A pre-Capitol riot meeting of far-right groups is currently under investigation by the FBI

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a meeting in a downtown DC garage the day before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot between the leader of the extremist group Proud Boys, the now indicted leader of the Oath Keepers militia, and other far-right members. figures, according to two witnesses interviewed by FBI agents.

Among the half-dozen people gathered in a garage near the Phoenix Park Hotel was Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was charged this year with “seditious conspiracy” in the insurgency. Proud Boys president Enrique Tarrio, who was not present at the riot, was also at the garage meeting but later left Washington.

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The meeting brought the leaders of the nation’s two best-known violent far-right pro-Trump groups into close proximity to each other 24 hours before the Capitol breach. Three attendees or their representatives contacted by Reuters said they did not discuss issues related to Jan. 6.

Bianca Gracia, who leads a pro-Trump coalition called Latinos for Trump and an affiliated political action committee named Latinos For America First, was also at the garage meeting, according to witnesses and video taken by a documentary film crew. . Also in attendance was Kellye SoRelle, an attorney for Trump’s Oath Keepers and Latinos. SoRelle told Reuters she was invited by Gracia to meet Tarrio and share information about criminal defense lawyers. She said her role in the meeting was brief and not about plans for the next day.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee is investigating the January 6 riot, in which supporters of then-President Donald Trump sought to block congressional certification of the election of Joe Biden for president. The committee subpoenaed the phone records of a photographer who accompanied Tarrio to parts of the garage meeting.

Tarrio told Reuters last June that his garage meeting with Rhodes was unplanned and not meaningful. “Coincidentally,” Tarrio said, “he was inside…that parking lot.” He said he shook hands with Rhodes only to be polite. “He’s here, I’m not going to shake anyone’s hand.” He denied any planning of Proud Boys before January 6.

Joined in January, Tarrio said he would not take further questions. “I usually talk to all journalists,” he replied after a question, “but when they become conspiracy theorists…that’s usually when I cut ties.” Tarrio said he stepped down as president of the Proud Boys earlier this year.

A lawyer for Rhodes, who is being held pending trial, emailed Reuters saying “there was no coordination” between Rhodes and Tarrio.

The FBI’s investigation into the meeting has not been previously reported, nor have the circumstances of the gathering. A short clip from the gathering appeared in a British Channel 4 documentary last year about the Proud Boys, sparking discussions on Twitter.

Michael Simmons, who was present during a Jan. 6 game with Rhodes, said Rhodes did not mention meeting Tarrio. When Reuters told him about the reunion, Simmons said he was shocked because, he said, Rhodes had criticized Tarrio and the Proud Boys. “Why would you meet Enrique in a fucking parking lot?” said Simmons, who has not been charged. “It blows my mind. It’s crazy!”

Federal prosecutors have charged several Proud Boys and Oath Keepers leaders with leading roles in the Jan. 6 mayhem. Tarrio has not been charged in this case.

The Proud Boys is an all-male group that encourages street brawls against left-leaning protesters and calls itself “Western chauvinism”. Oath keepers wear military-style uniforms, train in military tactics, and often carry firearms on operations.

Last March, prosecutors cited social media posts from an Oath Keeper executive charged in the Jan. 6 case. “This week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers and Proud Boys,” he allegedly wrote in a Facebook post before the riot, citing another rally, prosecutors said in a court filing. The Three Percenters is a loosely organized far-right militia, some of whose members have been indicted in the attack on the Capitol.

So far, however, the Justice Department has not released clear evidence that far-right groups conspired to meet on January 6.

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment.

‘OUT OF SIGHT’

On the afternoon of Jan. 5, 2021, Washington was teeming with Trump supporters preparing for Jan. 6, when Congress was expected to ratify Biden’s presidential victory on Capitol Hill. Tarrio had just been released after a night in a Washington jail, where he was being held for burning a Black Lives Matter flag in December 2020. A judge ordered him out of town until his court appearances. Tarrio then served nearly six months for burning the banner and transporting illegal rifle magazines into the city in December.

After its Jan. 5 release, the documentary’s camera crew working on the Proud Boys story drove Tarrio to the Phoenix Park Hotel, not far from the Capitol building, a source familiar with the matter said.

Oath Keepers leader Rhodes left Texas on Jan. 3, spending more than $10,000 on firearms equipment while traveling in the DC area, prosecutors said in an indictment not sealed on January 4. .” He stayed at a hotel in Vienna, Virginia.

Just as Tarrio arrived from jail on Jan. 5, Rhodes was outside the Phoenix Park Hotel in DC, a source at the scene said.

Gracia, the President of Latinos for Trump, was inside the hotel. SoRelle, the Latinos lawyer for Trump, says Gracia invited her to meet Tarrio. Although Tarrio is best known as president of the Proud Boys, he was also previously involved with Latinos for Trump and served as its Florida State manager.

Sorelle said her memory was that Tarrio and a few others were in the garage when she entered with Rhodes and Gracia. She said Rhodes shook Tarrio’s hand and the two exchanged pleasantries. Then she briefly discussed Tarrio’s need for an attorney in the DC criminal case, for which he was arrested the day before. She said about six people were there. Latinos for Trump were not charged in the Jan. 6 violence.

Contacted in January, Gracia declined to discuss the garage meeting. She previously told Reuters that her group held a rally on the morning of January 6 near the US Senate and that she left at 12:15 a.m., went to her hotel and slept through the uprising. “We’re a very spiritual group and grounded in God and stayed where we were meant to stay and prayed,” she said. SoRelle says she also went to the Jan. 6 morning rally of Latinos for Trump, where she spoke, just as Rhodes, SoRelle and Simmons said.

The photographer, Amy Harris, was also with Tarrio at the garage meeting on January 5, two sources said. Harris, who initially specialized in photographing concerts and music festivals, turned to protests in 2020 and began focusing on Tarrio and the Proud Boys. The House committee subpoenaed Harris’ phone records; she is suing the January 6 committee to block the subpoena. “Harris’ work documenting Tarrio throughout 2020 has earned him Tarrio’s trust as a journalist and, therefore, the trust of his band members,” his suit said.

Harris and his attorneys declined to comment.

SoRelle said the garage meeting left her perplexed and she didn’t know why it happened. She said the meeting was unnecessary because she had already shared information about possible lawyers with Tarrio and others. “There was no reason for him to show up and there was no reason for me to be there,” she said.

The film crew for the documentary belonged to a company called “Saboteur Media”. He put together a clip showing Tarrio, Rhodes and Gracia standing in the garage but has no audio, according to a source close to him. Reuters saw a photo of the attendees standing together at the garage.

The FBI has obtained a copy of the footage, a source told Reuters.

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