‘Don’t despair’: Notes from the defense table during the ‘Proud Boys’ seditious conspiracy trial


As the trial for the “Proud Boys” riot conspiracy dragged on for weeks longer than expected, someone at the defense table drew with a blue pen on a note card a bald man with facial hair, slumped over, looking away and saying, “I was on 25 when this process began.

The five defendants – all in their 30s and 40s – also circulated notes to each other and their lawyers about their legal strategy, saying they needed to “harden the case” and provide “better explanations” for chat messages that celebrated January 6, 2021 Riot at the US Capitol.

It’s a common sight to see notes passed during criminal trials as a way to communicate during what can be lengthy proceedings, but these notes are largely kept out of the public eye.

CNN has reviewed a number of handwritten notes written by the far-right Proud Boys and their legal teams covering the progress of the seditious conspiracy trial, one of the most high-profile and aggressive charges brought by the Justice Department since the Capitol attack.

Notes circulated around the defense table offered a rare glimpse of the defendants, who appeared anxious about their futures, at times bored by the protracted legal battles that plagued the trial and focused on proving there was no overarching plan to carry out a mutiny.

The 18-week trial ended last week with a jury in Washington, D.C., convicting four of the five — Enrique Tario, Ethan Nordian, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rell — of seditious conspiracy. Dominic Pezzola was acquitted of that charge but convicted of others, including obstruction of justice. Tario, Nordean, Biggs, Rell and Pezzola were accused of being part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to violently oppose Joe Biden becoming president.

Pezzola’s attorney, Stephen Metcalfe, said in a statement to CNN that “there were a bunch of talented artists on the defense side” and “it was an extremely long process, with days where even I didn’t record. We had to fill that gap with humor and at times laughter.”

Norman Pattis, Biggs’ attorney, told CNN, “You haven’t found the really funny notes, keep digging.”

Attorneys for Tarrio, Nordean and Rehl declined to comment on the memos.

In the courtroom, the defendants sat on one side of a large wooden table facing their lawyers. Everyone had access to legal pads and colorful sticky notes to write on and pass to each other.

It is not entirely clear which defendant or lawyer wrote which note.

Memo from the defense table during the Proud Boys' seditious conspiracy trial.

CNN watched the defendants and their attorneys exchange notes throughout the trial, starting with jury selection.

On flash cards obtained by CNN written during jury selection, people at the defense table had written things like “YES,” “NO,” “OH FELL NO,” “SPY” and “NOT ME PUKA”.

“Steeeeee-Reighck!!” one person wrote as if mentioning removing someone from a jury. Underneath, the man has written – and underlined – the word “Reich”. This note was later torn into several pieces.

Another parodied one of the questions Judge Timothy Kelly, who presided over the trial, asked prospective jurors — whether they could be fair and impartial.

“Question for the judge,” the note said. “Can you be fair and impartial?”

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Four members of the Proud Boys were found guilty of seditious conspiracy

Several of the memos obtained by CNN refer to testimony government witnesses have given about the Proud Boys’ movements around the 2020 presidential election.

Prosecutors say that after the election was called for Biden, Donald Trump supporters, including members of the Proud Boys, took to the streets to protest Biden’s victory even before January 6.

On one note, however, someone at the defense table took issue with prosecutors’ characterization of the Pride Boys marches. “We didn’t roam the streets because of the election,” the note said.

Some individuals also took issue with the way prosecutors portrayed social media and chat messages, suggesting that Justice Department lawyers were exaggerating their importance because not everyone in a group chat was paying attention to what others were writing there.

Memo from the defense table during the Proud Boys' seditious conspiracy trial.

“‘Upvoting’ ‘liking’ ‘hearing + reacting’ are such meaningless ‘engagements’ on social media,” someone wrote, referring to the various ways a user can interact with a social media post. “They hit so hard.”

Several notes seem to raise concerns about the government’s case.

“Your name/photo will be on Boots on Ground,” said one note, referring to the name of an encrypted chat group the Proud Boys used to discuss their plans and moves on January 6. “The government. they said they were going to get an expert to testify that you were on it, but we were going to hit them with it [evidence] that you are not.”

“So don’t despair,” the man added.

That anxiety carried over into the days when government cooperators testified. One such associate, Matthew Green, a member of the Upstate New York Proud Boys, told jurors that he spoke regularly with Pezzola about the group’s activities, testifying to “the typical things that were going on to fix our complaints, were ineffective and did not work. “

In a memo on the day of Green’s testimony, someone at the defense table wrote: “Do you think it’s a big deal that Green says he conspired with me even though he said there was no plan and that the conspiracy was started after the breach?’

Memo from the defense table during the Proud Boys' seditious conspiracy trial.

On the day “Proud Boys” videographer Eddie Block testified that “Tario thought he was too good for me,” a note from the defense table read, “ask him if I’m friendly and not confrontational.” The next day, under cross-examination by Tario’s attorney, Block testified that Tario was nice to him and treated him fairly.

Despite dealing with one of the most serious criminal cases related to the January 6 riot, the defense still found levity in the situation and passed notes detailing comics or jokes about the ongoing trial.

One doodle shows a cross-eyed man wearing a name tag that reads “Noble Lead” – Tario’s nickname. The man says, “Dos pollos para me Por favor,” which is Spanish for “two chickens for me, please.”

Next to the drawing, someone in a different handwriting has written “Tóuche”.

Memo from the defense table during the Proud Boys' seditious conspiracy trial.

Tario, the alleged leader of the group, was charged with conspiracy but was not in Washington on the day of the Capitol attack. It is not clear what the doodle refers to, although the Proud Boys adopted the rooster as a symbol.

From time to time they chastised each other for not taking the process seriously.

“The jury is out for you,” one note said. “Make sure you’re always on your best behavior.”

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