Five members the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, are on trial in Washington for seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The defendants are accused of plotting and coordinating the bloody rampage in an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power from then-President Donald Trump to Joe Biden, the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
The trial, now in its fourth month, is also a critical test of the government's resolve to pursue the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge against those who planned and directed the attack.
In two earlier cases, juries convicted Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and a top lieutenant of seditious conspiracy in November, and found four other members of the anti-government militia guilty of the charge in January.
"The stakes are every bit as high in this case," said Jordan Strauss, a former federal prosecutor, now a managing director at Kroll, a New York-based corporate investigation and risk consulting company.
It remains unclear how the jury will judge the Proud Boys case. The trial is nearing a conclusion as the defense wraps up its case and the jury begins deliberations.
A conviction would mark a significant victory for the U.S. Justice Department as it continues to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack two years later.
Here are several questions about the case:
Who are the Proud Boys?
The Proud Boys are a right-wing extremist group that emerged during the 2016 presidential election.
They describe themselves as a "pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists."
However, extremism researchers say that public persona is a smokescreen.
In reality, they say, the group harbors a violent agenda and promotes misogyny, Islamophobia, transphobia and anti-immigration sentiment.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Proud Boys have been "regulars" at Trump rallies and far-right demonstrations, including the 2017 Unite the Right Rally where one counter-protester was killed.
Former FBI special agent Tom O'Connor compared the Proud Boys to thuggish "soccer hooligans" of the extreme right, in contrast to the Oath Keepers who fancy themselves as "the special forces of the far right."
The Proud Boys were thrust into the spotlight during the 2020 presidential campaign when Trump, speaking during a presidential debate, exhorted: "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by!"
A Congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot at the Capitol singled out the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as two of several extremist groups that spearheaded the assault.
Who are the defendants?
Along with Enrique Tarrio, the former chairman of the Proud Boys, the group includes three local ring leaders – Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean and Zachary Rehl.
The fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola, is a former Marine from Rochester, New York, who joined the Proud Boys after the 2020 election.
Pezzola became the face of the January 6 attack when he was filmed using a stolen police riot shield to smash a window, clearing the way for a mob of rioters to storm the building.
What are the charges?
The Proud Boys face a total of nine charges, including seditious conspiracy.
Federal law defines seditious conspiracy as a plot to use force to "overthrow," "oppose" the authority of the government or "prevent" the execution of its laws.
The indictment against the defendants alleges that they conspired to ‘"oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force."
In addition to seditious conspiracy, the five men are charged with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, destroying government property, assaulting a federal office, and other charges.
Pezolla faces an additional robbery charge.
What do prosecutors say?
Prosecutors say the Proud Boys viewed a Biden presidency as an existential threat and were determined to stop him from taking office, even by force if necessary.
To back up their claim, prosecutors offered a trove of evidence, including social media posts, texts, emails, and phone calls exchanged by the Proud Boys in the run-up to January 6, 2021.
As early as November 16, less than two weeks after the election, Tarrio posted an ominous message online.
"If Biden steals this election," Tarrio wrote, the Proud Boys "will be political prisoners. We won't go quietly … I promise."
Jeremy Bertino, one of two ex-Proud Boys to testify against them, told the jury that the group believed "they had to take the reins" and lead the people to "all out revolution."
In late December 2020, as Trump's lawsuits to overturn the election results floundered, Tarrio and his cohorts created a "national rally planning" group that they called "Ministry of Self Defense."
That's when the Proud Boys began to prepare for January 6, the day Congress would certify Biden's victory, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors say while the Proud Boys leaders didn't bring firearms to Washington, they "enlisted" their members as "tools" to carry out the attack.
Tarrio was arrested in Washington two days before the Capitol breach and banned from the city. But he stayed in touch with the other four as they led the charge on the Capitol.
"Make no mistake," he boasted in a message after the attack. "We did this."
What is the defense's argument?
The defense has claimed that Tarrio's message and other supposedly incriminating messages exchanged among the Proud Boys had been distorted and twisted out of context.
The prosecution, defense lawyers insisted, showed no proof of a plan to storm the Capitol.
It was Trump, not the Proud Boys on trial, who "unleashed the mob" that breached the Capitol, a lawyer for Tarrio said in January.
The Proud Boys, the lawyers said, were simply caught up in a spontaneous eruption of fury over Trump's defeat.
Defense lawyers have also challenged the prosecution's theory that the defendants deployed other members as "tools" in the Capitol breach.
In a risky move for the defense, two of the five defendants took the stand in their own defense this month, trying to downplay their role in the attack.
Echoing other defense witnesses, they insisted they had not heard of any plans to attack the Capitol ahead of time.
Rehl, the leader of the Proud Boys in Philadelphia, said the Proud Boys were just following the "rowdy" crowd.
Pezzola, the Proud Boy from New York, said the Proud Boys were "acting as trespassing protesters" rather than an invading force.
But other defense witnesses were put on the spot. Under cross examination by prosecutors, they admitted that the Proud Boys were more bent on wreaking havoc than they had let on.
What do experts say about the case?
The trial's outcome is up in the air, but experts say the Proud Boys face an uphill battle.
The seditious conspiracy charge doesn't necessarily require prosecutors to prove all of the Proud Boys actually committed violence, Strauss noted.
All prosecutors need to show is that the group "conspired" to sabotage the presidential transfer of power.
"Conspiracy can look like giving comfort or equipping someone or helping someone plan for an act of violence, while knowing what they are going to do," Strauss said.
O'Connor, the former FBI special agent, concurred.
"The Proud Boys didn't just show up on January 6," O'Connor said. "It took some coordination and effort to take the sheep that followed along and went towards the capitol in large numbers."
The jury will ultimately determine whether the Proud Boys' actions amounted to seditious conspiracy, O'Connor said.
"That's our system and no matter which way it goes, you have to accept the jury's verdict on that," he said.