At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly in Washington, Bertino pleaded guilty to that charge and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm as a previously convicted felon, punishable by 51 to 63 months in prison at sentencing under advisory federal guidelines, prosecutors said.
From December 2020 to January 2021, Bertino “knowingly united, conspired, confederated, and agreed with the ‘Proud Boys leaders’ and other persons known and unknown to oppose by force the authority of the United States Government and delay per force the execution of the laws, that regulates the transfer of power,’ it is claimed in the two-page charging document.
In a sign of the sensitivity and potential importance of Bertino’s testimony, prosecutors agreed that if he provides “substantial cooperation” they would seek leniency at sentencing and could place Bertino in a Justice Department witness protection program.
Bertino held a place in the upper inner circle of Proud Boys leaders accused of conspiring to obstruct Congress with angry Trump supporters as lawmakers met to confirm the election results. Bertino’s home in North Carolina was searched in March at the same time Tarrio was arrested on charges that he and at least four others “directed, mobilized and led” a crowd of 200 to 300 supporters to the Capitol grounds. Many in that crowd are accused of leading some of the earliest and most aggressive attacks on police and property.
At the time of the search, Bertino was allegedly in possession of two handguns, a shotgun, bolt-action rifle and two semi-automatic AR-15 rifles with scopes. Bertino was convicted in 2004 of first-degree reckless endangerment in New York state, a felony, and sentenced to five years of probation with a term in local jail, according to court documents.
Bertino’s testimony could implicate Tarrio, a former aide to GOP strategist Roger Stone, and co-defendant Joe Biggs, a former employee of online Infowars show host Alex Jones. Stone and Jones are two prominent right-wing figures who promoted Trump’s inflammatory and baseless claims that the election was stolen.
Stone remained in touch with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and in Washington in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, coordinating post-election protests and privately strategizing with figures such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, The Post has reported.
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Stone also communicated via encrypted texts after the 2020 election with Tarrio as well as Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers, accused of playing an overarching role in planning and orchestrating violence at the Capitol. Rhodes was on Thursday charged with seditious conspiracy in the same courthouse where Bertino pleaded.
Tarrio and Rhodes were part of a Signal chat group titled “FOS” — or Friends of Stone — and the pair met in an underground parking garage next to the Capitol the night before Jan. 6 with leaders of two pro-Trump grassroots groups.
Jones, meanwhile, promoted a November 20, 2020, podcast by Tarrio in which he suggested in an expletive-laden call that Trump supporters infiltrated the Biden inauguration and are turning it into a “circus, a sign of resistance, a sign of revolution. ” This podcast, which featured Tarrio’s co-defendant Ethan Nordean and Biggs, a former Infowars employee, was first reported by the online news site Daily Dot and seen by The Post.
Rhodes, Tarrio, Nordean and Biggs have pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy and other charges. Stone, who has not been charged, has categorically denied any involvement in the Jan. 6 break-in. He previously told The Post: “Any allegation, allegation or implication that I knew of, was involved in, or condoned the unlawful acts at the Capitol on January 6th is categorically false, and there is no witness or document to the contrary .”
A lawyer for Alexander said he testified before a federal grand jury this summer after being assured he was not a target of the investigation. Jones’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before Bertino, all four of 14 people hit with the historically rare charge of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol riots who have pleaded guilty associated with the Oath Keepers.
Tarrio and Bertino were not present in Washington on Jan. 6, the only two of more than 870 federally charged defendants who were not. But prosecutors alleged that Bertino was in direct contact with Tarrio, who oversaw events from Baltimore, and Nordean, who was in charge in Washington, according to a 10-count indictment against the pair and earlier charging papers.
For example, Bertino was Nordean’s guest on a Dec. 31 Parler-linked video in which Bertino called the Proud Boys “soldiers of the right” at war, and Nordean said Americans need to “desensitize” themselves to violence.
On December 30 and 31, according to his indictment, Tarrio exchanged messages with someone who sent him a plan called the “1776 Returns” to occupy “key buildings” in Washington, including the House and Senate. His charge stated that the individual messaged Tarrio, “the revolution is [sic] important than anything else,” to which Tarrio replied, “that’s what every waking moment consists of…I don’t play games.”
Proud Boys leader charged with conspiracy in Capitol riot
On January 4, according to his indictment, Tarrio sent a voice message to a “Ministry of Self Defense” leadership group of proud boys, saying, “I didn’t hear this voice message until now, you want to storm the Capitol.” After the Capitol was breached , Tarrio wrote in a Telegram group chat: “We did this,” prosecutors said.
That night, Bertino — previously identified as “Individual A” or “Person 1” in charging papers — texted Tarrio “1776,” exulting in a profanity, and Tarrio replied “Winter Palace,” according to the indictment. Prosecutors claim it is a reference to a Proud Boys planning document that had a section called “Storm the Winter Palace”, referring to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the former Imperial Palace in St. Petersburg attacked by Bolsheviks, CNN first reported.
Bertino also suggested to Tarrio that the election results could be invalidated if lawmakers failed to vote by midnight, an argument that echoed efforts by Trump’s own lawyers to deny Biden’s victory.
Bertino has been on the radar screen of both the FBI and a House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6. Bertino told the House panel that membership “tripled” after Trump famously urged the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand” during a 2020 presidential debate, according to a video clip of his interview played in a June House hearing.
Social media posts, video footage from Jan. 6, and earlier FBI charging documents also indicate that Nordean and Proud Boys leaders were motivated to confront police that day, in part, by what they perceived as an inadequate response to the stabbing of Bertino without for Harry’s. Bar in downtown Washington after a pro-Trump demonstration the previous month.
In a Proud Boys livestream video taken at the Capitol shortly before it was stormed, Nordean can be seen yelling at police through a bullhorn: “You took our boy in and you let our knives go” — an apparent reference to Tarrio’s arrest and dismissal of the charges against another man originally accused of being involved in a melee on December 12. On Jan. 4, Nordean shared a post of a photograph of himself and Bertino with the caption, “And fight we will,” and included a link to his podcast, “Rebel Talk with Rufio,” in which he and Bertino discussed the stabbing.
At least two other Proud Boys defendants have pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct the joint proceedings of Congress on Jan. 6 and agreed to cooperate with the government, Matthew Greene, 34, of Syracuse, NY, and Charles Donohoe, 34, of Kernersville , NC