A former member of the far-right Proud Boys group told a jury on Wednesday that the group was “desperate” to stop former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election and viewed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol as the start of the “next American Revolution.”
Jeremy Bertino, 43, testified at the trial of former Proud Boy leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other members of the organization that in the days leading up to the riot at the Capitol, the group increasingly believed they would have to take action to stop Trump’s defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.
“My belief was that we had to take the reins and pretty much be the leaders that we had been building ourselves up to be,” Bertino said.
Bertino was not present at the Capitol the day of the riot after he was injured in a stabbing in Washington, D.C., in December 2020.
Bertino, of Belmont, North Carolina, pleaded guilty last fall to seditious conspiracy charges. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to cooperate with the government.
The jury on Wednesday was shown messages in which Bertino encouraged Proud Boys at the Capitol to keep pressing and “form a sphere” to advance further on the grounds.
In private messages with Tarrio, Bertino expressed elation at the riot, which forced lawmakers to flee and temporarily halted the certification of the election results in the U.S. Congress.
“You know we made this happen,” Bertino wrote in one message to Tarrio.
“I know,” Tarrio replied.
Tarrio and four other Proud Boy members – Dominic Pezzola, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl – have been on trial on seditious conspiracy charges for what prosecutors allege was their plan to use violence to stop the transfer of presidential power.
Defense lawyers have argued that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that prosecutors have taken private messages out of context to suggest that there was a broad conspiracy.
Bertino testified that after the December stabbing, which he said left him with broken ribs and a punctured lung, he and other Proud Boys grew disillusioned and began to question their support of law enforcement.
“At this point, things had changed and we weren’t on their side anymore,” Bertino said.
The Proud Boys case marks the third seditious conspiracy trial to arise from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
In two previous trials, several members of the far-right Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, were convicted on seditious conspiracy charges.