ROCHESTER, NY – Federal prosecutors on Friday announced conspiracy charges against two members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group with ties to white nationalism, in relation to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Dominic Pezzola, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Rochester, New York, and William Pepe, an employee of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from Beacon, New York, were indicted on a slew of new charges late Friday.
Pezzola was charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding a United States Capitol police officer, according to the FBI. He possessed a thumb drive containing instructions on how to make homemade firearms, poisons, and explosives, federal prosecutors revealed in a detention application Friday.
Some of the documents on the thumb drive are titled “Advanced Improvised Explosives” and “Ragnar’s Big Book of Homemade Weapons.” Prosecutors are arguing Pezzola, 43, should be held without bail pending his trial. FBI agents recovered the thumb drive after executing a search warrant on Pezzola’s home on Jan. 15.
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Pezzola and Pepe are accused of working together to interfere with police officers protecting the Capitol during the certification of the presidential election, according to a news release. The indictment remained sealed late Friday night, so it’s unclear how Pezzola and Pepe allegedly conspired together.
“Dominic Pezzola poses a serious danger to the community and a serious risk of flight,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik M. Kenerson wrote in the detention filing. “The defendant’s actions in breaking the window to the U.S. Capitol, allowing the first group of rioters to stream through, cannot be overstated. The defendant’s actions show planning, determination, and coordination. His stated desire to commit further acts of violence, combined with his access to weapons- and bomb-making manuals, is extremely concerning.”
Pezzola, or “Spaz,” as he’s referred to in the criminal complaint, was originally charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property and illegally accessing a restricted area. He was arrested Jan. 15.
At least 170 people have been charged by the Department of Justice for crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot. They include residents of 39 states and the District of Columbia. The FBI has stated it’s sorting through more than 200,000 pieces of digital evidence and has identified more than 400 suspects who participated. Officials with the Department of Justice said last week they expect to bring sedition charges “very soon.”
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Pezzola and Pepe are among 10 who have been charged with conspiracy so far, and appear to be the first two members of the Proud Boys indicted for conspiracy. Two other Proud Boys organizers in other states, Nick Ochs in Hawaii and Joe Biggs in Florida, have been arrested.
In addition to the four Proud Boys members identified so far, four of those charged have been linked to the Oath Keepers and three to a far-right group known as the Three Percenters – two of the most well-known national extremist groups.
Authorities arrested two women in Pennsylvania Friday, including Doylestown gym owner Dawn Bancroft, who filmed a selfie video while leaving the Capitol on Jan. 6. The FBI stated that in the video Bancroft said: “We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain but we didn’t find her.” The FBI believes that statement refers to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A woman in the video with Bancroft, Diana Santos-Smith of Pennsylvania, also was arrested Friday. The two women are among 22 who have been arrested thus far. Of the 99 suspects where an age is known, the ages range from 20 to 70, and the average age is 41.
Pezzola and Pepe were each indicted Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on charges of conspiracy; civil disorder; unlawfully entering restricted buildings or grounds; and disorderly and disruptive conduct in restricted buildings or grounds.
In addition to those charges, Pezzola was charged with obstruction of an official proceeding; additional counts of civil disorder and aiding and abetting civil disorder; robbery of personal property of the United States; assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers; destruction of government property; and engaging in physical violence in a restricted buildings or grounds.
According to the FBI, “Pezzola and Pepe are members of the Proud Boys, a group self-described as a ‘pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists.'” The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified the Proud Boys as a hate group.
Members of the group often wear yellow and black clothing and other apparel featuring logos and emblems of the group. Pezzola and Pepe both own “tactical vests branded with the Proud Boys logo, and have attended various Proud Boys gatherings and protests,” the FBI stated in a release.
The two allegedly took down barriers around the Capitol. Pezzola “ripped away” an officer’s riot shield, “while the officer was physically engaging with individuals who had gathered unlawfully in the west plaza of the Capitol.”
