After a Monday morning video-hearing before a federal magistrate in Seattle, Ethan Nordean appeared to be on his way home near Auburn, with a signed order allowing him to walk out of detention later that afternoon to await a court case as a free man.
But by early afternoon, Nordean’s release order had been stayed by a federal judge on the other side of the country.
Instead of going home, the 30-year-old bodybuilder and a prominent member of the right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys was ordered to be taken to Washington, D.C., where he’ll face charges that he planned and participated in a pro-Trump mob’s deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol last month.
The quick turn of events came after U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell granted federal prosecutors’ appeal seeking to stay U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida’s order, issued in Seattle early Monday, that had approved Nordean’s pretrial release.
Nordean, who is known in far-right circles by his alias, “Rufio Panman” — a reference to a character in the 1991 Peter Pan fantasy movie, “Hook” — was arrested near Auburn last week and charged in the District of Columbia with four federal criminal counts. The charges include obstructing an official proceeding, aiding and abetting injury to government property, disorderly conduct and knowingly and violently entering a restricted building, according to a criminal complaint.
Nordean faces more than 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
During a Monday detention hearing over Zoom video conference, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jehiel Baer argued that Nordean should be detained pending his federal trial on charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, contending he posed a danger to the community and was a potential flight risk. Nordean had a violent history as a street brawler with the Proud Boys, and federal agents seized an unsigned passport of a man formerly married to Nordean’s wife when they arrested Nordean at his home, the prosecutor said.
Along with recent social media posts indicating Nordean wanted to start a new life, the passport, which was found on top of Nordean’s dresser along with his wife’s passport, “suggests that defendant Nordean has some intent to flee the country to avoid prosecution,” Baer told the judge.
Corey Endo, Nordean’s federal public defender, called the government’s contentions “far-fetched.” She also described Nordean’s past physical confrontations as self-defense and noted he had actually turned himself in to arresting federal agents.
“He was not home when agents arrived to arrest him,” Endo told the judge. “His wife called him and told him they were there to arrest him, and he returned home. Those are not the actions of someone who wishes to flee.”
Endo added that Nordean had strong family and community ties, and that his father, restauranteur Michael Nordean, had agreed to post bond and act as a third-party custodian while his son awaits trial.
Tsuchida agreed to Nordean’s release with the conditions that Nordean not violate any laws and that he remain in King County unless receiving prior permission to leave it. Nordean also was ordered to stay at his home between the hours of 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and not to contact any witnesses or co-defendants in his case.
“Sounds good, your honor,” Nordean told the judge, when asked if he understood the terms of his release.
But Tsuchida acknowledged that his pre-trial release order could quickly be reversed, explaining to Nordean: “If that appeal is filed, unfortunately, the release order will not go into effect,” he said.
Federal prosecutors did just that — appealed Tsuchida’s order to Howell, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Nordean is charged. Howell issued two brief orders, one staying Nordean’s release and the other ruling he be transported to D.C. immediately.
The attack on the Capitol temporarily halted Congress’ certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president and led to the deaths of five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
An FBI agent’s probable cause affidavit alleges that video, photographs and Nordean’s own social media posts in the days leading up to the siege show that he helped to plan and carry out the violent attack. On the day of the incident, Nordean allegedly helped lead a large group of Proud Boys to the Capitol, where the group overwhelmed federal police before the building was breached and ransacked, the affidavit states.