WASHINGTON (AP) — A member of the Proud Boys far-right extremist group who smashed out a window at the U.S. Capitol, allowing some of the first Jan. 6 rioters to enter the building, testified Wednesday that he acted alone.
Dominic Pezzola is one of five Proud Boys facing seditious conspiracy and other charges in one of the most high-profile trials to emerge from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. He’s the second defendant to take the stand, a potentially risky legal move as the long-running trial inches to a close.
Video captured Pezzola using a riot shield taken from a Capitol Police officer to smash out the glass after another rioter threw a piece of wood through it. In another selfie video, Pezzola has a “victory smoke” cigar as he says “I knew we could take this (expletive) if we just tried hard enough.”
The flooring contractor from Rochester, New York, testified that he got “caught up in the craziness” on Jan. 6. He denied tearing the riot shield from a police officer’s arms himself, but said he took it from another rioter for protection because he’d seen police rubber bullets injure a man and the crowd was growing increasingly angry in response.
“I was in fear. … I thought any moment I could get hit with one of those,” Pezzola said.
His prior military training kicked in as he advanced toward the Capitol, and he smashed the window pane “on autopilot” after he saw another rioter throw something through it, he said.
Pezzola said his video speech inside the Capitol wasn’t a reference to any plan to storm the building, but rather an effort to “say something profound.” He was a recent recruit who didn’t know his co-defendants before Jan. 6, he said, calling his actions that day a “bad reaction to a bad situation.”
“Our only plans were to storm the liquor store, that’s it,” he said.
Fellow Proud Boy Zachary Rehl also testified there was no plan to storm the Capitol, though prosecutors have argued that an advanced, detailed plan isn’t necessary for a conviction.
Rehl and Pezzola are on trial alongside former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and two others accused of plotting to forcibly stop the transfer of power from President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden. They face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted of seditious conspiracy.
The other three defendants are not expected to testify.
Prosecutors will cross-examine Pezzola starting Thursday. They have said the Proud Boys viewed him as a “rising star,” and Tarrio included his picture on a social media post with the words “Lords of War.”