"Yeah, 50 Guys" (with Sandi Bachom)
The Proud Boys were the foot soldiers in an attempted coup.
While in Washington on December 12, 2020, to document a rally held by the Proud Boys, the neo-fascist militia outfit headed by Enrique Tarrio, the photojournalist Sandi Bachom caught something on camera that would later rouse her suspicion.
The clip is “from the 12th of December,” Bachom tells me on today’s PREVAIL podcast. “And maybe a thousand Proud Boys are at the Washington Monument. And I’m up, on top of Enrique [Tarrio], and a guy comes up to him. And it’s just, like, a four- or five-second clip. And he points towards the Capitol, and he goes, Enrique goes, ‘Yeah, 50 guys.’ And I interpreted that to be, 50 guys were going to go to the Capitol.” That earlier rally, it appears, was really a walk-through, a dress rehearsal for January 6. “In retrospect, the whole thing was planned out.”
We recorded our discussion this past Sunday morning, June 12. Three days later, a defense attorney for the Proud Boys—who had been charged with seditious conspiracy on June 6—released a document with the action-movie title “1776 Returns.” Over the course of nine sparse pages, the undated, anonymous term paper of treason lays out what appears to be an early plan to besiege and occupy a slew of government buildings in the Nation’s Capital.
In a section with the subheading MANPOWER NEEDS, the plan calls for a “MINIMUM of 50 [‘patriots’] for each building or it’s a no go for that building.”
Or, as Tarrio put it on Bachom’s clip: “Yeah, 50 guys.”
The attempted coup d’état of January 6 wound up being a chaotic mess and a catastrophic failure. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the product of months of careful planning. The Proud Boys, and Tarrio in particular, were clearly major players in the operation. But they were doing what they were told by their superiors in the chain of command.
“This is the thing people are missing,” Bachom tells me. “The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are the army. They’re the militia. They didn’t come up with this scheme. They came up with maybe the organizing of the troops…but they were following orders.” Someone else, she insists, did the planning. “They’re not that bright.”
A goon squad like the Proud Boys exists to do the bidding of a strongman. These are lackeys, henchmen, muscle, not top dogs. They are members of a violent cult, and they thrill to the approval of a fascist cult leader. Tellingly, the last words in “1776 Returns,” in a section marked SPECIAL MENTION, are: “Ron DeSantis, We the people love you.” (If there were a matchmaking app for strongmen and their disciples, the Proud Boys would swipe right on the despotic Governor of Florida.)
In the first J6 hearing, the Committee showed a clip of one of the Proud Boys talking about how membership went up exponentially (he didn’t use that word; too many syllables) after Trump gave them what sounded like an order—“Stand back and stand by!”—during one of the debates in September 2020. Those five words activated the group.
On January 6, the Proud Boys were on hand not to see Trump, but to serve him. For almost 18 months now, Bachom’s been shouting from the rooftops about the group leaving the site of the rally before the then-President even came out on the stage. In other words, the Proud Boys left early, while Trump was late.
The timeline looks like this:
10:30—Proud Boys begin to leave rally, heading towards the Capitol
10:50—Rudy Giuliani calls for “trial by combat” in his speech
11:00—Trump is supposed to begin his speech
12:00—Trump begins his speech
12:16—Trump says, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
12:30—Acting on Trump’s orders, the MAGA crowd arrives at the Capitol
12:53—Rioters break through perimeter around the Capitol
1:00—Stated start time for a rally at the Capitol, per “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander
1:00—Bombs at DNC and RNC were supposed to go off
1:05—Congress opens meeting to certify election
1:10—Trump ends his speech. “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
2:11—Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola breaks a window in the Capitol building with a police shield, the first breach of the complex. A minute later, besiegers are inside.
2:24—Trump tweets, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
4:32—Almost four full hours after the first breach of the perimeter of the Capitol, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller—appointed after Trump fired Mark Esper the day after the election was called, which raised eyebrows even in the moment—finally deploys the National Guard.
Because it is French, the word coup sounds more like a delicious dessert than what it is: the violent overthrow of a government. In a free country the United States, which strives to create a government of the people, by the people, and for the people (imperfectly, to be sure, but still!), seditious conspiracy—that is, engaging in such a coup—is the worst crime there is. It is a betrayal of all of us.
As I’ve written many times, January 6 was the worst attack on our democracy since Booth shot Lincoln. The men and women who aided and abetted John Wilkes Booth in his plot to assassinate the president were arrested, tried in a military tribunal, found guilty, and hanged. That won’t happen to the January 6 coup plotters. But unless the consequences for the conspirators are severe, the fascists who authored the insurrection will keep trying—and will eventually succeed. Six months in Club Fed ain’t enough.
As J. Michael Luttig, the retired federal judge widely admired by Ted Cruz and other conservatives, told the January 6 Committee at yesterday’s hearing: “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are [still] a clear and present danger to American democracy. That’s not because of what happened on January 6th. It’s because, to this very day, the former president, his allies, and supporters pledge that, in the presidential election of 2024, if the former president or his anointed successor as the Republican Party presidential candidate were to lose that election, that they would attempt to overturn that 2024 election in the same way that they attempted to overturn the 2020 election, but succeed in 2024 where they failed in 2020.”
We cannot allow this to happen. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.
The photojournalist Sandi Bachom, who filmed in Washington on January 6, 2021, and also covered previous Proud Boy rallies in November and December 2020, talks to Greg Olear about the J6 hearings and her recollections of what happened at the insurrection. Plus: a new Jersey Patreon page.
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Photo credit: Anthony Crider. Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys at Virginia 2nd Amendment Rally (2020 Jan).