An Auburn-area man and a leader of the Proud Boys extremist group pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges alleging that he helped plan and lead the deadly January attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Ethan Nordean, 30, who lives just east of Auburn, made the plea through his attorney during a brief video conference before Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“We enter a plea of not guilty on all of the counts,” attorney Nicholas Smith told the court on Nordean’s behalf, following a formal reading of charges against his client.
Nordean was arraigned with fellow Proud Boys leader and co-defendant Joseph Biggs, of Florida, who also pleaded not guilty.
Both defendants and two others — Zachary Rehl of Pennsylvania and Charles Donohoe of North Carolina — are accused of being ringleaders in the Jan. 6 riot and failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory. They are charged with six federal criminal counts: conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, destruction of government property, entering and remaining in a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
A grand jury’s 18-page superseding indictment, unsealed on Friday, intensified the initial federal charges against Nordean, who was arrested at his home in February. The latest charges include a conspiracy count that alleges that Nordean and the others worked in concert to plan and carry out the attack.
Nordean, who also goes by the alias “Rufio Panman,” and the three other men each are described as leaders or organizers of Proud Boys chapters in their home states, the indictment states.
The charging papers allege that, before the Capitol attack, the men worked to obtain paramilitary equipment to carry out the siege. They also allegedly dismantled metal barriers protecting the Capitol and communicated using handheld radios and encrypted messaging applications, the indictment says.
A newly created encrypted messaging channel called “Boots on the Ground” was opened a day before the attack, enabling more than five dozen participants — including Nordean, the three other defendants and a fifth unindicted co-conspirator — to prepare for the mayhem, according to the indictment.
“Rufio is in charge, cops are the primary threat, don’t get caught by them or BLM, don’t get drunk until off the street,” the indictment quotes a message, sent the night before the riot by the unnamed co-conspirator, as saying.
The next morning, Nordean, Biggs and Rehl allegedly led a large group of Proud Boys members, including Donohoe, and others from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, where group members stormed the building.
The siege — which left the Capitol ransacked, prompted lawmakers to flee for their safety, injured dozens of federal police officers and led to the deaths of five people, including a Capitol officer — has led to charges against more than 300 people, including scores of Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and others with ties to extremist groups.
On Saturday, federal prosecutors filed motions seeking to revoke release orders for Biggs and Nordean, both of whom had been freed from detention pending trial and attended Tuesday’s hearing via video conference. Rehl and Donohoe, who were not arraigned Tuesday, still face hearings to determine whether they should be detained pending trial.
On Tuesday, Kelly set a status conference for all four defendants for April 1, at which time the judge also will hear arguments for and against revoking Nordean’s and Biggs’ release orders.