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Proud Boys organizer arrested in Florida on charges from US Capitol riot

Proud Boys organizer Joseph Randall Biggs. (Sam Thomas/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

A man described as an organizer for the far-right group the Proud Boys faced a judge in Orlando after being arrested on federal charges Wednesday, accused of participating in the mob that overran the U.S. Capitol this month.

According to an affidavit prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph Randall Biggs, 37, was spotted in photos and videos Jan. 6 among those who stormed the Capitol, and was involved in organizing Proud Boys activities in the period leading up to the riot.

The riot occurred as Congress was ratifying then-President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election. It sent members scrambling for safety as the Capitol was overtaken by violent protesters. Biggs was arrested within hours of Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.

During an afternoon hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Orlando, U.S. Magistrate Judge Embry Kidd ordered Biggs, who has a house in Ormond Beach, released from custody under home confinement.

”I do have concerns regarding Mr. Biggs’ risk that he will attempt to (obstruct justice),” Kidd said, citing the FBI’s allegations that Biggs attempted to disrupt government business at the Capitol.

Proud Boys organizer Joseph Randall Biggs, 37, second from left front. (Image from FBI affidavit/TNS)

Prosecutors did not request that Biggs remain jailed because they could not establish he posed a serious flight risk or danger to the community, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gable.

However she called it “a serious and compelling case.”

Biggs sat at the hearing with his hands cuffed and feet shackled, wearing a black sweatshirt that read “America First.”

He said he had retained to represent him John Daniel Hull, an attorney based in Washington, D.C. Hull appeared at Wednesday’s hearing by telephone, but is not licensed to practice in Florida, so Biggs was represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Michael S. Ryan.

Ryan described the allegations against Biggs as “speculative,” noting the complaint does not claim he personally damaged Capitol property.

When asking about his home confinement, Biggs mentioned to his attorney that he is the caretaker for his daughter. Kidd ordered Biggs to surrender his passport and limited his travel to D.C. and the Middle District of Florida.

He also prohibited Biggs from possessing firearms or having them in his home, and ordered mental health and substance abuse evaluations, as well as any treatment deemed necessary. Gable told the judge Biggs said he had recently used hallucinogenic mushrooms and cocaine, the latter as recently as three days ago.

As he left the federal courthouse, Biggs wore a t-shirt that said “REGISTER COMMUNISTS NOT FIREARMS” and an ankle monitor. A tattoo that said “Proud Boy” was visible on the back of his neck just above his shirt collar.

He declined to say if the Proud Boys helped organize the attack on the Capitol, saying it would come out in court, but admitted he was there, saying, “I think that’s pretty obvious.”

The FBI affidavit traced Biggs’ role in organizing the Proud Boys in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot, as well as his movements through Washington, D.C., on the day that the attempted insurrection occurred.

The FBI said Biggs and Enrique Tarrio, the South Florida-based chairman of the Proud Boys, posted messages in late December to the social media site Parler, which had become popular as a right-wing alternative to mainstream social media sites, urging members to turn out in D.C. on Jan. 6

Unlike at past events, Tarrio and Biggs urged Proud Boys adherents to show up without the black-and-yellow attire they typically wear.

“(W)e will not be attending DC in colors. We will be blending in as one of you,” Biggs allegedly said, in a message directed at Antifa, the anti-fascist protest movement. “You won’t see us. You’ll even think we are you. … We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you.”

Jan. 6, he added, “is gonna be epic.”

On that date, agents said Biggs was spotted among other Proud Boys members on the east side of the U.S. Capitol, identified in a video — by name — by another member in an interview published online days later.

The affidavit said the group Biggs was with marched through the area chanting “(expletive) Antifa!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” The throng eventually came upon barricades that had been erected along the Capitol’s exterior plaza, which was closed to the public.

The crowd “within minutes” overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol Police officers guarding the gates, agents said. The affidavit indicated that Biggs was not among those who initiated the conflict, but was with the crowd.

As the mob was about to breach the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Congress, who had been debating an objection to certain presidential electors, were evacuated for their safety.

According to the affidavit, another Proud Boys member, Dominic Pezzola, was video-recorded smashing a window of the Capitol with a clear plastic shield about 2:15 p.m., followed by a flood of people entering through the window and a nearby door — including Biggs.

“Hey Biggs, what do you gotta say?” a person recording the riot asked, according to the FBI.

“This is awesome,” the man agents identified as Biggs replied, before pulling a gaiter-style mask over his face.

The affidavit also shed new light on the organization agents say Proud Boys members displayed during the riot. Pezzola and other members appeared to be wearing earpieces for communication, and Biggs appeared to have a walkie-talkie or similar device on his chest, agents said.

In an interview with FBI agents, Biggs admitted he entered the Capitol, but said he hadn’t forced his way inside, the affidavit states. He said the doors were “wide open” and claimed he had no knowledge of any preexisting plan to storm the Capitol, according to investigators.

Biggs is accused of corruptly obstructing an official proceeding before Congress, a felony, as well as knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority and illegally entering Congress to disrupt official business, both misdemeanors. Pezzola was arrested Friday on similar charges.

A former contributor for the site InfoWars, Biggs has become a prominent organizer for the Proud Boys, which the FBI has categorized as an extremist group associated with white nationalism and violent political protests.

USA Today reported that he led a protest in Portland, Ore., against anti-fascist activists in August 2019, claiming “mission success” after then-President Donald Trump tweeted about the demonstration and suggested naming Antifa a terrorist organization.

Biggs was also among a large contingent of Proud Boys who attended the Orlando launch rally for Trump’s 2020 campaign, HuffPost reported.

Hull, the attorney Biggs retained, did not immediately respond to a call and email requesting comment.


© 2021 Orlando Sentinel
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