Proud Boys leader seeks transfer of trial after Jan. 6 committee builds case he instigated riot

by Phil Nicholson
5 minutes read

Joseph Biggs, a member of the Proud Boys charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the breach of the Capitol last year, is urging a federal judge to relocate his trial to South Florida after becoming a main character in the first hearing of the Jan. 6 select committee.

In a seven-page filing late Tuesday, Biggs contended that “media-attentive” Washingtonians will accept the select committee’s presentation about Biggs, which cast him as a central figure in igniting the breach. The panel took testimony from Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who was injured in the initial breach of police lines and recalled seeing Biggs lead a crowd to her position and huddle with rioter Ryan Samsel, who was among the first to charge the barricades.

In the filing, Biggs’ attorney John Hull derided Edwards’ testimony as “canned, cagey and morally superior” and accused her of making up details about what she witnessed.

“Apart from risk of prejudice that comes with Joseph Biggs’ name being mentioned four times in rapid succession up front on opening night of the House Select Committee’s hearings, Biggs and his counsel respectfully submit that the above testimony alone by Officer Edwards in its totality is more than enough to justify a transfer of venue to Miami, Florida, as defendant [Enrique] Tarrio has urged,” Hull writes.

The filing, which is now on the docket of U.S. District Court Judge Tim Kelly, underscores the degree to which high-profile Jan. 6 defendants are likely to use the select committee’s June hearings to benefit their defense. The panel’s introductory June 9 hearing cast the Proud Boys as key instigators of the Jan. 6 violence in Washington, taking cues from former President Donald Trump, who called on supporters to join a “wild” protest against his defeat in the 2020 election.

Biggs is charged along with Tarrio, the group’s national leader, and Proud Boys Ethan Nordean, Zach Rehl and Dominic Pezzola with seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors have described them as chief organizers of the mob that attacked the Capitol and presented evidence of a plan Tarrio espoused to occupy federal government buildings — which they say he referenced in messages with a fellow group member on Jan. 6.

Judges have looked skeptically at motions by Jan. 6 defendants to transfer their trial venue out of Washington, D.C. They’ve suggested that it is possible to select a fair-minded jury with thorough questioning by the court and attorneys, and that although many D.C. residents in the Capitol Hill area experienced effects of the Capitol breach, many in Washington had only passing knowledge of the attack, let alone bias toward specific defendants.

Five jury trials have been held in Jan. 6 cases so far, with jurors returning guilty verdicts on all counts — a statistic that defendants say is evidence of bias but that some judges have noted may reflect the strength and overwhelming nature of the evidence prosecutors presented in those cases. Few have generated the pretrial publicity that the Proud Boys have, but judges have also emphasized that the Jan. 6 attack is a national story that has generated intense media coverage across the country.

The Proud Boys leaders are slated to go on trial Aug. 8.

Prosecutors, too, are contending with the impact of the Jan. 6 select committee. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough has described unsuccessful efforts so far to obtain the committee’s transcripts from interviews connected to the case and agreed he would provide it to defense counsel as part of the discovery process if the Justice Department ultimately receives them before trial. McCullough also raised concerns that the select committee could release a final report, hundreds of transcripts and hold additional hearings in September, several weeks after the trial is slated to commence.

Kelly noted the concern and emphasized there’s little the court can do to influence or control the decisions of the committee and Congress.

Proud Boys attorneys also accused prosecutors of coordinating actions in the case with the select committee, contending that the decision by the Justice Department to level seditious conspiracy charges against the group’s leaders earlier this month — escalating the year-old case against them — appeared timed to the committee hearings. DOJ has sharply denied the allegations.

Edwards’ testimony was among the most potent moments of the first night of hearings, which drew more than 20 million viewers. She described the ominous approach of the mob and her initial injury after a group that included Samsel pushed a barricade into her, before she fell backward and hit her head on a small set of stairs. She later described a ”war scene” among officers fending off violent rioters.

“There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up,” she recalled. ”I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.”

She also repeatedly mentioned seeing Biggs and hearing taunts from him, describing the initial approach of “the crowd led by Joseph Biggs.“

“Joseph Biggs started, he had a micro, or a megaphone, and he started talking about, first it was things kind of relating to Congress,” she recalled. After the crowd grew, she said “Then the table started turning…Joseph Biggs’ rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police. He started asking us questions like, ‘You didn’t miss a paycheck during the pandemic?’ … I know when I’m being turned into a villain. That’s when I turned to my sergeant and I stated the understatement of the century. I said, ‘Sarge, I think we’re going to need a few more people down here.’”

Hull contended that Edwards’ description of Biggs’ involvement in the mob was false and that his conversation with Samsel was one-sided (Samsel did all the talking) and innocuous. Their exchange has become a focal point for investigators examining the initial breach. Hull also attacked the select committee’s case against Biggs as “comprised of misrepresentations, outright lies and high tabloid noise.” But he said “well-meaning” and “lovably dorky” Washington D.C. residents would accept the committee’s presentation “as packaged.”

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