Auburn man receives 18-year sentence for role in U.S. Capitol breach

Ethan Nordean, 32, helped lead Proud Boys attack Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.

A 32-year-old Auburn man, one of the leaders of the Proud Boys organization, received an 18-year prison sentence for his role in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Ethan Nordean also was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to 36 months of supervised release, according to a Sept. 1 U.S. Department of Justice news release. The Proud Boys are a far-right extremist group.

Dominic Pezzola, 45, of Rochester, New York, another leader of the Proud Boys, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 36 months of supervised release.

The actions of Nordean and Pezzola disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress that was in the process of ascertaining and counting the electoral votes necessary to certify the 2020 presidential election. Followers of former President Donald Trump wanted to halt the transfer of power from Trump to Biden despite voters electing Biden as president. Trump and his allies continue to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen.

On May 4, 2023, a jury found Nordean, Pezzola and three other co-defendants guilty of multiple felonies, including obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent members of Congress or federal officers from discharging their duties before and during the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to the news release. Nordean was previously convicted of seditious conspiracy.

According to court documents and evidence presented during the trial, the Proud Boys organization had played a significant and often violent role in prior Washington, D.C. rallies in November and December 2020. In the aftermath of that violent conduct, Nordean and other co-defendants served as members and leaders of a special chapter of the Proud Boys known as the “Ministry of Self-Defense.”

Beginning after Dec. 19, 2020, Nordean, Pezzola and other co-defendants conspired to prevent, hinder and delay the certification of the Electoral College vote and to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States, according to the news release.

In the days leading to Jan. 6, Nordean and other leaders of the Ministry of Self-Defense hand-selected co-defendant Pezzola and others known as “rally boys” to participate in the attack on the Capitol that day. This group established a chain of command, chose a time and place for their attack, and recruited others who would follow their top-down leadership and who were prepared to engage in physical violence if necessary.

On Jan. 6, Nordean, Pezzola and others they led participated in every consequential breach at the Capitol. The defendants directed and mobilized a group of Proud Boys onto the Capitol grounds, leading to the dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, breaching of the Capitol building and assaults on law enforcement, according to the news release.

The group began their assault that day at 10 a.m. when Nordean and others marched nearly 200 individuals away from speeches at the Ellipse directly toward the Capitol. They arrived at the First Street gate at 12:50 p.m. Nordean, Pezzola and other co-defendants led their recruits up the First Street walkway, breaching multiple barricades and tearing down fencing.

Nearly an hour later, when law enforcement appeared to have successfully controlled the crowd by pushing them back, the men again pushed forward, according to the news release. Nordean, Pezzola and others gathered at the base of the concrete stairs that led to the doors and windows of the Capitol with many of their co-conspirators and other men they had led to the Capitol. The group again surged toward the Capitol and overwhelmed officers who had been battling the crowd for nearly an hour. Pezzola smashed open a window allowing the first rioters to enter the Capitol at 2:11 p.m.

During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly applied the enhancement for a federal crime of terrorism to the defendants convictions for destruction of government property.

This case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The charges in the investigation are the result of significant cooperation between agents and staff across numerous FBI Field Offices and law enforcement agencies.

In the 31 months since Jan. 6, 2021, more than 1,106 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including more than 350 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.