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'We were openly expecting a civil war' | Former Proud Boy testifies at seditious conspiracy trial

Matthew Greene, of Syracuse, New York, was the first member of the Proud Boys to accept a plea deal in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

WASHINGTON — The Proud Boys came to D.C. anticipating civil war, a former member of the group who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction charges testified Tuesday in the ongoing seditious conspiracy trial of five other members.

Matthew Greene, 35, of Syracuse, pleaded guilty in December 2021 to two felony counts as part of a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors. At the time, he was the first member of the Proud Boys to accept a plea deal in connection with the Jan. 6 investigation.

Greene was indicted with two other men on charges ranging from assaulting, resisting or impeding a law enforcement officer to destruction of government property. One of those men, William Pepe – who was at the time the president of the Hudson Valley chapter of the Proud Boys – remains awaiting trial. The other man was Dominic Pezzola, a 45-year-old flooring contractor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran accused of using a stolen police riot shield to cause the first breach of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Credit: Department of Justice
Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola, left, and Charles Donohoe, right, carrying a stolen police riot shield on Jan. 6, 2021.

Much of Greene’s direct examination by the government focused on his interactions with Pezzola, who he met through their mutual affiliation with New York Proud Boys chapters. Greene said when he came to D.C. on Jan. 6 he understood if he wanted to be near the action he needed to be close to Pezzola.

“He said something along the lines of, ‘I’m 40 years old I should be thinking about retirement, not fighting a civil war,’” Greene testified, adding that as of late 2020 the group was “openly expecting” violent conflict to erupt in the U.S.

Pezzola, Tarrio and three other defendants began trial Jan. 12 on a slew of charges, including seditious conspiracy. They’re accused of plotting to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.

Greene served eight years in the U.S. Army National Guard from 2008-2016 as a human intelligence collector, including a deployment in Afghanistan from 2010-2011. After leaving the military, he moved to California to work in the video game industry as a technical artist. Greene said he became frustrated with his inability to talk about his conservative politics in California for fear of losing work and began posting on a website for supporters of then President Donald Trump. After moving back to New York, Greene eventually joined the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys which, he said, he found to be a space where he could talk about his politics without fear of repercussions.

Greene joined the Proud Boys in D.C. for a Dec. 12, 2020, march in support of Trump and was with the group that evening when violent conflict broke out between Proud Boys and other groups. Greene said he felt the march was “very antagonistic” and that Proud Boys were seeking out people they believed to be members of the left-wing group antifa to try to goad them into fights. At least four people were stabbed that night, including North Carolina Proud Boys leader Jeremy Bertino, also known as “Noble Beard.”

Greene said he met Pezzola, known as “Spaz” or “Spazzolini” among the Proud Boys, that evening and watched as he tried to get close to leadership. Pezzola was at the time still a prospect with the Western New York chapter of the group. After Bertino was stabbed, Greene said, Pezzola told him he’d taken his motorcycle helmet and “cracked” the alleged assailant over the head with it – which ingratiated him with the group. Greene said Pezzola also participated in delivering a handmade shield to Bertino after his injury, which he understood to be another attempt to get close to leadership.

On Jan. 6, both Greene and Pezzola joined dozens of Proud Boys who marched from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. During the march, Greene described the group as seeming to amp itself up for conflict.

“The attitude started becoming increasingly antagonistic toward police,” Greene said. “I guess what I was feeling was there was a rising anger as we continued chanting.”

Greene said he was near Pezzola when a “scuffle” broke out between protesters and police at the western front of the U.S. Capitol Building. At its conclusion, he said, he saw Pezzola come up with a police riot shield. Prosecutors have alleged Pezzola later used that shield to smash in two windows near the Senate Wing doors that allowed the first rioters to enter the building.

Pezzola’s actions on Jan. 6 and his presence in the case are a key component of the government’s theory of the Proud Boys’ alleged conspiracy to prevent the certification of the 2020 election. Defense attorneys repeatedly objected to Greene’s testimony, arguing he had only been in the group for a few weeks as of Jan. 6 and was unfamiliar with the Proud Boys leadership he testified about.

During cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Nicholas Smith, representing Ethan Nordean, repeatedly pressed Greene on whether he’d met a list of Proud Boy leaders. Greene said he’d never met or spoken to Nordean, co-defendant Joseph Biggs or Tarrio.

“What does it mean when you said national leadership set the expectation for the use of force?” Smith asked.

“I never saw anyone discourage the use of violence,” Greene said.

“So through silence alone you thought they were encouraging the use of violence?” Smith asked.

“When people acted in violence, they did not say back down. They did not say you’ve gone too far,” Greene said. “If anything it was celebrated.”

Under questioning from Smith, Greene also said the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol seemed like a “spontaneous riot” and reminded him of an experience in Afghanistan when a group of children had mobbed a shop in an attempt to get food. Greene said he’d never seen a plan to attack the Capitol or break down barriers and that, at least at first, he didn’t think the group he was a part of felt intent on violence.

Given all that, Smith asked, why did Greene plead guilty to criminal charges?

“I pled guilty to an implicit agreement with Dominic Pezzola to stop the certification,” Greene said.

“Is it your perspective anyone else had that agreement with you?” Smith asked.

“From my perspective, it seemed everybody else had that same idea,” Greene responded.

Cross-examination of Greene was expected to continue into Wednesday. In addition to Greene, prosecutors were anticipated to call other cooperating Proud Boys witnesses, including Bertino, the Proud Boy who was stabbed in D.C. on Dec. 12, 2020

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