“There is no allegation that the defendant caused injury to anyone. … He never personally caused damage to any particular property, ”the judge said. “He was the leader of a march to the Capitol. Once they got there, it is unclear what leadership role this defendant assumed for the people inside the Capitol. … The paucity of evidence on his direction is significant here. “
Howell called the question of whether Nordean should be detained a “case closed,” and said she was disturbed by his rhetoric, especially his lack of remorse after the January 6 violence.
“These are dire statements,” said the judge. “He indisputably participated in this assault on the Capitol in which some people lost their lives, including a policeman.”
Howell ordered Nordean to be placed under GPS-monitored house arrest in the Seattle area, where he lives. You will be allowed to return to Washington, DC, only for court hearings and, with permission, to meet with your attorneys.
Howell said there was no doubt, based on the videos, that Nordean met other members of the Proud Boys outside the Capitol, cheered them on with a megaphone as they marched, and that he entered the Capitol illegally. “He wasn’t just caught in a mob. He planned it in advance, ”he said.
However, prosecutors have argued that Nordean’s actions, such as speaking to another Proud Boy shortly before he smashed a Capitol window, showed that he was directing members of the group to commit crimes.
“This was an intentional act,” said Assistant United States Attorney Jason McCullough, adding that the repeated invocation of Nordean’s rhetoric about “1776” was not just talk.
“This was not just an affection for three-cornered hats and saltwater caramel. It was an interest in provoking a violent action ”, declared the prosecutor.
However, Howell again questioned the soundness of the government’s argument. “The evidence that the defendant ordered people to break the windows to enter the Capitol is weak, to say the least,” he said.
The judge said the government could eventually prove that Nordean ordered the violence, perhaps with the testimony of other defendants in the riot who chose to cooperate, but at this point the government had little beyond theory and its record of incendiary conversations and posts on social media. , what she called “extremely offensive.”
The decision was a blow to prosecutors in one of the highest-profile cases to emerge from the January 6 insurrection. Nordean, according to the government, was a high-ranking member of the Proud Boys’ hierarchy, a member of their “council of elders,” according to McCullough, and someone prosecutors said was a major driver of the events that led to the violent takeover of the Capitol. .
“Ethan Nordean, with his presence on January 6, would have a certain degree of authority,” McCullough said.
The prosecutor repeatedly pointed to Nordean’s associations with others arrested during the riots, such as Dominic Pezzola, one of the first to violate the building by breaking a window with a police riot shield, and William Chrestman, who is accused of threatening to assault police officers.
But when pressed by Howell, prosecutors did not present evidence that Nordean specifically directed those violent actions. They also declined to refute Nordean’s claim that his cell phone was dead for much of January 6 and downplayed the significance of the claim that Nordean saw his Proud Boys role elevated after the arrest of the group’s leader, Enrique Tarrio. .
Nordean, McCullough emphasized, was “nominated” for “war powers” in Tarrio’s absence, but they were not necessarily granted.
Nordean’s defense also challenged a number of factual claims in the government’s filing against the release, including suggestions that he was preparing to flee and that he used sophisticated radio equipment to communicate with other Proud Boys during the assault.
The prosecution suggested that during the riot Nordean used a radio that he purchased from Amazon, but the defense produced records showing that the radio was not released to him until the day after the assault on the Capitol.
Prosecutors also had difficulty proving that Nordean presented a flight risk due to the discovery of a passport that belonged to his wife’s ex-boyfriend. Although the government says the passport was discovered in a bedroom dresser, Nordean’s attorney refuted that claim, noting that his wife regularly kept it in a jewelry box on the couple’s nightstand and that the two men do not look alike. In nothing.
“The government has repeatedly made factual claims about Ethan’s actions and then backs away from them without any support,” said Nordean’s attorney, Nicholas Smith. “It just isn’t there.”
Smith said it was concerning that the government was seeking criminal charges based largely on Nordean’s role in leading a march and suggested the approach amounted to guilt by association.
“I challenge the government to present a unique precedent with such a radical theory of the responsibility to help and to incite,” said the defense attorney. “Marching with a group of people would implicate every person in the crowd for a serious crime, but the government is not charging everyone in the crowd. … Vague statements about the government’s recovery and that kind of thing is not a complicity offense. “
McCullough revealed at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing that a grand jury indicted Nordean earlier that day on charges similar to those in a criminal complaint used to arrest him last month. They include obstruction of congressional proceedings, complicity in the depredation of government property, and lesser charges.
Now that Nordean has been charged, his case will be randomly assigned to a judge for further proceedings. Howell said the government is free to present its case to that judge that Nordean is so dangerous that he should remain in jail while awaiting trial.
“My word may not be the last word on this,” he said.