A North Carolina man pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiring with other members of the far-right Proud Boys to violently prevent the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election, making him the first member of the extremist group to plead guilty to a charge of seditious conspiracy.
Jeremy Joseph Bertino, 43, has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation into the role Proud Boys leaders played in the Jan. 6, 2021 mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a prosecutor has said. federal.
Bertino’s cooperation could increase the pressure on the other Proud Boys charged with the siege, including former National President Henry “Enrique” Tarrio.
The guilty plea comes as the founder of another extremist group, the Oath Keepers, and four associates separately charged in the January 6 attack stand trial for seditious conspiracy – an offense rarely used in wartime civilian that requires up to 20 years behind bars.
Bertino traveled to Washington with other Proud Boys in December 2020 and was stabbed during a fight, according to court documents. He was not in Washington for the Jan. 6 riot because he was still recovering from his injuries, according to court documents.
Bertino participated in planning sessions in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and received encrypted messages as early as Jan. 4 that Proud Boys were planning to storm the Capitol, authorities say.
A statement of offense filed in court says Bertino understood the Proud Boys’ purpose in traveling to Washington was to prevent certification of Joe Biden’s victory and that the group was prepared to use force and violence if necessary to do so.
Bertino also pleaded guilty to an unlawful possession of firearms charge in March 2022 in Belmont, North Carolina. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly agreed to release Bertino pending a sentencing hearing, which was not immediately scheduled.
Justice Department prosecutor Erik Kenerson said the sentencing guidelines for Bertino’s case recommended a prison term ranging from four years and three months to five years and three months.
A trial is due to begin in December for Tarrio and four other members charged with seditious conspiracy: Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola. The charging document for Bertino’s case names these five defendants and a sixth member of the Proud Boys as his co-conspirators.
The indictment in the Tarrio case alleges that the Proud Boys held meetings and communicated via encrypted messages to plan the attack in the days leading up to January 6. On the day of the riot, authorities said, the Proud Boys dismantled metal barricades set up to protect the Capitol and mobilized, directed and led members of the crowd into the building.
Bertino’s video testimony was shown in June during the first hearing of the House committee investigating Jan. 6. The committee showed Bertino that the band’s membership had “tripled, probably” after Trump’s comment during a presidential debate that the Proud Boys should “step back and be ready.”
Tarrio was not in Washington on January 6, but authorities say he helped spark the violence that day. Police arrested Tarrio in Washington two days before the riot and accused him of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic black church during a protest in December 2020. Tarrio was released from prison on January 14 this year after serving his five-month sentence. for this case.
More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol riot have been identified by federal authorities as leaders, members or associates of the Proud Boys. Two – Matthew Greene and Charles Donohoe – pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct an official process, the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote.