Proud Boys, Seizing Trump’s Call to Washington, Helped Lead Capitol Attack
Far-right group invoked the president’s rhetoric to build momentum toward violent showdown, a Wall Street Journal review shows
On Jan. 3, three days before the attack on the Capitol, Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the far-right organization known as the Proud Boys, shared a cryptic post on the messaging app Telegram: “What if we invade it?”
The message was sent to his more than 7,000 followers on the app, with the first reply reading “January 6th is D day in America.”
The Wall Street Journal reviewed thousands of posts from the Proud Boys and their members across Parler, Telegram and Gab, the social-media platforms where they rallied supporters online after mostly being banned from Facebook and Twitter. The messages show the group repeatedly invoking President Trump’s rhetoric in the weeks leading to the Jan. 6 protest as they built momentum toward what became a violent showdown.
Investigators have said they are scrutinizing online messages like these as they attempt to determine the planning and intent of those involved in the attack on the Capitol.
T he Journal’s review, which included now-deleted posts that have been archived by researchers, suggests the Proud Boys viewed Mr. Trump’s messages as a call to action.
On Parler, where the group’s official account had more than 340,000 followers before the platform went offline last week, Mr. Tarrio said on Dec. 29 that the Proud Boys would be able to put a thousand “boots on the ground” and “turn out in record numbers on Jan. 6.”
In December, after Mr. Trump tweeted about the Jan. 6 rally and said to “be there, will be wild,” the Long Island chapter of the Proud Boys posted that Trump supporters have been “waiting for the green light from the President.”
“Everyone who said ‘Mr. President, just say when?’ He just did,” the post said.
The Proud Boys escalated their social-media activity and appeared emboldened after the Sept. 29 presidential debate, the Journal’s review shows. In that debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Mr. Trump if he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups. As part of his reply, the president said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”
The response within the group, whose members describe themselves as “Western chauvinists” and advocate misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic views, was euphoric.
On Parler, members shared designs for a T-shirt inspired by Mr. Trump’s comments. It read: “Proud Boys standing by.”
According to SITE Intelligence Group, a Bethesda, Md., organization that studies foreign and domestic extremists, one member of a Telegram group chat for the Proud Boys posted that he interpreted Mr. Trump’s debate comment as a call to be prepared for when “he can call on us to essentially ‘let loose the dogs of war.’”
The Proud Boys are one of a handful of extremist groups that participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Multiple Proud Boys members have been arrested or identified in footage from the attack, and the group’s activities are part of the federal investigation, officials said Friday.
In charging documents for self-identified Proud Boys, the group is described as “known to the FBI as being present and disrupting the functions of the U.S. Congress.” Estimates from researchers vary about the size of the group, ranging from a few hundred to up to 10,000 men.
The White House referred to the president’s previous comments about the group. In the days after his “stand back and stand by” comment in September, after being criticized for not condemning the group outright, the president said he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were and told Fox News: “I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys.”
Mr. Tarrio said in a text message to the Journal that “we have and always will support the president,” calling Mr. Trump “an inspiration to many, not just our organization.” He said his posts about a possible invasion was a reference to his supporters possibly gaining control of the Republican Party through peaceful means.
Mr. Tarrio, who was banned from Washington, D.C., after being arrested in connection with the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner, wasn’t present at the rally. He has said he ordered his members not to storm the Capitol but that he won’t denounce any who did.
The Journal’s review shows that the Proud Boys didn’t take Mr. Trump’s denunciation of the group at face value.
When Mr. Trump lost the election, members of the Proud Boys responded with disbelief online. They blamed it on antifascist groups, or antifa, and called on members to attend a Nov. 14 march in Washington, D.C., to support Mr. Trump. That evening, Proud Boys walked the streets of Washington wearing their signature black-and-gold shirts and chanting “F--- antifa.”
Hours later, Mr. Trump posted to Twitter: “Antifa SCUM ran for the hills today when they tried attacking the people at the Trump Rally, because those people aggressively fought back.”
On Telegram, the official Proud Boys account shared Mr. Trump’s message and said “I just got a freedom boner.”
Ahead of a Dec. 12 rally, Mr. Tarrio posted photos from the steps of the White House, writing: “Last-minute invitation to an undisclosed location.” Trump spokesman Judd Deere said at the time Mr. Tarrio was there for a public tour and that he hadn’t met with the president or been invited by the White House.
On Jan. 2, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone participated in a Proud Boys effort to pressure Sen. Marco Rubio to not certify the results of the election. Mr. Tarrio led about two dozen Trump supporters in front of Mr. Rubio’s Miami home, while Mr. Stone called in to the rally to speak to the crowd.
In a video on the Proud Boys website, Mr. Tarrio asks Mr. Stone if there is something he would like to tell the group. “Absolutely. Keep the faith,” Mr. Stone says in the video.
In an interview, Mr. Stone—who was convicted last year of witness tampering, obstruction and lying to Congress and then pardoned by Mr. Trump—said he knows “a number of individual Proud Boys” but isn’t a member. He said that while the Proud Boys whom he knows are supporters of Mr. Trump, “no one in their right mind can think what happened in the Capitol is helpful to the president’s political movement. It’s counterproductive."
In the lead-up to the Jan. 6 event, Proud Boys on Telegram cautioned each other about measures law enforcement might take and encouraged one another to delete their social-media accounts, according to the Journal review.
After a speech from Mr. Trump in which he urged the crowd to march to the Capitol and said “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore,” a group of men in blaze-orange hats and military-style vests surged into the metal barricade that stood between them and the government building. Moments earlier, the men in orange hats had chanted the Proud Boys slogan. Several leaders of the Proud Boys have been identified by researchers as marching with the group.
Once the metal barricade toppled, the crowd charged up the stairs and into the Capitol.
Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article