By Andrew Goudsward
(Reuters) – A former member of the Proud Boys organization testified against the former leader of the far-right group and other members on Tuesday, telling a Washington juror they expected a “civil war” ahead of the January 6, 2021 riot in the U.S. Capitol.
Matthew Greene, a New York resident and veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, said his interactions with other members of the group gave him the impression the organization was prepared to use force to imprison former U.S. Republican President Donald Trump. to hold office after his 2020 election defeat.
“I can’t say it was ever openly encouraged, but it was never discouraged, and when it happened it was celebrated,” Greene said of the Proud Boys’ use of force.
Greene’s testimony was a key moment in the trial of former Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio and four other members of the organization – Dominic Pezzola, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl – who are charged with multiple crimes, including seditious conspiracy.
Greene said Pezzola was praised after a violent incident at a December 2020 rally in Washington, DC. Pezzola boasted that he responded to the stabbing of a Proud Boy member by smashing the attacker’s head in with a motorcycle helmet, Greene said.
Prosecutors allege that Pezzola was one of the first rioters to break into the Capitol after shattering a window with a stolen police shield.
Lawyers for the defendants have argued that there was no plan to storm the Capitol and that at previous meetings, the Proud Boys leadership had instructed members to respond to leftist counter-demonstrators only in self-defense.
Greene acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with many of the defendants and was not directed to use force by members of the Proud Boys leadership prior to the Capitol riot. He said he was not aware of any plans to storm the building.
He described an “increasing fury” in the crowd as Proud Boy leaders led the group in chants in front of the Capitol.
Rioters later breached police lines and stormed the building, forcing lawmakers to flee and delaying congressional certification of the 2020 election.
Greene pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of official proceedings in December 2021 for his role in the attack. He agreed to cooperate with US prosecutors.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; editing by David Gregorio)