Federal investigators are zeroing in on key instigators of the Jan. 6 attempted coup at the United States Capitol building. In recent days, several high-ranking, high-profile members of the right-wing Proud Boys street gang have been arrested, indicating there may be a significant criminal case brewing over the group's involvement in — and planning of — the insurrection attempt.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced conspiracy charges against Nicholas Ochs and Nicholas DeCarlo, alleging the pair (from Hawaii and Texas, respectively) not only participated in the Capitol Hill riot, but also solicited funding for — and advertised their intention to travel to — the insurrection attempt in the days leading up to Jan. 6.
According to CBS, only a small number of the more-than 170 insurrectionists arrested since the riot have actually been charged with conspiracy, which suggests that the Proud Boys might be under additional scrutiny from law enforcement.
Indeed, just days before the latest DOJ announcement, two other Proud Boy associates — New York state residents Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe — were also indicted on conspiracy charges. "The object of the conspiracy was to obstruct, influence, impede and interfere with law enforcement officers engaged in their official duties in protecting the U.S. Capitol and its grounds" prosecutors explained in the indictment.
The Proud Boys isn't the only right-wing group being hit with conspiracy charges. In mid-January, three members of the Oath Keepers militia became the first insurrection participants to face such a charge. According to their indictment, the trio not only played a a role in the Capitol Hill riot itself, but also discussed the "need to do this at the local level."
That said, the Proud Boys are arguably the most visible — and attention-seeking — of all the nebulous, protofascist Donald Trump-supporting gangs that gathered in Washington D.C. last month. After all, the former president did address them directly when he told them to "stand back and stand by" during a 2020 presidential election debate. And although the relationship between the Proud Boys rank and file and Trump himself may have started to fray in the days following Jan. 6, the group remains one of the most recognizable of the former president's violent enthusiasts.
But with the Justice Department seemingly willing to explore the group's role in the insurrection attempt as a potentially coordinated, conspiratorial effort — rather than just a disperse smattering of participants — the latitude enjoyed by the Proud Boys over the past four years just might be coming to a close. In fact, Canada has already declared the group a "terrorist organization," while a number of the gang's high-profile members have been arrested in the U.S. for — or at least implicated in — the attempted coup, limiting their ability to act with the same level of impunity as they once did.
That this is happening at all is an unambiguously good thing — but the fact that law enforcement took this long to seriously confront such a loud and proud advertised threat raises the question: Is it too little, too late?