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On Jan 6, they were ‘tip of the spear’

By Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand | CNN

(CNN) — The sole Proud boy to plead guilty to seditious conspiracy in connection with the Capitol riot, testified Wednesday that members of the far-right organization believed the country was moving toward revolution and that they were the “point of the spear.”

Jeremy Bertino, a top lieutenant of Proud Boys President Enrique Tarrio, testified as part of a cooperation agreement he made with prosecutors against Tarrio and four other members of the Proud Boys who were charged with conspiracy to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

“We had a big fight on our hands. It was going to be a tough fight and everyone had turned against us,” Bertino testified. “My belief was that we had to take control and be more or less the leaders we built ourselves up to be.”

His testimony allowed prosecutors to show jurors how the events of January 6, 2021 unfolded in the mind of a top member of the organization as he watched it online from his home in North Carolina and sent messages to his “brothers” about the attacks from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and assured them that members of the far-left group Antifa were not there to stop them.

Some court messages came from defendants in the case, for whom Bertino said he would “take a bullet”. But Bertino and the five defendants — Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl, Joseph Biggs and Dominic Pezzola — rarely made eye contact during testimony.

There was no premeditated or specific plan to storm the Capitol, Bertino testified, adding that getting the Proud Boys to communicate and cooperate was like “herding cats.” The Proud Boys had several group messages from the days before the riot in which members mentioned coming down to the Capitol, according to evidence presented by prosecutors.

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‘Foot soldiers of the right’

When legal challenges for the 2020 election fell through, members of the Proud Boys — who saw themselves as the “foot soldiers of the right” — began to believe the country was heading for a “total revolution,” Bertino testified.

“I felt it coming,” he said.

The Proud Boys believed the government was controlled by “commies,” he testified, and they began to turn against the police, who increasingly saw the group as their enemy. Everyone in the organization felt “desperate,” including Tarrio, Bertino told the jury.

“His tones were calculated,” Bertino said of Tarrio. “Cold, but very determined. He felt exactly the same as I did.”

Members were also inspired by that of then-President Donald Trump reference to their organization a presidential debate in 2020, where he told the group to “stand back and stand by.” Bertino testified that after the debate, there were “non-stop requests for membership,” particularly from people wanting to attend meetings, and that the group screened new members less to keep up with applications.

Under cross-examination, Bertino said he thought the Proud Boys had a goal to stop the 2020 election, but did not know how that goal would be achieved.

“I had no direct idea of ​​where they were going, how they were going to get there.”

Bertino was not in Washington, D.C. on the day of the riot because he was recovering at home from a stab wound he received at an earlier pro-Trump rally, but he testified that he watched a livestream video. He saw the mob as the start of the “next American Revolution,” and told others Proud Boys that he was brought to tears during the attack.

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“I was happy, excited, in awe and disbelief that people were doing what they said they would do,” Bertino told the jury. When the mob descended on the Capitol, “it meant we influenced people, the normies, enough to make them stand up for themselves and take back their country and take back their freedom,” he said.

In chats with other Proud Boys, Bertino encouraged members to move on, telling them that he could see the Capitol on a live stream and that no members of Antifa would be at the building to stop the pro-Trump mob.

Bertino also sent a message, “They have to get the pack” – which he testified was a misspelled reference to Pelosi. “She was the talking head of the opposition and they had to remove her from power,” he said.

By the evening of Jan. 6, Bertino was getting angry with Trump supporters for leaving the Capitol, he told the jury.

“The way I felt at the moment, if we give up on that building, we give up our country,” Bertino testified. He sent coded messages to other Proud Boys members, saying that “we failed,” and “half-measures mean nothing,” and, referring to lawmakers in the Capitol, “Fuck fear: They should be hanged.”

“Once they took that step, there was no turning back,” Bertino testified on Wednesday. “And they basically decided to refuse and walk out after causing all that chaos down there.”

“The revolution had failed,” he continued, “because the House would still go ahead to certify the election.”

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