A judge ruled Thursday that local Proud Boys leader Charles Joseph Donohoe must remain in federal custody, concluding that the Kernersville resident was a willing participant in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and could engage in future political violence if released.
U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey acknowledged that there is no evidence that Donohoe, 33, ever entered the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. There’s also no evidence, Harvey said, that Donohoe damaged property or assaulted law enforcement officers.
But, Harvey said, that doesn’t move the needle much in determining whether Donohoe poses a threat to public safety. Donohoe, he said, took a leadership role in planning and organizing the event, including making sure messaging chat rooms evaded law-enforcement detection. He was also part of a crowd that pushed up the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, and afterward, he talked about rounding up a second force, presumably to attempt another attack on the U.S. Capitol, and boasted about his participation in the attack on messaging groups.
“His conduct on Jan. 6 could not be fairly described as a ‘I just got caught up in the moment’ kind of thing,” Harvey said in his ruling, which he read during a hearing on Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. via video conferencing.
Thursday’s decision came after a more than two hour hearing that Harvey presided over on Wednesday. It also came after a decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly to order his co-defendants, Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs, who had been out on pre-trial release, back into federal custody. Another co-defendant, Zachary Rehl, is scheduled for a detention hearing on May 3.
A hearing on Donohoe had been postponed twice, most recently on Monday because Harvey wanted to have time to review Kelly’s decision. The first time occurred after Donohoe was abruptly transferred from Alamance County Jail to a facility in Oklahoma, where he is currently being held. His attorney, Lisa Costner, was not notified of the move and requested a continuance so that she could talk to her client about the detention hearing.
Donohoe is a former U.S. Marine who moved to North Carolina when he was 3 years old and has a twin brother named Liam. His grandparents live in Winston-Salem, and he has a 4-year-old son from a previous relationship. He did two tours in Iraq while in the military and worked as a private contractor for the company formerly known as Blackwater.
He was arrested on March 17 at The Brewers Kettle, where he had worked as a handyman, according to court documents. He, Nordean, Biggs and Rehl were charged in a six-count indictment last month. The charges include conspiracy, obstruction of law-enforcement, obstruction of an official proceeding and destruction of federal property.
Three of the four men, including Donohoe, are presidents of local chapters of the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members espouse a pro-Western ideology in which they refuse to apologize for creating the modern world. Proud Boys has been described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its misogynistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Donohoe is the president of the Piedmont chapter of the Proud Boys.
After the hearing Wednesday, federal prosecutors submitted Telegram messaging chats in which Donohoe participated. Those messages were sent before, during and after the Jan. 6 event.
Harvey said he reviewed those messages and while they don’t reveal an explicit plan to attack the U.S. Capitol, he said they do indicate that Donohoe and others knew they were planning something illegal and didn’t want law-enforcement officials to know about it.
After Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4, Donohoe created a new messaging chat room on Telegram and urged members to delete or “nuke” earlier messages, Harvey said.
In one message, Donohoe reportedly expressed fear that he and others might face “gang charges” if caught. On Jan. 13, Donohoe sent messages on Telegram about how to again “nuke” messages.
On Wednesday, Costner argued that Donohoe went to Washington, D.C. on a whim and was primarily concerned about finding a place to stay and figuring out where to purchase beer. She pushed back on prosecutors’ assertions that Donohoe played any leadership role in planning anything.
But Harvey, for the most part, rejected those arguments, saying that the evidence overwhelming suggested that Donohoe acted in a way that was akin to a senior lieutenant in the Proud Boys.
He wasn’t, by any means, a part of the top leadership, Harvey said. But Donohoe was entrusted to lead and organize the rank-and-file members in the absence of top leaders such as Nordean, he said.
Harvey said in the days before, Donohoe was sending messages, reiterating that members not wear Proud Boys colors at the Jan. 6 event. He told members to meet at the Washington Monument the morning of Jan. 6 and was sending messages indicating his participation in leadership meetings before the event, Harvey said.
He also led groups of people into restricted areas at the U.S. Capitol grounds. When he was on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, he pulled a mask over his face and pushed up the steps, helping to overwhelm law-enforcement officers trying to protect the U.S. Capitol building, Harvey said.
And at no time did Donohoe withdraw his participation in the alleged conspiracy, Harvey said.
An hour after Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola used a stolen riot shield to break a window, Donohoe was messaging members that he was ready to round up a second force. Several minutes later, he sent a series of messages in which he appeared to back off those plans as the National Guard moved in. He also sent a message from former Vice President Mike Pence, urging people to leave the Capitol, Harvey said.
Harvey also noted that Donohoe sent messages hours after the U.S. Capitol attack in which he celebrated, saying that he felt “like a complete warrior.” He also said that he was part of a group that pushed the line at the U.S. Capitol twice. And he also said that “we stormed the Capitol unarmed.”
Harvey expressed particular concern with an exchange Donohoe had with an unidentified person. That person said it was too late now that Joe Biden was president.
“No, it’s not. It’s never too late,” Donohoe said in response.
That exchange, Harvey said, indicates that Donohoe has not renounced his actions and could engage in planning and participating in future acts of political violence. He also cited private messages on Telegram from Nordean and other Proud Boys members in which they talked about the “spirit of 1776” and “war.”
He said Donohoe also reportedly said that “Facial recognition don’t mean s*** when you have a .566 green tip.” That’s a reference to armor piercing bullets, prosecutors have said.
Harvey acknowledged that Donohoe has strong ties to the community and lacks a criminal record. But his alleged actions both before Jan. 6 and on Jan. 6 outweigh any of those positive attributes, he said.
“It was violent,” Harvey said about the attack. “I doubt very seriously that law-enforcement officers who were overrun by the mob in seconds would say the mob’s actions were nonviolent.”
Donohoe can appeal the decision.