Two members of the Proud Boys have been indicted for conspiring to obstruct law enforcement protecting Congress during the Capitol riot, according to a news release issued late Friday.
The indictment Friday is the first for conspiracy charges in connection with the deadly assault on Jan. 6, amid growing evidence that efforts to lay siege on the Capitol had been months in the making.
The Justice Department said in a news release on Friday night that the indictment had been filed in federal court against two of the far-right hate group’s members, William Pepe, of Beacon, NY, and Dominic Pezzola, of Rochester, NY. Both men had already been facing lesser charges connected to the Capitol attack after their arrests on Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 respectively.
Citing the indictment which remained under seal on Friday night, the release noted that Pezzola and Pepe had “engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct, influence, impede, and interfere with law enforcement officers engaged in their official duties in protecting the U.S. Capitol and its grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.”
Prosecutors have said the two men interfered with police protecting the Capitol, including by removing metal barricades meant to hold back crowds and stealing property belonging to the police. Pezzola is alleged to have helped crowds break past police defenses after stealing an officer’s riot shield.
The announcement of the conspiracy charges come as investigators have prioritized examining evidence pointing at the potential advanced planning of the attack.
Before Friday’s indictment, charges in the deadly assault on the Capitol had consisted largely of disorderly conduct and unlawful entry. Of the more than 170 people charged to date, the only other serious conspiracy charges in the inquiry have been brought against three members of a militia group known as the Oath Keepers, who have been accused of making advanced preparations for the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that predate even the Nov. 3 presidential election.
The Proud Boys have served as a violent supporter for former President Donald Trump who appeared to signal his support for the white supremacy-linked group during a presidential debate last year when he told its members to “stand back and stand by.”
Earlier this week, U.S. attorney in Washington, Michael Sherwin, said that prosecutors were focused on bringing “more complicated conspiracy cases related to possible coordination among militia groups” and were also looking at evidence that individuals from different states had plans to travel to the nation’s capital before the fateful attack.
At least four other members of the Proud Boys have also been charged so far for their involvement in the Capitol attack, including one of the group’s top leaders, Joseph Biggs an army veteran who was accused of leading a group of roughly 100 Proud Boys who marched toward and into the Capitol.