A federal judge has set a trial date for next May for local Proud Boys leader Charles Joseph Donohoe and his three co-defendants facing charges in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to media reports and online court documents.
Donohoe, 33, of Kernersville, was arrested in March on a six-count indictment that included criminal charges such as conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, obstruction of law enforcement and destruction of government property.
Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Wash.; Joseph Biggs of Ormond, Fla. and Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia face similar charges. All are leaders or organizers with the far-right group Proud Boys, which has a pro-Western Civilization ideology and has been known to get into violent clashes with other groups at rallies.
Donohoe was the president of the Piedmont chapter of the Proud Boys. Federal prosecutors accused the men of actively planning the attack on Jan. 6, where hundreds of people stormed the U.S. Capitol, attacked law-enforcement officers and damaged property. The attack was fueled by lies that former president Donald Trump won the election and that there was rampant election fraud, and rioters attempted to stop the U.S. Congress from certifying the presidential election that Joe Biden won.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly scheduled a trial for all four men to begin May 18, 2022. According to a Reuters article, the trial would be held in a large courtroom in Washington, D.C., that is often used for ceremonial occasions. Kelly indicated that the trial could last four to six weeks, the Reuters story said.
Donohoe, a former U.S. Marine who did two tours in Iraq, has been held in federal custody since his arrest in March. He has unsuccessfully tried to get out on pretrial release and is currently appealing Kelly’s decision to keep him detained. His attorney, Lisa Costner, has filed court papers in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.
He and his co-defendants also have filed court papers seeking to get the criminal charges against them dismissed. Kelly held a hearing on a motion to dismiss initially filed by an attorney for Nordean.
Nicholas Smith, Nordean’s attorney, argued that the criminal charges should be dismissed partly because the U.S. Congress meeting to certify the election doesn’t qualify as an official proceeding, according to a Seattle Times article. Smith argued that an official proceeding has to have an investigative purpose or truth-finding inquiry, the article said.
Federal prosecutors disagreed. Kelly didn’t rule on the motion, and the next court hearing for all four defendants is on Oct. 26, when he might issue a decision.
Federal prosecutors have argued in hearings and in court documents that Donohoe played a significant role in helping Proud Boys members attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. They have pointed to allegations that Donohoe created a new encrypted messaging channel on the Telegram messaging application in an effort to evade law-enforcement detection. Donohoe created the new channel after Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4.
Prosecutors said Donohoe made statements saying that if anything was compromised, members could face “gang” charges. Prosecutors have said those statements indicated that Donohoe knew he was involved with something illegal.
They have also alleged that Donohoe had a leadership role in Proud Boys similar to that of a senior lieutenant and that he passed down instructions to Proud Boys members in the days before the attack about logistics. Donohoe was also part of a group on Jan. 6 that trampled over barricades and pushed up the steps to the Capitol building.
Costner has argued that prosecutors have presented no evidence that Donohoe actively participated in or planned an attack on the Capitol and that he never went inside the Capitol building. She also said there is no evidence that Donohoe assaulted any law-enforcement officers.
Prosecutors have said that he was part of a crowd that surged up stairs, overwhelming law-enforcement officers and that he was seen on video holding a riot shield that Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola is alleged to have stolen from a Capitol police officer. Prosecutors said Pezzola later used that riot shield to break a window that allowed other people to open an adjacent door and gain entry into the Capitol building.
Federal prosecutors have also said that Donohoe made statements such as he felt “like a complete warrior” after the attack, indicating that he had no remorse for his participation in the attack.
Separate from the criminal charges, Donohoe has been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by several Capitol Police officers.