A leader of the Proud Boys charged in an alleged conspiracy to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 claims he has a longstanding relationship with the FBI, which he said regularly sought him out for information about “antifa networks” in Florida and other parts of the United States.
Joseph Biggs, one of four Proud Boys organizers charged in one of the Justice Department’s biggest cases stemming from the Capitol siege, said the bureau regularly turned to him for advice on antifa — a loosely affiliated collection of violent leftists that the bureau has described as adherents to an ideology rather than part of an organized group.
“In late July 2020, an FBI Special Agent out of the Daytona Beach area telephoned Biggs and asked Biggs to meet with him and another FBI agent at a local restaurant. Biggs agreed,” according to a late Monday court filing issued by Biggs’ attorney in an effort to keep Biggs out of pretrial detention. “Biggs learned after he traveled to the restaurant that the purpose of the meeting was to determine if Biggs could share information about Antifa networks operating in Florida and elsewhere. They wanted to know what Biggs was ‘seeing on the ground.’”
Biggs’ claims, not immediately corroborated by the FBI, nevertheless are likely to sharpen concerns that law enforcement has tolerated violence by the Proud Boys, who have long styled themselves as allies of the police in a fight against leftists. Like Biggs, Proud Boys national chair Enrique Tarrio has said in media interviews that he had long proactively communicated with law enforcement about Proud Boys’ plans in various cities — plans that routinely led to violent confrontations with leftist protesters.
Trump-era intelligence agencies have faced criticism — long denied by top officials like FBI Director Christopher Wray — that they were pressured to inflate the threat of antifa while downplaying the threat posed by right-wing extremists. Invited to denounce the group during an October presidential debate, former President Donald Trump instead famously invited the Proud Boys to “Stand Back and Stand By,” which the group interpreted as a rally cry and adopted as a motto.
The relationship between law enforcement and the Proud Boys has become a significant focus after more than a dozen of the group’s members, including several key leaders, were charged with participating in the assault on the Capitol. One, Dominic Pezzola, is charged with smashing a Capitol window with a riot shield early in the day, leading to the first surge of rioters coming into the building. And in a case unsealed earlier this month, Biggs — along with three other regional leaders — was charged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to disrupt Congress’ Jan. 6 effort to certify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Per Biggs’ attorney, John Daniel Hull, Biggs’ July meeting at the restaurant sparked a relationship between Biggs and the local FBI agent that kept them in regular contact for months. “They spoke often,” Hull said.
In fact, when Biggs — an Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan — learned the FBI had obtained images of him inside the Capitol, he reached out to the same agent and made plans to turn himself in, according to Hull.
Biggs, via his court filing, suggested he had maintained a relationship with the bureau since 2018, when he began organizing Proud Boys events and touting their efforts on social media and radio. He “personally planned” two Proud Boys events in Portland, Ore., meant to counter antifa.
“As part of the planning, Biggs would regularly speak with by phone and in person to both local and federal law enforcement personnel stationed in Portland, including the FBI’s Portland Field Office,” Hull indicated. “These talks were intended both to inform law enforcement about Proud Boy activities in Portland on a courtesy basis but also to ask for advice on planned marches or demonstrations, i.e., what march routes to take on Portland streets, where to go, where not to go. Similar conversations were held regularly with local police and FBI personnel for less major events in other cities.”
By late 2018, Hull wrote, the FBI began proactively contacting Biggs to inquire about his provocative commentary, often issued through the pro-Trump Right Side Broadcasting Network or InfoWars. And Biggs stayed in touch with multiple FBI agents since that time, he said.
In a separate filing, Seattle-area Proud Boys organizer Ethan Nordean — charged alongside Biggs in the alleged conspiracy — submitted excerpts from what he said were 1,500 pages of Proud Boys Telegram messages supplied by prosecutors in ongoing pretrial discovery. Those messages, per Nordean, show that rather than executing a well-orchestrated plot, Proud Boys members were disorganized, confused about their Jan. 6 plans — in part because Tarrio had been arrested and banished from Washington, D.C., on Jan. 4 — and surprised the mob of pro-Trump “normies” helped overtake the Capitol.
Nordean also submitted two sworn affidavits — from musician Michale Graves and his manager Arturo Santaella — indicating that Nordean had arranged to have Graves perform for the Proud Boys on the afternoon of Jan. 6. That arrangement, per Nordean’s lawyer, would have made little sense if Nordean had been planning to carry out a violent insurrection that day.
Though the Proud Boys and another militia charged with a Jan. 6 conspiracy, the Oath Keepers, have claimed their purpose for being in Washington was not to disrupt Congress but rather to protect pro-Trump demonstrators from antifa, a federal judge has emphasized that a conspiracy does not need to be planned well in advance to be a legitimate charge. Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the Oath Keepers case, has said that in fact it need only be hatched in the moment or on the fly.
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