At the end of September 2019, Charles Donohoe turned to the Telegram encrypted messaging app with a call to arms.
“We need to stop fighting the antifa in the streets where the cops are and start fighting them in the bars and alleys,” wrote Donohoe, a member of the far-right street fighting group the Proud Boys. “We have to crush them. We have to ruin their life physically like they ruined ours financially with doxxing. We need to rack up their hospital bills. We have to use special ops tactics and strike them with lightning.
At the time of posting, Donohoe’s Telegram profile photo was a photo of him in a Proud Boys uniform, shaking hands with a DC Metropolitan Police officer.
Donohoe, the 33-year-old leader of a Proud Boys chapter in North Carolina, was arrested Wednesday morning for conspiracy over his alleged role in the Jan.6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, as the New York Times reported. He is accused of conspiring to interfere with law enforcement on Capitol Hill, where members of the Proud Boys broke into after invading police.
As new charges come to light in the attack on Capitol Hill, prosecutors appear to be focusing on the Proud Boys as some of the main instigators of the riot, as well as the far-right group the Oath Keepers. But like other Proud Boys, including the chapter led by a man accused of the same conspiracy, Donohoe has already flaunted his seemingly warm relationship with the police – even as he encouraged extralegal violence to the side.
Donohoe’s attorney did not return a request for comment for this story.
During a July 2019 Proud Boys protest in Washington, DC, Donohoe ran into Collin Coles, a Metropolitan Police officer with whom he had previously served in the Marines. The couple shook hands and the image quickly circulated in Proud Boys circles as proof the group was not racist. (Coles is black.)
Later, Donohoe tagged Coles on Facebook and the duo discussed the upcoming rally and the expected retest from the left. “I’m going to be working downtown today for the protests,” Coles commented in a photo Donohoe had taken from his hotel window of a car with a “Trump: Build The Wall” trailer.
“You will see me [sic] I’m with the proud boys, ”Donohoe replied. “Please don’t announce this publicly, the antifa is trying to ruin our weekend.”
“Of course not!” Coles responded. “I’ll keep an eye on.” He then commented to note that he was now standing near the Trump sign and to ask if Donohoe was still in his hotel room. (Earlier in the comment thread, someone urged Donohoe to “stay safe, brother. Hit a commie for mom !!!!“)
Reached by phone, Coles said he was unaware of Donohoe’s recent arrest.
“Wow. Wow. Wow. I don’t want to be associated with this,” Coles told The Daily Beast after learning that Donohoe had been charged in connection with the Capitol Riot. Coles said he knew Donohoe was a “great guy” when they served in the Marines, and although he knew Donohoe was now affiliated with the Proud Boys, he was not in close contact with him.
Coles said that when he commented on the photos of Donohoe, he was not very familiar with the bands Donohoe was referring to.
“I guess he just warned me like, ‘Watch out, the antifa attacks’, but it was nothing more.”
DC Metropolitan Police did not immediately return a request for comment.
But Donohoe’s photo with Coles was far from the Proud Boys’ only photoshoot with police, even when it came to chapters relating to those arrested on Wednesday.
Zach Rehl, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys, was arrested on the same day as Donohoe. The Philadelphia Proud Boys have frequented their city police. Rehl is the son and grandson of the Philadelphia Police Officers, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. (Philadelphia Police did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment and a lawyer for Rehl could not be reached.)
Last summer, the Proud Boys attended a party at the headquarters of the Philadelphia Police Union, carrying a large Proud Boys flag. The union later disowned the group, but other links also emerged. In June, the Philadelphia Proud Boys tweeted photos of themselves in uniform posing with a policeman inside a police station, where the group said they delivered snacks. (It is not known if Rehl was in the photos.) As The Daily Beast first reported, after a rally in September, the Philadelphia Proud Boys were driven back to their cars by a police trailer. A Philadelphia policeman was filmed talking and shaking hands with the group in what the city attorney described to the Daily Beast as an “extra-friendly” interaction.
Philadelphia Police Detective Jennifer Gugger is reportedly under investigation by her department for allegedly attending a rally leading up to the Capitol attack, where a Capitol Police officer is believed to be killed in melee. When then-Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his condolences over the death of the Capitol Police officer, Gugger reportedly responded by referring to QAnon’s conspiracy theory. “You are a traitor, a cabal agent and a pedophile! she tweeted to Pence, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You preach God and this god will judge you!”
Seven members of the police force of the Philadelphia-based Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority also attended the rally, with two members having been suspended for three days this week.
Alliances at times between the police and the Proud Boys have led cops to join the far-right group, with a Fresno policeman suspended this week after apparently appearing alongside Proud Boys at an anti-LGBTQ event in this city. Meanwhile, another cop, Brian Sicknick, died after a brawl with rioters on Capitol Hill.
A new unsealed indictment on Friday accuses Donohoe, Rehl and two other Proud Boys executives of coordinating to invade police on Capitol Hill. According to the document, all four participated in Proud Boys planning discussions ahead of the event, with Rehl raising money for equipment and Donohoe creating a designated communication channel for the Jan.6 headquarters. “Everything is in jeopardy and we can look into the gang charges,” Donohoe reportedly wrote on Jan. 4, urging Proud Boys to ditch an old channel he said was no longer secure. On the morning of the attack, another Proud Boy reportedly used the channel to issue orders, noting that “cops are the main threat, don’t get caught by them or BLM”.
The Proud Boys later allegedly stormed the Capitol, pushing police barricades as some of them entered the building through a door that had been opened by a Proud Boy who had entered through using a stolen police riot shield.
The Proud Boys sometimes navigate their complicated relationship with the law by portraying themselves and the police as common enemies of anti-fascists. At a Proud Boy rally in Portland last summer, where reporters detailed the apparent coordination between the group and police, one Proud Boy allegedly asked two officers “when do you take off all the patches and just go fuck.” these motherfuckers [anti-fascists] together? The police would have laughed.
Donohoe made a similar move with his call for Coles to be looking for “antifa,” and a photo of them together was quickly recycled into an anti-antifa meme in Proud Boys circles on Facebook. “This is what the antifa attacks”, one could read in a caption. “This is what the antifa calls racism.”
But even as he warned police of potential leftist violence, leftists in Donohoe’s home state accused him of seeking fighting. Days after the DC photoshoot, Donohoe attended a failed rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, where Proud Boys reportedly hurled homophobic slurs against counter-protesters.
Lindsay Ayling, a protester on the left, said the Proud Boys recognized her and Donohoe then walked into a bar and tried to fight with her.
“A few friends and I were sitting at a table across the bar from Donohoe,” Ayling told The Daily Beast. “He walked aggressively towards me, then stood right next to me and looked down at me. I said, ‘We don’t want to hang out with you’ and he said, ‘I know we don’t.
“I suggested that in this case he should leave,” she added. “I could tell he expected me to throw a punch or be scared and walk away.” Since I didn’t either, he had a sort of awkward look on his face until a bartender came over and said he should go back to his own table.
She tweeted about the meeting at the time, including photos of Donohoe. Three months later, using the photo of him and Coles as a profile picture, Donohoe took to Telegram to advise Proud Boys to bypass police control by beating up leftists in bars.
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