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Proud Boys member testifies about group’s culture and celebration of violence

<i>Bill Hennessy</i><br/>Defendants Zachary Rehl
Bill Hennessy
Defendants Zachary Rehl

By Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand, CNN

The first Proud Boy to take the stand in the seditious conspiracy trial against five fellow members of the far-right group told the jury Tuesday how leaders of the organization celebrated when their members acted violently, and how that informed the way the group fought together during the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

Matthew Greene, from Syracuse, New York, testified after pleading guilty in December 2021.

“What I believe was that when people acted in violence people did not back down, did not say you were going too far,” Greene said of Proud Boys leadership. “If anything, it was celebrated.”

“There was a mantra that was told to me,” he added, “we don’t start s**t, we finish it.”

Greene was never in contact with the leaders of the Proud Boys, prosecutors say, and did not know of an explicit plan to storm the building. But prosecutors allege he, along with defendant and fellow New Yorker Dominic Pezzola, played an important role as part of the first line of rioters who violently pushed through police barriers.

The defendants — Enrique Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, Pezzola and Ethan Nordean — have all pleaded not guilty.

Greene recounted for the jury how he felt when he saw “propaganda videos” of the Proud Boys “street fighting” on city streets in 2020.

“I liked the fact that they seemed to be standing up to some of the street violence, standing up for some of the people who were being harassed on the streets,” Greene said. “In my mind it seemed like someone defending the defenseless.” He then decided to join the organization after the presidential election.

Greene explained to the jury what the process was like to officially become a low-level, or “first degree” Proud Boy. He had to write a short essay on why he wanted to join the organization and what attributes he would bring, Greene said, and send in a video of himself saying the Proud Boys oath of “I am a Proud Western Chauvinist and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.”

Once he submitted his application, Greene testified that he was told to download the messaging app Telegram and pick a moniker (he chose “Publius,” as he had had just finished reading the Federalist Papers).

Greene then had to attend three “vetting meetings” and go to one rally before he could be officially “voted in.” On his way home from pro-Donald Trump rally on December 12, 2020, Greene told the jury, he was told that the central New York chapter had voted, and he was now a first-degree Proud Boy.

In deciding to attend the December 12 rally, Greene testified that he and other members, including Pezzola, were “ready and willing” to be a part of whatever might happen.

“There was never a concrete understanding of what that could mean, but there was a lot of conversations that Proud Boys were looking at ourselves, at least the ones I was talking to, as being the tip of the spear if something was going to happen,” Greene said.

Greene said that he also took stock of how the far-right organization’s hierarchy operated during the December rally — his first event with the group.

“In the Army you have ranks or badges, nobody had anything like that” Greene, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, testified. “But people were obviously stepping up to take control if things were getting out of hand, or if people were moving in the wrong direction.”

If you didn’t defer to leadership, Greene testified, “there was going to be a physical altercation.”

During that December rally, one member of the Proud Boys, Jeremy Bertino, was stabbed. Greene recounted the fallout of the stabbing, saying that Pezzola had “taken his motorcycle helmet and cracked the [attacker] over the head with it.”

“All of us, myself included, were patting him on the back for what he had done,” Greene told the jury of Pezzola, adding that he believed Pezzola had been trying to get closer to Proud Boys leaders like Enrique Tarrio. “He didn’t back down from the acclaim of it.”

After the December rally, Greene said he started to feel even “stronger opinions about where things were as a country,” and that “every Proud Boy” he spoke to agreed. That understanding informed how he acted on January 6, Greene testified.

“I was never discouraged from anything,” he said. “Everything that I had done with the Proud Boys on and before January 6 led me to believe that what I was doing was either implicitly or overtly accepted and encouraged by the Proud Boys around me.”

Greene said that when the barricades started to come down around the Capitol on January 6, he felt that the Proud Boys’ “tip of the spear” moment had arrived — though he never heard a specific plan to attack.

“My state of mind at that point was believing that we were on the verge of civil war, and this could be the opening part of it,” Greene said. “I wanted to be close.”

Greene said that he and Pezzola had talked about how “the typical things that had been going on to redress our grievances [with government] were ineffective and were not working.”

“Based on the events that I had seen over the summer and over the past few years, violence seemed to be getting a response,” Greene said.

Greene will continue his testimony tomorrow with cross-examination.

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