Proud Boys leader pleads guilty to seditious conspiracy
A high-ranking leader of the right-wing Proud Boys pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, court documents revealed Thursday, making him the first member of the group to do so as its leader awaits trial.
Jeremy Bertino was a lieutenant to Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, who along with four other members of the group is awaiting trial in December for seditious conspiracy related to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
The plea deal would give the Justice Department a key witness against Tarrio and the others.
The agreement says Bertino “did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with” the plans of the other Proud Boys to “to oppose by force the authority of the Government of the United States and to delay by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of power.”
A seditious conspiracy conviction carries up to 20 years in prison. While a judge will determine Bertino’s sentence, the government recommended a roughly five-year prison term for Bertino, as well as a fine totaling anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000.
Bertino, who is barred from owning firearms due to a prior conviction, separately pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm after authorities found six such weapons when they searched his home, including an AR-15 style gun. That charge carries up to 10 years in prison.
Tarrio was initially indicted in March with four other members of the group: Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola.
The government has accused them of having “directed, mobilized, and led members of the crowd onto the Capitol grounds and into the Capitol.”
The Proud Boys describes itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world, aka Western Chauvinists.”
The plea deal for Bertino comes as the Justice Department had opening arguments this week in its first seditious conspiracy case to go to trial. Far-right militia group leader Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, is on trial along with four other members of the group.
Bertino and Tarrio, like Rhodes, never entered the Capitol that day. While Rhodes remained on the Capitol grounds, Tarrio had been ordered to remain outside of D.C. after having been arrested just a few days prior, and Bertino was also not in the city, as he had recently been stabbed during a brawl.
“Bertino continued to participate in planning sessions as he recovered from his injures. At least as early as Jan. 4, 2021, he received encrypted chat messages indicating that members of MOSD leadership were discussing the possibility of storming the Capitol,” the Justice Department wrote in a press release announcing the deal.
“On Jan. 6, Bertino monitored activities through mainstream and social media, as well as posting in the (Ministry of Self Defense) MOSD chats. He posted messages himself to MOSD leaders and members to encourage and assist in the operation, such as advising those on the grounds of the Capitol to “form a spear.” Similarly, Bertino posted to his public social media account, “DO NOT GO HOME. WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF SAVING THE CONSTITUTION.”
Bertino previously spoke with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, telling the panel’s investigators in a video clip played in one of their hearings that the Proud Boys’ membership tripled after former President Trump told the group’s members to “stand back and stand by” during a 2020 presidential debate.