investigating. There have been some grand jury subpoenas, but we're really waiting to see what happens next. Remember; Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to go after anyone accountable for January 6 at, quote, "every level."

PFEIFFER: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.