Two Members of Proud Boys Convicted in Brawl Near Republican Club – The New York Times

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Since their founding in New York City in 2016, the far-right Proud Boys have cultivated a rough and ready image, often declaring: “We don’t start fights. We finish them.”

But on Monday, jurors in State Supreme Court in Manhattan rejected claims by two members of the group, who had said they had been acting in self-defense last fall on the Upper East Side when they took part in the beating of four people described by the police as anti-fascists connected to a loose-knit group called Antifa.

The two defendants, Maxwell Hare and John Kinsman, were convicted on charges of attempted gang assault, attempted assault and riot for their part in a melee after an appearance by the founder of the Proud Boys at the Metropolitan Republican Club on East 83rd Street.

That brawl mirrored clashes in other cities that had pitted far-right groups, calling for “free speech” or chanting nationalist and racist slogans, against leftists, including Antifa, who have physically confronted those they deem to be fascists or Nazis.

Although members of the male-only Proud Boys have battled leftists across the country, the trial in Manhattan appeared to mark the first time people connected to the group had been before a jury in connection to these incidents.

The jury deliberated for a day and a half before delivering its verdict. Mr. Hare was found guilty of attempted gang assault, riot and three counts of attempted assault. Mr. Kinsman was found guilty of attempted gang assault, riot and two counts of attempted assault. The jury also found that Mr. Kinsman’s actions were “justified” with respect to the lowest counts of attempted assault.

Mr. Kinsman was heard saying “wow” in a low voice as the verdict was read. Soon after, he walked into a courtroom hallway, holding a book in front of his face to shield himself from photographers, and declined to comment. Mr. Hare did not respond to a request for comment as he left the courtroom.

Much of the trial focused on video of the incident from several sources, which showed the minute-long brawl from various angles.

None of the victims took the stand.

The four apparent Antifa members who were involved in the brawl — referred to in an indictment as Shaved Head, Ponytail, Khaki and Spike Belt — refused to speak with a police officer who approached them after the incident. Ultimately, prosecutors were only able to charge the defendants with attempted assault, which requires evidence of intent to cause injury, rather than assault, which requires evidence of injury.

Even after determining that the supposed Antifa members were subject to arrest because of their role in the fighting, investigators were never able to learn their identities.

That fact was cited repeatedly by defense lawyers, who sought to put Antifa on trial in absentia. They presented the decentralized group as a collection of ruthless Terminator-like hooligans and “maniacs” who terrorize conservatives while wielding bricks, crowbars and other weapons.

The defense suggested several times that prosecutors were politically motivated or that the case was built on police incompetence. Mr. Kinsman’s lawyer, Jack Goldberg, theorized that “the Antifa” and prosecutors were in cahoots.

“These people aren’t the New York County district attorney’s office,” he said, indicating prosecutors during his summation. “They are the New York County district Antifa office.”

Prosecutors often referenced the Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes, whom they called a “hatemonger,” telling jurors that violence was an innate part of the group and that its members relished the chance to brawl with Antifa.

“Their attack was vicious, disproportionate and most important, unnecessary,” a prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, said of the defendants during closing arguments.

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CreditJefferson Siegel for The New York Times

The atmosphere was tense on Oct. 12, when Mr. McInnes, a co-founder of Vice magazine, appeared at the Republican club and, wielding a plastic sword, staged a re-enactment of the 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist leader by a teenage ultranationalist.

Outside, people had gathered chanting “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist U.S.A.” The night before, hooded figures had broken windows at the club, sprayed anarchist symbols on its doors and promised future attacks in leaflets that also denounced Mr. McInnes as a “hipster-fascist clown.”

Mr. McInnes departed the club brandishing his plastic sword. Shortly after, 10 members and associates of the Proud Boys punched, kicked and stomped four people wearing black clothes and masks, who the police said had circled the block to intercept them.

Later, Mr. McInnes said Antifa members had ambushed the Proud Boys. But security camera footage obtained by The New York Times showed that a Proud Boys member initiated the encounter by charging at protesters.

Within days, a group called New York City Antifa circulated on social media the names of the Proud Boys who participated in the attack. A police detective testified that the department used some material that had been posted online in its investigation.

Investigators ultimately arrested 10 men connected to the Proud Boys. Seven have pleaded guilty to charges including riot, disorderly conduct and attempted assault. An eighth is awaiting trial.

Video footage showed Mr. Hare yelling, “Proud Boys, you ready?” and running at four black-clad figures, one of whom then threw a plastic water bottle that sailed past him. Mr. Hare was shown punching Ponytail, then swinging and kicking at Shaved Head. Mr. Kinsman was shown barreling into Spike Belt then punching, kicking and stomping him and kicking Shaved Head.

Both defendants testified that their actions on that night were justified because they felt they were being attacked.

Mr. Kinsman told jurors that he did not see how the fighting had begun. He had rushed to help his friends, he said, partly because he had learned from YouTube videos that Antifa had a reputation for being violent.

Mr. Hare testified that “a row” of Antifa members had gotten within 30 feet of the Proud Boys before he went toward them. He had not immediately punched Ponytail, he said, but had tried to remove his mask.

“They were going to hurt us,” he said.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Hare had actually gone about 100 feet rather than 30 to get to the black-clad figures.

They also told jurors that Mr. Hare had punched someone a week earlier during a similar brawl in Providence, R.I., and had posted a picture of himself on Facebook holding an AR-15 rifle and a defaced Antifa flag.

Mr. Steinglass pointed to video from before and after the clash while making the case to jurors that Mr. Hare and Mr. Kinsman had been eager to fight.

As he left the club that night, Mr. Kinsman had taunted protesters with a straight-arm salute and by making punching motions, video showed. After the fighting, video captured him saying that he had “stomped” someone.

Mr. Hare had also reprised the fight with other Proud Boys afterward, exulting and exchanging a hand clasp, then shouting that he had “ripped” one protester’s mask off and “hit him right in the head.”