WASHINGTON — The president of the Philadelphia chapter of the far-right Proud Boys testified Tuesday that he could not recall if he used pepper spray against officers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Zachary Rehl, a 37-year-old from northeast Philadelphia, is both the son and grandson of Philadelphia Police officers. He is on trial for seditious conspiracy alongside four other defendants: Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Dominic Pezzola, who was captured on video smashing in a window during the initial breach of the Capitol.
Jury selection in the case began in December, and the trial got underway in January. As Rehl testified this week, federal prosecutors presented video evidence that they suggested showed Rehl using pepper spray against police officers on the western front of the U.S. Capitol during the attack, though the government has not explicitly charged him with it.
An assistant U.S. attorney asked Rehl during cross-examination on Tuesday whether he pepper sprayed officers.
“Not that I recall,” Rehl said.
When prosecutors displayed images that appeared to show him pepper spraying officers, Rehl at first said he wasn’t sure if it was him, and then suggested that if it was him, perhaps he was holding a recording device.
A prosecutor asked him if recording devices have liquid streams coming out of them, and Rehl claimed that he didn’t see any stream in the video.
Isaiah Giddings, who pleaded guilty in December, said in his agreed-upon statement of offense, said that Rehl was angrier than Giddings had ever seen him, and had “asked other rioters if they had bear spray,” but the statement said that Rehl did not obtain bear spray.
Rehl admitted that he witnessed some violence on Jan. 6, but downplayed what he saw and claimed that he believed that protesters were trying to get to stages that had been set up for permitted demonstrations at the Capitol building. The stage on the western front was, in fact, set up for President Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration.
“I seen pepper spray and I seen people scuffling with the cops,” Rehl said, but chalked it up to normal protest activity. “I seen some scuffles.”
Messages that Rehl sent to his mother, however, show that Rehl described what happened much differently.
“I’m so f—ing proud,” Rehl wrote to his mother, saying that “our raid” of the Capitol had set off events across the country.
Rehl said that he now regrets smoking inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6, and regrets his other actions that day, even if he didn’t think he had done anything wrong at the time. He said that he feels much differently about Jan. 6 today than he did about the Capitol attack in its immediate aftermath.
“It was terrible, there’s no way to chop it up, I think a lot of cops were assaulted, parts of the building were destroyed, I guess, you could say,” Rehl testified. “At the time I didn’t think I did anything wrong.”
Rehl told jurors that he did not go to the Capitol with “any intentions to do any of the stuff that we’ve seen” in videos shown during the trial, and said he “literally went there to protest.” Rehl said it would have been better if he’d never gone to D.C. in the first place.
Closing arguments in the Proud Boys seditious conspiracy trial will likely take place late this week or early next week.
Pezzola, who smashed out the Capitol window during the initial breach of the Capitol, also began his testimony on Tuesday. He said that he “got caught up in all the craziness” and was “angry,” “upset,” and “not thinking clearly” that day. Pezzola said that he’d only met one of his co-defendants — Tarrio — before they became co-defendants, and that the other Proud Boys “should not be roped into my actions.”
Pezzola testified that he viewed the Proud Boys as an organization with a culture of “toughness and strength,” and that he joined the far-right extremist group after his floor-installation business slowed down after the coronavirus pandemic and his wife told him to go find a hobby and make some friends.
About 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the U.S. Capitol attack, and hundreds of additional cases are in the works.