Joseph Biggs, a leader of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys, was charged on Wednesday in connection with the riot at the Capitol, as prosecutors said he led dozens of the group’s members in an angry march toward — and into — the halls of Congress.
Mr. Biggs, 37, was arrested in Florida only hours before the inauguration of President Biden and stands accused of unlawful entry and corruptly obstructing an official proceeding. At least five other members of the group, which sent hundreds of foot soldiers to Washington two weeks ago for a march in support of former President Donald J. Trump, are also facing charges stemming from the Capitol attack.
The Proud Boys describe themselves as “Western chauvinists” and have history in recent years of bloody street fights with left-wing anti-fascist activists. During Mr. Trump’s time in office, they were some of his most vocal — and most violent — supporters. At one of the presidential debates, Mr. Trump returned the favor, telling members of the group to “stand back and stand by.”
Mr. Biggs’s involvement with the Capitol riot began last month, prosecutors say, when he started to encourage Proud Boys to attend the Jan. 6 event in Washington, which was billed as a march to “Stop the Steal.” According to court papers, he echoed messages from the Proud Boy’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, telling members to eschew their typical black-and-yellow polo shirts and instead go “incognito” and move about the city in “smaller teams.”
Though Mr. Tarrio went to Washington himself this month, he was thrown out of the city by a judge on Jan. 5 after being arrested the day before in connection with the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner torn from a historic Black church during a separate round of violent protests last month. When officers took Mr. Tarrio into custody, they found he was carrying two high-capacity rifle magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys chicken logo.
On the day of the riot, Mr. Biggs — wearing glasses, a dark knit hat and a blue and gray plaid shirt — was captured in a video standing in a large group of Proud Boys as someone shouts, with an expletive, “Let’s take the Capitol!” Other portions of the video show him marching with the group toward the building, chanting slogans like, “Whose streets? Our streets.” Near him in the crowd, court papers say, was another top Proud Boy organizer, Ethan Nordean, who is also known as Rufio Panman.
Though prosecutors acknowledge that Mr. Biggs was not among the first to break into the Capitol, they say he later admitted to entering the building for a brief time. They also say he appears to have been wearing a walkie-talkie-style device on his chest, suggesting he was communicating with others during the incursion.
Mr. Biggs, who has often spoken publicly about his service in the U.S. Army, is a former correspondent for Alex Jones’ conspiracy-minded media outlet, Infowars. While working for Infowars, Mr. Biggs covered several events with a high profile among extremists. He reported on the role the militia group, the Oath Keepers, played in guarding local business during violent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2015 and was on hand during the invasion and occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016.
In an interview with The New York Times hours after the Capitol attack, Mr. Biggs said that he and about 100 other Proud Boys arrived at the complex around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6 when suddenly the crowd in front of them surged and the mood grew violent. “It literally happened in seconds,” Mr. Biggs said, referring to the invasion of the building.
Prosecutors have also charged Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy from Rochester and a former Marine, in connection with the riot, noting in Mr. Biggs’s criminal complaint that he appeared to be wearing an earpiece communication device. Charges have also been filed against Nicholas Ochs, founder of the Proud Boys’ Hawaii chapter, and Nicholas DeCarlo, who runs a news outfit called “Murder the Media,” which is associated with the Proud Boys.
The federal investigation into the Capitol riot has now led to more than 100 arrests on charges that have included weapons offenses and assaults on police officers.
On Wednesday, prosecutors also charged a Connecticut man with trapping a police officer behind a riot shield as a crowd pressed against him. Patrick E. McCaughey, 23, of Ridgefield, Conn., was accused of pinning Daniel Hodges, an officer with the Washington Metropolitan Police, against a door of the Capitol. According to a widely-seen video of the incident, Officer Hodges cried for help until eventually being pulled to safety.