RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN/AP) – A U.S. District Judge refused to accept arguments that the actions of four men at the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including one from North Carolina, were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Documents from the U.S. Department of Justice said Charles Donohoe, of Kernersville, is the president of a local chapter of the far-right Proud Boys. They have charged the former Marine with helping plan the attack to stop Congress from certifying votes from the presidential election.
Judge Timothy Kelly rejected arguments from an attorney that Donohoe along with four others — Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl — were exercising their right to free speech.
In his ruling, Kelly wrote, “Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests.
“Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”
Donohoe was indicted in March. He faces charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, destruction of government property and aiding and abetting, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds on charges including conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding.
Federal prosecutors have released videos they said show Donohoe pushing his way up the stairs of the Capitol and past the police. They said that video showed Donohoe carrying a riot shield stolen from police.
Donohoe’s lawyers previously said there was no evidence their client helped plan the attack or entered the Capital building. They have declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling.
Donohoe and the others remain behind bars until their trial in May.
More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates, including at least 16 defendants charged with conspiracy.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Capitol before President Donald Trump finished addressing thousands of supporters near the White House.
Just before Congress convened a joint session to certify the election results, a group of Proud Boys followed a crowd of people who breached barriers at a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, the indictment says. Several Proud Boys also entered the Capitol building itself after the mob smashed windows and forced open doors.