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Proud Boy leader pleads guilty to Jan. 6 conspiracy, agrees to cooperate with DOJ

Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, left, walk toward the U.S. Capitol in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. They are two of six Proud Boys leaders charged with with conspiring to obstruct Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election victory. One of those leaders, Charles Donohoe, has pled guilty.
Carolyn Kaster
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AP
Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, left, and Ethan Nordean, left, walk toward the U.S. Capitol in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. They are two of six Proud Boys leaders charged with with conspiring to obstruct Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election victory. One of those leaders, Charles Donohoe, has pled guilty.

The leader of a North Carolina chapter of the far-right Proud Boys group pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy in connection with the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol, and has agreed to fully cooperate with the government in its ongoing investigation into the deadly events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Charles Donohoe entered his plea at a virtual hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C. The 34-year-old is one of six senior Proud Boys, including the group's chairman, to be charged with conspiring to obstruct Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election victory.

The case against the Proud Boys leaders is one of the highest-profile prosecutions to emerge from the Justice Department's probe into the Capitol riot. Donohoe's cooperation with investigators, as outlined in his plea deal, could significantly boost prosecutors' case against the remaining defendants and possibly spur others to cut their own agreements and cooperate.

Under the deal, Donohoe pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, and assaulting, resisting or impeding an officer. The government agreed to drop the remaining counts against him in the indictment.

At Friday's hearing, Judge Timothy Kelly asked Donohoe how he pleaded to the two specified counts. In both instances, Donohoe calmly replied with a single word: "Guilty."

Donohoe was aware of plans to use violence on Jan. 6, knew storming the Capitol was illegal

Donohoe joined the leadership of a new Proud Boys chapter called the Ministry of Self Defense on Dec. 20, 2020, according to the statement of offense that accompanied his plea. The chapter, known as MOSD, focused on national rallies, including the Jan. 6, 2021 one in Washington D.C..

Several of Donohoe's co-defendants — Henry Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl — had top leadership roles in MOSD, the court papers say. Donohoe worked on a regional level to recruit trusted Proud Boys into this specialized chapter.

As early as Jan. 4, 2021, "Donohoe was aware that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol," according to the court papers.

"Donohoe believed that storming the Capitol would achieve the group's goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power," the statement of offense reads, which Donohoe testified under oath in court was correct and accurate. "Donohoe understood that storming the Capitol would be illegal."

The document contains information about the alleged steps Donohoe and the other defendants took leading up to Jan. 6, including exchanging text messages on the eve of the rally about their plans.

While Donohoe was not given details, which were known by several of his co-defendants, he gleaned that the goal was to interfere with the certification of the Electoral College vote, according to the document.

"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," it says.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Donohoe met up with a 100 or so Proud Boys at the Washington Monument. From there, they marched to the Capitol, where the Proud Boys were among the first to push past police lines guarding the complex. Donohoe threw two water bottles at a line of police.

He pushed with the crowd up the steps of the Capitol, but eventually fell back in the face of pepper balls being fired by police, according to the court documents.

The statement of offense includes numerous references to Donohoe's co-defendants, including their specific roles in planning for Jan. 6 as well as their actions on the day itself.

That information, along with other details that Donohoe may be able to provide, could prove crucial to prosecutors in the broader case against the Proud Boys leaders.

This case is one of several brought against members of the far-right group over the Jan. 6 attack. In all, nearly 50 people with links to the Proud Boys have been charged so far in the Capitol riot investigation.

Two members of the group, Jeffrey Finley of West Virginia and Ricky Willden of California, pleaded guilty in their own respective cases this week as well.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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