When Ethan Nordean, the "sergeant of arms" for the Seattle Proud Boys, led a mob of his fellow far-right nationalists on a winding march to the Capitol last month, an angry crowd had already gathered at the barricades, facing off against a small detachment of the Capitol Police.
It was then, court papers say, that Nordean had a brief exchange with a young man in the throng wearing goggles, a battle helmet and head-to-toe military garb. Within an hour, court papers say, that man, Robert Gieswein, was among the first wave of violent rioters to break into the Capitol, breaching the building through a window shattered by a Proud Boy from New York.
In a flurry of court papers filed in recent days — in four separate cases against six Proud Boys — federal officials have painted scenes like this, assembling the first draft of a narrative that suggests the Proud Boys brought some coordination to the Capitol attack. While prosecutors have not issued an overarching indictment accusing the group of a detailed conspiracy to storm the halls of Congress, they have left hints in the record that they believe a measure of planning went into disrupting the certification of the presidential vote.
In a criminal complaint released Wednesday night, for instance, prosecutors said that days before the Capitol attack, Nordean issued a call on social media asking for donations of "protective gear" and declared during his podcast, "We are in a war."
In previous filings, the government has said that some group members went to the Capitol with communication equipment and that leaders ordered subordinates to show up undercover, not in their typical black-and-yellow shirts.
The Proud Boys, who have long been some of former President Donald Trump's most vocal and violent supporters, have been a chief focus of the FBI's inquiry into the Capitol assault — not the least because they were one of the extremist groups with a large and visible presence in Washington on Jan. 6. In the past few weeks, nearly a dozen people with links to the group have been charged in connection with the riot that caused five deaths and injuries to nearly 140 police officers. But according to the evidence released so far in court files, only about half that number appear to have worked together during the attack.
On Wednesday, the Proud Boys came under increased pressure as the Canadian government moved to formally designate them as a terrorist organization, a step that could lead to financial seizures and allow the police to treat any crime committed by members as terrorist activity. After initially disavowing the violence at the Capitol, the chairman of the group, Enrique Tarrio, has largely gone silent, chased off the public stage by revelations that he had once cooperated secretly with the police and FBI.
Lawyers for some of the Proud Boys facing charges denied that their clients had conspired to storm the Capitol. One of the group's leaders, Joseph Biggs, who was arrested late last month, declined to comment when reached by phone Tuesday. In an interview on the day of the attack, Biggs, who helped Nordean lead the Proud Boy march on Capitol Hill, said that the attack had not been planned but "literally happened in seconds."
And yet, prosecutors say, in late December, Tarrio, apparently planning for a pro-Trump "Save America" rally in Washington on Jan. 6, posted a message on the social media app Parler, telling the Proud Boys to attend the event in small teams and "incognito," instead of in their trademark polo shirts. Those messages were quickly echoed by both Biggs and Nordean, prosecutors said.
Two days before the march, prosecutors noted, Nordean, who is sometimes known as Rufio Panman, posted an episode of his podcast, "Rebel Talk with Rufio," on Parler in which he likened the Proud Boys to "soldiers of the right wing." He also discussed what he described as "rampant voter fraud" in the presidential election, saying that the Proud Boys could not afford to be complacent but had to "bring back that original spirit of 1776 of what really established the character of what America is."
On the day of the Capitol attack, prosecutors said, Nordean, a burly 30-year-old from Washington state, joined Biggs, a former soldier who lives in Florida, on the east side of the Capitol, where they had mustered a large group of Proud Boys, many of whom were wearing orange hats, apparently as an identifying marker. In a video of the gathering, someone in the crowd was captured yelling, with an expletive, "Let's take the Capitol!"
Moving into the streets, Biggs and Nordean then led the Proud Boys to a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, prosecutors said, where a much larger crowd was already confronting the Capitol Police, positioned behind a waist-high metal barrier. After the crowd broke through the barrier, court papers said, Nordean and some of his fellow Proud Boys surged toward the building, where another line of officers tried to stop them from entering.
It was amid this chaos, prosecutors said, that Nordean spoke with Gieswein, a 24-year-old Coloradan who has been accused in a federal complaint of having links to the right-wing militia group the Three Percenters. While no court papers reflect what Nordean may have said to Gieswein, not long after the conversation, Gieswein helped to lead the first charge on the Capitol, climbing through a broken window carrying a baseball bat.
That window, prosecutors said, had been shattered only moments earlier by another man, a Proud Boy from Rochester, New York, named Dominic Pezzola. Pezzola broke the glass, according to court papers, with a plastic shield he stole from a police officer. After he followed Gieswein through the window, prosecutors say, Pezzola joined a crowd that confronted Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Police officer who held the mob at bay in a stairwell while members of Congress escaped.
Prosecutors have not offered evidence that Pezzola, 43, took orders from Biggs or Nordean, but they have noted in court papers that Biggs attended the riot with a walkie-talkie attached to his chest and that Pezzola wore an earpiece during the attack, perhaps as a way to communicate with others. Prosecutors have also accused Pezzola of conspiring with another Proud Boy from New York, William Pepe, 31, to obstruct and interfere with police officers protecting the Capitol. (Pezzola's former lawyer, Michael Scibetta, said he did not think the two men knew each other.)
It was only once the early wave of rioters was in the building that Biggs and Nordean went in, prosecutors said. According to his criminal complaint, Biggs was captured on a video walking through a door of the Capitol and announcing to the camera, "This is awesome!" In Nordean's own complaint, there are photos of him pressed up in a crowd inside the building.
Joining them as late-arriving entrants were two more Proud Boys, prosecutors say: Nicholas Ochs, the president of the group's Hawaii chapter, and Nicholas DeCarlo, a Texas man who runs an operation known as Murder the Media News. Once inside the Capitol, prosecutors say, Ochs and DeCarlo posed for a photo in front of graffiti they had scrawled on a door that read, "Murder the Media."
Both men, who have described themselves as journalists, extensively filmed their time inside the building and later streamed the footage on the internet, according to their criminal complaints. On Wednesday night, prosecutors brought new charges against the men, filing an indictment that accused them of a conspiracy to obstruct Congress' efforts to finalize the Electoral College vote.
After leaving the Capitol that evening, Ochs posted a video clip of himself and DeCarlo walking through a residential neighborhood in Washington.
"Viewers," his criminal complaint quotes him as saying, "we have some good news. We have just peeked through this window, and on the television the headline reads that Congress stopped the vote when we stormed the Capitol."
At that point, DeCarlo chimes in, "We did it."