“I got caught up in all the craziness,” he said. “I broke one pane of glass, one.”
Pezzola said he was testifying not to clear his own name but because “these men over here should not be held responsible for my actions.” He meant his four co-defendants, all leaders in the far-right Proud Boys group that Pezzola had joined in late 2020.
Prosecutors have depicted Pezzola as key to a Proud Boys plot to lead the mob into violent action that would upend the 2020 election results; the window he smashed was the first breach of the Capitol building. Pezzola insisted there was no such plot.
“The craziest damn thing is I never even knew these guys before I met them here in court,” Pezzola testified in the trial that has been ongoing for months. He said he had only met longtime Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio once, at a December 2020 rally in D.C. After that event, Tarrio, a co-defendant, posted a photograph of Pezzola on the right-wing social media site Parler captioned “Lords of War.”
That was his first Proud Boys rally, Pezzola said.
But Pezzola also sought to cast his own actions as a response to police aggression. He has been barred by Judge Timothy J. Kelly from arguing that he was acting in self-defense on Jan. 6. Still, Pezzola testified that he took the shield “out of fear for my own life, because deadly force was being used against us by the police.”
He said that the police use of flashbangs, pepper spray and rubber bullets made him “angry,” and that “I was trying to explain to cops that it’s not legal to shoot people in the face” when he fell to the ground. He said someone else got the shield from an officer first, “and I grabbed it from them.”
After that, he said, “I entered the building, I wandered around lost, I had no idea where I was going, took some pictures and kind of followed the crowd.”
During opening statements, prosecutors played a video of Pezzola smoking a cigar in the Capitol and saying, “I knew we could take this … over [if we] just tried hard enough.” They have also highlighted the fact that before breaking into the building, Pezzola met up with Proud Boy Charles Donohoe, who texted a leadership group that they “got a riot shield.” Donohoe has pleaded guilty to involvement in a conspiracy to storm the Capitol.
Prosecutors will have a chance to cross-examine Pezzola later this week. The only other defendant to testify at the trial, Philadelphia Proud Boy Zachary Rehl, underwent what his lawyer described as “harsh” questioning from the government Tuesday during which he was accused for the first time of pepper-spraying police officers at the Capitol.
Rehl denied that, continuing to insist that from his vantage point on Jan. 6 he saw “nothing out of the ordinary for a protest.”