Judge orders Proud Boys jailed pending Capitol riot trial

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Del Quentin Wilber
·4 min read
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In this Jan. 6, 2021, photo, Proud Boys including Joseph Biggs, front left, walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump. With the megaphone is Ethan Nordean, second from left. The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers make up a fraction of the more than 300 Trump supporters charged so far in the siege that led to Trump's second impeachment and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer. But several of their leaders, members and associates have become the central targets of the Justice Department's sprawling investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Joseph Biggs, front left, and Ethan Nordean, holding a megaphone, walk with other Proud Boys toward the Capitol on Jan. 6. Both are indicted in the Capitol assault. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

A federal judge on Monday ordered two members of the far-right Proud Boys back to jail to be detained pending trial, backing the Justice Department's most aggressive effort to jail those accused of participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly said federal prosecutors provided enough evidence to demonstrate that Ethan Nordean, 30, and Joseph Biggs, 37, should return to custody because they posed a danger to the public if they continued to remain free. They have been on home confinement since shortly after their arrests in January.

Nordean and Biggs "stand charged with seeking to steal one of the crown jewels of our country, in a sense, by interfering with the peaceful transfer of power," Kelly said from the bench in ordering the men back to jail.

The judge said he believed detaining the men, who have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, was the only way to ensure they did not seek to engage in activities that might put the public at risk. "These men have devoted huge portions of their lives to being leaders and planners in the Proud Boys organization and have not expressed regret or remorse for what happened that day. That does not inspire confidence they would comply with an order to sever ties" with the group or stay away from phones and other communication devices, Kelly said.

The Proud Boys are considered to be a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League says the group is representative of “an unconventional strain of American right-wing extremism" and “can be described as violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic.”

Federal prosecutors had argued in hearings and in court papers that they had uncovered new evidence, laid out in a March 10 indictment, that demonstrated Nordean and Biggs played key roles in the Proud Boys' planning to attack the Capitol. The prosecutors also said neither Proud Boy had expressed remorse for the assault, which left five people dead and scores of people and police officers injured.

Nordean and Biggs also remain committed to the cause, prosecutors argued, and may attempt something similar in the future if they are permitted to have access to communication devices and to contact other members of their group.

"This was not something that just happened in an instant. This was a planned and coordinated effort, and that conduct that took place was a success," Jason McCullough, assistant U.S. attorney, said at a hearing on April 6, arguing there was a likelihood the men would be involved in similar actions in the future.

Defense lawyers countered that Biggs and Nordean should remain free on home confinement. Neither has a criminal history, they have extensive ties to their communities, and they've not violated any terms of their pre-trial release since being freed in January after their arrests, the lawyers said.

The attorneys noted that two judges had already ruled they could remain on home confinement pending trial — Nordean in Washington state and Biggs in Florida. Defense attorneys have also attacked the strength of the government's case, maintaining that messages from an encrypted chat group uncovered by federal agents could be read in different ways.

Nordean's lawyer, Nicholas Smith, tried to convince the judge on Monday to permit the Proud Boy to remain at home but order him to stay clear of electronic devices. Kelly said he had considered such a condition but decided it couldn't be enforced.

Biggs' attorney, John Daniel Hull, conceded the case was "novel and difficult" and complimented the judge for issuing such a detailed ruling. Neither lawyer indicated at the hearing whether they intended to appeal. Smith did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment, and Hull declined to comment further on the case.

Of more than 400 people arrested in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, the Justice Department alleges that about three dozen are members or leaders of the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers, most of whom have been released. The government has argued that such far-right groups extensively planned for the attack and played key roles in leading the charge into the building.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.