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A federal judge has refused to throw out an indictment charging four alleged leaders of the far-right Proud Boys with conspiring to attack the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral college victory. The defense lawyers for the four men — Joseph Biggs, Charles Donohoe, Ethan Nordean, and Zachary Rehl — argued that the four are charged with conduct that is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. They have issued no comment regarding the judge’s decision to reject the arguments.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly rejected defense attorneys’ arguments, saying that the defendants had other nonviolent ways to express their opinions about the 2020 presidential election than attacking the U.S.Capitol. The proceedings are being watched closely as an indication of whether or not there will be actual consequences for the violent Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

“Defendants are not, as they argue, charged with anything like burning flags, wearing black armbands, or participating in mere sit-ins or protests,” Kelly wrote in his 43-page ruling. “Moreover, even if the charged conduct had some expressive aspect, it lost whatever First Amendment protection it may have had.”

The four were indicted in March 2020 on charges including conspiracy and obstructing an official proceeding. All four remain jailed while they await a trial scheduled for May 2022.

Defense lawyers have asserted that the obstruction charge doesn’t apply because the Congressional certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official proceeding” of Congress and therefore their clients broke no laws. The judge disagreed.

While more than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have actually been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, according to the indictment, the four are leaders of several Proud Boys factions. Florida resident Biggs, is a self-described Proud Boys organizer. Donohoe, of North Carolina, also served as president of his local chapter. North Carolina resident Donohoe was president of the local Proud Boys chapter. Nordean was a Proud Boys chapter president in Washington state. He was also a member of the Proud Boy’s national “Elders Council.” Rehl was president of the Philadelphia Proud Boys chapter.

The Justice Department’s investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection is broader than this single case, but these four cases are emblematic of the investigation. At least 16 members and associates of the Proud Boys have been charged with conspiracy.

Earlier this month, another judge in the District of Columbia’s federal court upheld prosecutors’ use of the same obstruction charge in a separate case against two other riot defendants. At least 165 members of the group have pleaded guilty.

There have already been admissions of guilt from among the group.

The Proud Boys are not the only right-wing extremist group whose members have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol. The Justice Dept. has already identified more than 20 people  associated with the Oath Keepers, an antigovernmental, right-wing extremist group.

On that fateful Jan. 6 day early in 2021, members of the Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument. But even before the speeches, before thousands of Trump supporters were down on the stages near the White House, the Proud Boys had moved on down the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol.

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.

More than 700 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. At least 165 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.

Featured Image: Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. It was a stunning day as a number of lawmakers and then the mob of protesters tried to overturn America’s presidential election, undercut the nation’s democracy and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House. AP Photo/John Minchillo