Michael Scibetta, Pezzola’s Rochester-based defense attorney, said he has been denied contact with his client. Scibetta added Pezzola hasn’t been allowed to contact him.
“He was not allowed to meet with Pre-Trial so that a report to the court could be made as to whether release would be recommended,” Scibetta wrote in an email. “Supposedly they have him in ‘protective custody’ which begs the question…wouldn’t he be better served being released, to be safer and afforded a meaningful legal defense? What is happening is unprecedented. The jail wouldn’t even confirm that he was held there when I called let alone let me speak with my client.”
Scibetta said he only recently became aware of the indictment, which was unsealed late Friday, leaving him at a “severe disadvantage for the detention hearing scheduled for Monday.”
Police shield used to break window
According to the complaint, Pezzola used a Capitol Police shield to break an exterior window and then went inside. He posted a video of himself smoking a cigar and saying, “Victory smoke in the Capitol, boys. … I knew we could take this (expletive) over if we tried hard enough,” according to court documents.
Cellphone data confirms Pezzola traveled to the Washington, D.C. area on Jan. 5 and then returned to Rochester two days later. Before turning himself in on an arrest warrant, he changed his appearance and turned off his cellphone, court documents allege. He only turned himself in after the FBI started knocking on his family members’ doors in the Rochester, New York area to inquire about his whereabouts.
Authorities stated Pezzola was “among those leading the walk to the barricades” near the west side of the Capitol. He was among the first to reach a line of police after the barricades were taken down and officers were overwhelmed as rioters advanced.
Pezzola “seems to emerge with a riot shield in his possession,” according to the filing. Pictures in the document show a bearded man with shaggy hair in possession of a shield. Authorities believe that man is Pezzola.
At 1:48 p.m. Jan. 6, video posted to social media site Parler and then shared by Pro Publica depicts “an individual who appears to match Pezzola in all material respects” carrying a riot shield up the exterior stairs “after Capitol Police are overrun.”
Within 30 minutes, Pezzola allegedly used the shield to break open a window, allowing himself and others to enter the Capitol. Prosecutors said he was “among the first — if not the first — to enter the interior of the Capitol building.”
Pezzola recorded a video of himself “yelling excitedly” inside the building, prosecutors said. The video shows him still holding the riot shield.
He is also show on video allegedly amongst the group of rioters who confronted USCP Officer Eugene Goodman, “demanding to know ‘where they meeting at, where they counting the votes?'” the detention application alleges. It is unclear, however, who shouted at Goodman.
Another video posted to social media shows Pezzola smoking a cigar and taking a video in selfie mode. He allegedly says, “Victory smoke in the Capitol, boys.”
Witness alleges intent to harm
One cooperating witness told the FBI Pezzola was among a group of individuals who spoke about what they did that day and stated “that anyone who got their hands they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi,” court documents stated.
The group also said it would kill former Vice President Mike Pence and said they would be returning to the Capitol on Jan. 20 for the inauguration. The group allegedly said it had firearms or access to firearms.
Pezzola, who was originally held in the Livingston County Jail before he was extradited to the Washington, D.C. area, made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Rochester on Jan. 15.
His actions on Jan. 6 showed “perseverance, determination, and coordination” prosecutors said. He allegedly ripped away an officer’s riot shield, after which he retreated to the back portion of the crowd, prosecutors said.
“At the entrance to the Capitol itself, Pezzola was not just on the front lines, but first to break a window so successfully that he and other rioters could enter the Capitol through it.”
Kenerson said Pezzola showed a willingness to go off the grid to avoid arrest.
“Given the combination of the defendant’s actions on the day, his professed intentions to commit additional violence, and his access to means to carry out that violence in a largely undetectable way, there are simply no conditions nor combinations of conditions of release that can assure the safety of the community if the defendant is released,” Kenerson concluded.
Pezzola’s defense attorney in Washington, Kira Anne West, did not wish to provide comment when reached by email Friday.
Contributing: Dinah VoPulver, USA TODAY