The top leader of a local chapter of the US ultra-nationalist and far-right organization Proud Boys has become the first member of the group to decide to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy with seditious intent by “voluntarily” participating, in his words, in the January 2021 assault on the Capitol.
Jeremy Bertino, in charge of the group’s North Carolina state chapter and close to the also indicted national leader of the organization, Enrique Tarrio, has also pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal possession of a firearm as part of an agreement with the prosecution to have his sentence reduced in exchange for this plea and his cooperation with the authorities.
Proud Boys leaders, from Tarrio to others such as Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola, face the most serious charges among the approximately 850 charged in the assault on the Capitol following the defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Tarrio was arrested in March 2022 at the same time investigators executed a search warrant at Bertino’s home, according to court documents, where they found six firearms, including an AR-15 assault rifle with a telescopic sight, and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition, prosecutors said. Bertino had previously been convicted of a felony and was prohibited from possessing a firearm.
The chairman of the U.S. House select committee investigating the Capitol assault, Bennie Thompson, claimed that the incident was “the culmination of a coup attempt” by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who has denied any involvement in the riots.
However, Bertino’s testimony has brought Trump back into the picture by stating that many supporters of far-right groups attached themselves to the Proud Boys after the then US president called on members of the organization to “stand back and stand by” during an election debate. Trump later claimed his words had been misinterpreted.
However, Bertino testified that Trump’s words had a catalytic effect on requests to join the group. “I would say they multiplied exponentially. They probably tripled, probably with prospects of many more,” Bertino said.