A federal judge ordered Philadelphia Proud Boys president Zach Rehl released on house arrest but immediately stayed that decision on Friday, the same day an appellate court issued more stringent requirements for prosecutors seeking to keep Capitol riot defendants like him behind bars while they await trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret did not mention the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as he weighed government arguments to keep Rehl detained during a brief court hearing in Philadelphia.
Though he ultimately rejected prosecutors’ arguments, the stay he issued means that Rehl — one of the most visible Proud Boys leaders on the East Coast and one of four charged with conspiring to instigate the Jan. 6 assault — will remain in custody for now pending a hearing scheduled for Thursday in Washington.
Rehl’s attorney, Shaka M. Johnson, dismissed government claims that his client played a leading role in coordinating the attack on the Capitol or that he poses an ongoing threat that should keep him in custody until trial.
“He had some opinions. He let those opinions be known,” Johnson argued in court Friday. “But nothing that he said was meant to incite, infuriate or fuel what happened Jan. 6.”
Philly Proud Boys president Zach Rehl said he was ‘proud’ of group’s role in Capitol riot, feds say
The issue of pretrial detention has emerged as one of the central early fights in the hundreds of cases the Justice Department has brought against accused insurrectionists since the Jan. 6 riot.
The vast majority of the more than 300 people charged so far have been released while their cases move forward with no objection from the government. But prosecutors have fought strenuously to keep those facing accusations of attacking police or organizing the attack behind bars, saying there is little to stop them in the current charged political environment from acting out again.
The D.C. Circuit’s ruling Friday codified those standards, drawing a distinction between those charged with specific acts of violence or conspiracy and defendants who have been charged merely with entering the Capitol illegally.
“In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way,” D.C. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel of the court.
Within hours of the ruling, a district judge in a separate conspiracy case involving top leaders of the Oath Keepers — another right-wing militant group accused of conspiring to attack the Capitol — reversed previous decisions and ordered two defendants released on house arrest.
And the shadow of the appellate court’s decision is likely to loom over a detention hearing scheduled next week in Washington for Rehl, 35, and his codefendants.
Judges had already ordered the release of two of Rehl’s fellow Proud Boys leaders — Ethan Nordean, 30, of Auburn, Wash., and Joseph Biggs, 37, of Ormond Beach, Fla. — finding that the government had not proven that either man was a continued threat to the community.
Subsequently, Rehl, Nordean, Biggs, and a fourth member of the organization — Charles Donohoe, 33, of Kernersville, N.C. — have been charged in a six-count indictment that more fully fleshes out the planning that went into the coordinated strike they are accused of leading aimed at interfering with police and disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Philly Proud Boys president Zach Rehl marched alongside leaders charged in Capitol riot
Prosecutors have urged U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who will preside over next week’s hearing, to reconsider bail decisions for all four men. They argued in a recent court filing that while Rehl and the others may not have been among the riot’s most violent actors, they came to Washington with the intent of stirring up an attack and set a violent tone that infected the rest of the mob.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Luke Jones conceded in court Friday that the government had no evidence that Rehl had directly participated in any property destruction or violence against police once he was inside Capitol grounds. But he balked at the suggestion from Rehl’s lawyer that the man was being jailed pretrial solely for expressing controversial political views.
“He is not before the court because of his opinions,” he said. “He’s before the court because of his actions and the people he led.”
Hours after the attack, Rehl gleefully celebrated the chaos he and the others are accused of unleashing that day.
“THIS is what patriotism looks like,” Rehl posted on Telegram, the encrypted messaging app the group used to communicate with each other Jan. 6. He added later: “This is NOT what I expected to happen. All from us showing up and starting some chants and getting the normies all riled up.”
Rehl, the son and grandson of Philadelphia cops who has made a public showing of his organization’s support for police, also disparaged officers at the Capitol who struggled to keep the violent mob at bay.
“They deserve to be tarred and feathered,” he wrote. “These cops turning on us are also what they call ‘turncoats.’ Just saying.”
Ultimately, though, Lloret, the judge, was swayed by the portrait painted by Johnson, Rehl’s lawyer, who described his client as a Marine Corps veteran, an expectant father, and a man with deep roots in his community.
“He’s proven himself to be a worthy father, a worthy son [and] a patriot,” Johnson said.
Jones dismissed Rehl’s brand of patriotism — at least the kind he exhibited at the Capitol — as “misguided.”
This article is written by Jeremy Roebuck from The Philadelphia Inquirer and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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