As some insurrectionists eye plea bargains, others are doubling down on claims of patriotism

    “Yeah, we are definitely not terrorists,” 46-year-old Mark Sahady told a crowd in suburban Bridgewater, Massachusetts, last month. “Make no mistake about it: This is a political prosecution.”

    Sahady and his codefendant, Suzanne Ianni, are both charged with unauthorized entry of the Capitol and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds. Out on bail after their Jan. 19 arrests in Boston, they’ve chosen to embrace their martyrdom as “patriots,” leaning into the support that insurrectionists and the conspiracy theorists who inflamed them have received in the weeks afterward from establishment Republicans and right-wing media.

    The Bridgewater event was a rally against COVID-19 restrictions, but Sahady and Ianni were its featured speakers, introduced to the audience as “freedom fighters” by organizer John Hugo. “We’re drawing a line in the sand; we’re pushing back,” Hugo told the audience.

    Sahady, Ianni, and Hugo are the leaders of “Super Happy Fun America,” a proto-fascist group that organizes “protest” events that serve primarily as opportunities for street violence by Proud Boys and other far-right brawlers. In 2019, they organized a “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston that turned into just such a riot.

    Mark Sahady marched with the Proud Boys in Portland, Ore., on June 30, 2018, an event that turned into a violent riot.

    Hugo likes to claim that their group welcomes the Proud Boys, but that they are different since “we’re not trying to start fights.” However, Sahady has participated in several Proud Boys street marches—including in Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon—that turned into violent riots as well.

    It preaches a virulent politics claiming that Democrats and “violent” leftists are conspiring to take over America, institute a Marxist system and oppress conservatives and “normal” Americans.

    “The American Democrats—they are the communists! They are the enemy of Americans, and all [the] human race,” Bao Chau Kelley, the group’s outreach coordinator, proclaimed at the Bridgewater rally.

    Most other indictees in the insurrection are keeping a much lower profile. That’s particularly the case now that federal prosecutors filed a document in the case of Jon Ryan Schaffer, a heavy-metal guitarist/frontman from Indiana who faces six felony charges, indicating that Schaffer is considering a plea bargain in exchange for his cooperation and testimony in the case.

    Schaffer, who was photographed wearing an Oath Keepers hat while assaulting police officers with bear spray and invading the Capitol, has distanced himself from the organization in court. According to the filing—which was mistakenly made public—Schaffer in March began engaging in “debrief interviews.”

    “Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment,” the filing said.

    As Marcy Wheeler observes, the filing’s accidental release—a notation clearly states that “the parties request that this filing be docketed under seal”—could complicate any such plea bargain. However, it also makes clear that cooperation agreements are under way in several cases, and indicates how prosecutors are proceeding, including review of the deals “at various levels of government.”

    “Whenever you have a large group of people arrested,” criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it’s common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. “They’re going to start talking. They’re going to start sharing information.”

    Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called “cooperating witness” was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that “anyone they got their hands on they would have killed,” including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence “if given the chance.” The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that “they plan to kill every single ‘m-fer’ they can.” That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

    Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

    Zeroing in on the case of Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs—who claims he had a working relationship with FBI agents, providing information about leftist protesters, over many months prior to the Capitol siege—the Times notes that while Biggs faces the possibility of decades of imprisonment, he only need blame himself: “Like other Proud Boys, he helped document the prosecution’s case.”

    “Wanting to show how smart they are, they’ve basically outlined the charges against them,” Grant Fredericks, a forensic video analyst who examined the online evidence, told the Times.

    The same was true for a New Jersey man who was arrested just this week for assaulting police officers during the insurrection and leading the push into the Capitol building. Christopher Joseph Quaglin of North Brunswick was arrested Wednesday and faces  charges of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers or employees, civil disorder and obstruction of official proceeding.

    Not only do multiple videos show Quaglin assaulting multiple officer and acting as one of the chief aggressors in the breach of the Capitol, he also bragged about doing so on social media afterwards. Quaglin posted that he was “in the middle of it” and was sure he was “going to make the news,” according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday.

    Prosecutors say he had booked six rooms at his hotel and actively recruited others to join him on Jan. 6. After the siege, he returned to the room and posted a video saying it was a “great time.”

    “When you guys see the footage, I was in the red, white and blue uhh hoodie and the black helmet,” he said. “I’m absolutely on a loop on Fox News.”

    The braggadocio underscores how thoroughly the insurrectionists believed the conspiracy theories and disinformation about the election that they all give as their reasons for storming the Capitol, but how little attachment they had to the reality of their criminal behavior until after the fact. “There’s a lot of bravado, but not a lot of forward thinking,” Fredericks observed to the Times.

    That same delusional fervency fuels the kind of post-insurrection embrace of the alternative-universe characterization of the “patriotism” of the insurgents embodied by the “Super Happy Fun America” crowd.

    The attention from having two key members arrested for being inside the Capitol has only fueled interest in their organization, the group’s leaders told The Washington Post. Hugo claimed that there are now about 400 “card-carrying” members of Super Happy Fun America, and that more than one-third of them had joined since Jan. 6.

    At a two-hour “leadership meeting” the night before the Bridgewater rally, the group decided that its next move would be to target the mainstream media. Hugo declined to say how.

    “We’ve seen an uptick in censorship, wholesale suspension of conservatives from social media,” said Hugo. “It’s like a snake, a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing us, squeezing us, squeezing us. There’s nothing left. We’ve been kicked out of the virtual public square.”

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