FBI agents recruited a Proud Boys leader to provide information about antifa networks months before he was charged with storming the U.S. Capitol alongside other members of the far-right extremist group, a defense attorney said.
Proud Boys ‘thought leader’ and organizer Joseph Biggs agreed to provide the FBI with information about anti-fascist activists in Florida and elsewhere after an agent contacted him in late July 2020 and arranged to meet at a restaurant, Biggs’ lawyer, J. Daniel Hull, wrote Monday in a court filing.
The two agents who met with Biggs wanted to know what he was ‘seeing on the ground,’ Hull said. Over the next few weeks, Biggs answered an agent’s questions in a series of phone calls.
‘They spoke often,’ said Hull, who is petitioning a judge to keep Biggs out of jail pending trial.
Biggs, 37, of Ormond Beach, Florida, and three other Proud Boys leaders were indicted March 10 on charges they planned and carried out a coordinated attack on the Capitol on January 6 to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Proud Boys leader Joseph Biggs, center with hat and glasses, walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in support of President Donald Trump on January 6
At least 20 others in the group were charged in federal court with offenses related to the riots. About 350 people have been charged in the riot that killed five people, including a Capitol police officer.
Proud Boys members describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for ‘Western chauvinists.’ Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, who founded the group in 2016, sued the Southern Poverty Law Center for labeling it as a hate group.
The law center said Proud Boys members often spread ‘outright bigotry’ over the internet and have posted social media pictures of themselves with prominent Holocaust deniers, white nationalists and ‘known neo-Nazis.’
Proud Boys leaders Enrique Tarrio, left, and Joe Biggs at a rally in Portland, Oregon, on August 17, 2019
Proud Boys leaders Joe Biggs, in green hat, and Enrique Tarrio, holding megaphone, march with members of the group and other right-wing demonstrators march across a bridge during an August 17, 2019, rally in Portland, Oregon
Biggs is not the first Proud Boys informant.
The group’s chairman and top leader, Enrique Tarrio, previously worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was accused of fraud in 2012, court documents show.
Justice Department prosecutors want to jail Biggs while he and the others await trial because he ‘presents a danger not only based on his own potential violence, but violence by others who undoubtedly still support him.’
J. Daniel Hull, defense attorney for Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs
Biggs’ lawyer said the incarceration attempt hinges on evidence that is speculative at best.
‘Importantly, the FBI has known about his political commentary and role in planning events and counter-protests in Portland and other cities since at least July 2020 and arguably benefitted from that knowledge in efforts to gather intelligence about Antifa in Florida and Antifa networks operating across the United States,’ Hull wrote.
Antifa was the Trump administration’s scapegoat for much of last year’s social unrest following the death of George Floyd. Trump and then-Attorney General William Barr blamed antifa activists for violence at protests over police killings of black people across the U.S.
FBI agents responded to police stations in several cities to question suspects arrested during protests, focusing on those who self-identified as followers of the movement, a bureau official said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray is sworn in during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C., on March 2
Wray has said there was no evidence antifa was to blame for the January 6 Capitol violence, when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the certification of the election results confirming Joe Biden as president
But investigators struggled to make any cases, in part because there is no hierarchical structure to antifa. It is not a single organization, but rather an umbrella term for far-left-leaning militant groups confronting or resisting neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations, the official said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said there was no evidence antifa was to blame for the January 6 Capitol violence.
Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center, which tracks hate groups, said it was ‘deeply concerning’ to learn that Biggs worked with the FBI, particularly because law enforcement has ‘frequently maintained inappropriately close relations with far-right groups.’
Proud Boys members describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for ‘Western chauvinists.’
Proud Boys and protesters who self-identify as antifa frequently clash at public events, including a rally in Washington, D.C. where police used pepper spray against activists
Antifa and conservative activists have both been accused of violence, but a center tracking hate groups says law enforcement has ‘frequently maintained inappropriately close relations with far-right groups’
The Proud Boys actively promoted violence and street brawling at the rallies in Portland, Ward said, and Biggs ‘called for violence in the streets.’
‘Law enforcement has no credible reason for working with someone like Biggs. It’s long past time for a clear accounting of institutional and professional law enforcement relationships with groups espousing political violence at home and abroad,’ Ward wrote in an email.