A federal judge refused to dismiss an indictment against four leaders of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys – including Zach Rehl, a 2016 marketing alumnus and self-described president of Philadelphia’s chapter of the Proud Boys – on Dec. 28 for their alleged role in the deadly riot at the United States Capitol building on Jan. 6.
During the riot, a violent mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol while the joint Session of the U.S. Congress met to certify President Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election, forcing lawmakers into hiding and disrupting the confirmation of the Electoral College vote, The Associated Press reported.
The defense for Rehl, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Charles Donohoe argued the indictment should be dismissed because the congressional session was not an official proceeding and the statutes applied against the defendants violated their First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who Trump nominated in June 2017, wrote the alleged actions of Rehl, Nordean, Biggs and Donohoe on Jan. 6 — like interfering with an official congressional proceeding and trespassing — are not protected by the First Amendment because they are not means of constitutionally protected expression, like wearing an armband, burning a flag or participating in a sit-in or protest.
Even if there was an expressive aspect to the group’s alleged actions, the First Amendment does not allow for “demonstrators” to section off a street or insist entrance to a public or private building, Kelly wrote.
“Quite obviously, there were many avenues for defendants to express their opinions about the 2020 presidential election, or their views about how Congress should perform its constitutional duties on January 6, without resorting to the conduct with which they have been charged,” Kelly wrote.
Lawyers for Rehl did not respond to a request for comment.
In March, videos surfaced on social media showing Rehl, wearing a Temple University Owls backpack, leading a crowd of approximately 100 rioters towards the U.S. Capitol, The Temple News reported. Federal authorities arrested Rehl at his Philadelphia home on March 17, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
All four defendants were charged in March with conspiracy for their alleged roles in the riot, according to the indictment. The other charges include obstruction of an official proceeding, obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder, destruction of government property, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds.