SEATTLE — An Auburn man and prominent member of the Proud Boys far-right extremist group, who led a pro-Trump mob to the U.S. Capitol just before it was breached Jan. 6, 2021, has been convicted of a rare count of seditious conspiracy and other federal charges.
Ethan Nordean, known in right-wing circles by his alias, Rufio Panman, was convicted Thursday of seditious conspiracy, obstructing Congress’ certification of now-President Joe Biden’s electoral victory and obstructing law enforcement, as well as two other conspiracy charges.
The charge of seditious conspiracy, which involves a plan to overthrow the government, is rarely applied in criminal cases and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison. It was initially enacted to prosecute Southerners who continued to fight after the Confederacy surrendered the Civil War.
Nordean, 32, was convicted of the charge alongside former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio of Florida and two other men, Joseph Biggs of Florida and Zachary Rehl of Pennsylvania.
In convicting the men, the jury found Nordean and the others “conspired to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential powers by force” through their involvement in the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump claimed Joe Biden was fraudulently elected president in 2020.
Jurors cleared of the sedition charge a fifth defendant: Dominic Pezzola, a new Proud Boys member from New York who hadn’t spoken to the other defendants until after the charges were filed. Pezzola was convicted of other serious charges, however.
In a statement acknowledging the sedition convictions, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the four men played a “central role” in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. So far, he said, the Department of Justice has obtained more than 600 convictions related to the deadly riot.
District of Columbia federal prosecutors have charged at least 15 Washington residents in connection with the insurrection. Nordean is the highest-profile among them, having risen within the organization’s ranks to gain the trust of Tarrio and other national Proud Boys figures.
Nordean was arrested in 2021 after a grand jury issued an indictment against him, the others convicted of seditious conspiracy and Pezzola. He has been incarcerated since, first in SeaTac and later at the federal detention facility in the District of Columbia.
A grand jury indictment included social media posts by Nordean following the November 2020 election, where he proclaimed: “We tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proud Boys and we will not be extinguished.”
The indictment stated that Nordean created a crowdfunding campaign to buy protective gear and radios used by rioters on Jan. 6 and detailed allegations that he led Proud Boys members from the Washington Monument to storm the Capitol.
Charging documents identified Nordean, a bodybuilder, as the self-described “Sergeant of Arms” of the Seattle chapter of the Proud Boys, a group that often wears yellow and black clothing, prohibits women from joining its ranks and is known in the Northwest for street brawls and violent clashes with anti-fascist activists.
Calling themselves a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists,” the Proud Boys have been condemned as a hate group by extremist watchdogs, racial justice advocates and others.
An email message sent Thursday seeking comment from Nordean’s East Coast attorneys did not get an immediate response.
A man who identified himself as Nordean’s father, Michael Nordean, said he “appreciated the opportunity to make a statement, but I’ll pass.”
Just before the deadly riot that interrupted Congress’ certification of the presidential election results, Nordean was widely captured in videos and photographs as known Proud Boys members and other pro-Trump demonstrators rallied and marched on Washington.
One video taken by a Proud Boys livestreamer featured Nordean at various times speaking through a bullhorn and leading a large group to the Capitol, just before the mob broke through a police line and breached the building.
An FBI agent’s probable cause affidavit supporting Nordean’s arrest includes images of what appear to be Nordean, bearded and wearing a ball cap backward, within the mob that pushed into the Capitol. The 21-page affidavit alleges Nordean was “among those who entered the U.S. Capitol building after rioters forced entry and pushed past Capitol Police officers.”
In the days leading up to the insurrection, authorities contend Nordean also wrote a post under his alias on Parler, the social-media platform widely used by Trump supporters and right-leaning groups, that indicated “he and other Proud Boys members were planning in advance to organize a group that would attempt to overwhelm police barricades and enter the United States Capitol building.”
The jury in the case deliberated seven days over testimony and evidence — including Trump’s now-infamous campaign speech urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” a moment that emboldened members of the club — who saw themselves as “Trump’s army” — and sparked a flood of new membership inquiries.
This story contains information from The Seattle Times archives and wire services.