JUNE 16, 2022
Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio rallies in Portland, Ore., in Aug. 2019. – Noah Berger, AP
A document allegedly given to Proud Boys Chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection lays out detailed plans to occupy more than half a dozen buildings surrounding the U.S. Capitol and describes tactics to be used by occupiers as they “Storm the Winter Palace.”
The full document titled “1776 Returns,” attached as an exhibit in a court filing Wednesday by Tarrio’s co-defendant Zachary Rehl, was described by one former federal prosecutor as “an absolutely devastating piece of evidence.”
Tarrio, Rehl and three other members of the extremist group the Proud Boys face multiple felony counts, including seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge resulting from the Jan. 6 insurrection. The defendants are in jail in Washington, D.C., awaiting trial.
Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who has practiced criminal law for 40 years, said the “1776 Returns” document is a bombshell for prosecutors, assuming it can be verified.
“The authors are clearly planning multiple, multiple felonies; they’re saying how they’re going to do it, and it’s all in service, apparently, to a broader crime, which is the sedition.” Cotter said. “The purpose of the of the whole plan is, as they put it, ‘No Trump, No America.’ Either Trump will be given the presidency, election be damned, or they will shut down America and they will take violent action.”
The New York Times first reported on the existence of the document in March, citing people familiar with it. But the full document had not been released to the public before Wednesday when it was filed as an exhibit in a motion seeking to have Rehl released while awaiting trial.
His attorneys argue that the “1776” document “was not a plan to attack the Capitol and in any event, Tarrio did not share or discuss the document with Mr. Rehl or the other defendants.”
“Mr. Tarrio is looking forward to his day in court and showing a complete picture of all pieces of evidence the government intends to present at trial,” Tarrio’s defense attorney Nayib Hassan wrote in an email to USA TODAY.
Consisting of nine pages and including typos and an unfinished section, “1776 Returns” starts with the words “Read Directions Carefully.”
It describes a plan of attack on the nation’s capital, with the stated purpose being to “Fill the buildings with patriots and communicate our demands.”
“We need as many people as possible inside these buildings,” the document states.
The buildings targeted include six office buildings of the House and Senate, as well as the Supreme Court, which is on the Capitol campus.
The document lays out a plan to identify a “lead” and “second” to coordinate rushing each building, and a “hypeman” to invigorate a crowd and a “minimum of 50” people to storm each building.
It also specifies steps to take to create chaos, including pulling fire alarms or other actions to “ensure there is an entry point for the masses to rush the building.” It suggests using cars or semi-trucks to block surrounding intersections so as to “stop access to any law enforcement vehicle.”
The document does not identify an author. It is undated. And its plans diverge significantly from the events that ultimately transpired on Jan. 6, 2021: The Capitol building itself, which was ultimately the only building on the Capitol Campus occupied by protesters on Jan. 6, is not included in the document’s list of “Targeted Buildings.”
Cotter said that’s largely irrelevant.
The “1776 Returns” document could well be a draft version of a more complex plan, Cotter said. The architect of the plan might have originally considered taking “softer” targets before realizing that the Capitol itself could be occupied.
Either way, the document lays out a plan to commit multiple crimes, he said.
“This is this is like getting the plans of the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941” – two days before the bombing – Cotter said. “From a legal perspective, the real important legal issue is not the Capitol. The real important issue is an attempt to commit sedition.”
But Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, isn’t so sure the document is damning.
Saltzburg said it’s notable that “1776 Returns” contains no specific mention of committing violence against law enforcement or anybody else. It also doesn’t specifically say that the target of the occupation was the politicians who had gathered to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, a claim that is central to the conspiracy case against Tarrio and others.
“If you’re the defense lawyer, you would say they were planning protests and that maybe some of it involved trespassing – some illegal activity – but that this document suggests that he (Tarrio) wasn’t planning an attack against the government,” Saltzburg said. “It’s nice to have a document like that if you’re on the defense side.”
Saltzburg said the “1776 Returns” document is strong evidence there was a conspiracy to commit certain crimes on Jan. 6, just not necessarily the crimes the Proud Boys are charged with.
Multiple questions remain about the document, which was mentioned briefly in last Thursday’s hearing of the Congressional Committee investigating Jan. 6.
The committee has sought to tie former President Donald Trump to the conspiracies involving the Proud Boys and other domestic extremists. Both Cotter and Saltzburg said crucial questions remaining are who authored the document and to who it was distributed.
“I think the million-dollar question is, how did Tarrio come into possession of this document?” Cotter said. “But the $2 million question, from a legal perspective, is who did he give it to?”
The document spells out a five-step process for the day. After detailing the first three steps to infiltrate the buildings, storm them and distract law enforcement, the plan reaches its goals. Step 4 is to “occupy” with a series of chanted demands.
Step 5, in the document, appears unfinished. A set of highlighted lines notes “We have the ability to go into office” and “Target Specific Senators Offices”
Then it raises a question for which it appears to offer no answer: “What’s the ending point for this?”