The most recent informant to emerge from the trial is a Texas-based activist who became uncommonly close to some of the defendants, their lawyers and relatives.
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The Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Washington. The F.B.I. had informants working alongside the Proud Boys leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.Credit…Sarah Silbiger for The New York Times
Over the past two months, one subject has repeatedly come up at the trial of five Proud Boys accused of sedition in connection with the storming of the Capitol: the unusual number of informants that the F.B.I. had in or near the group.
Even before the trial began, defense lawyers had suggested that the bureau had as many as eight informants in the far-right organization in the months surrounding Jan. 6, 2021. At least one of them — from the group’s chapter in Kansas City — was in the throng of Proud Boys that marched on the Capitol that day.
On Wednesday, new court papers revealed that there was yet another informant in the Proud Boys’ orbit, one who became uncommonly close to people involved in the sedition trial.
The newly disclosed informant, a Texas-based activist named Jen Loh, took part in prayer meetings with some of the defendants’ relatives and had multiple contacts with the defendants themselves while they have been in jail. She was also in touch with some of the defense lawyers in the case, making what one of them, Nicholas Smith, has called a “constant drumbeat” of “detailed inquiries,” which Mr. Smith said he had ignored.
Carmen Hernandez, another defense lawyer working on the case, described what Ms. Loh has been doing as a “surreptitious invasion” of the Proud Boys’ defense team. She demanded this week that the government turn over any reports from other informants who may have gathered information on the defense.
Prosecutors have insisted that they never asked Ms. Loh — whose real name is Jennylyn Salinas — to cozy up to the defendants, their relatives or their lawyers. In fact, they said in court papers filed on Thursday, they cut ties with her two months ago after learning that she planned to appear at the sedition trial as a witness for one of the defendants, Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys’ former leader.
In an interview on Friday, Ms. Loh said that she had never spied on the Proud Boys or their lawyers and said that the F.B.I. never asked her any questions directly related to the trial that is now unfolding in Federal District Court in Washington. She also confirmed that she had parted ways with the bureau when she started talking with Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers.
Ms. Loh maintained that while she provided the government information about some of the defendants before the trial began, her interest in their families and legal situations was genuine.
“It’s hard to see people calling me a rat and a fed and things like that,” she said. “I think it’s sad that we’ve gotten so polarized in this country.”
The use of informants in Jan. 6 investigations has been a simmering issue almost from the moment that the Justice Department started bringing charges against people involved in the Capitol attack. For more than two years, some in the right-wing media have sought to promote the idea that the bureau instigated the assault through proxies acting on the ground on its behalf.
But the defense lawyers in the Proud Boys’ trial — while clearly disturbed by the number of informants in the group — have largely dismissed the notion that the F.B.I. wielded anyone as an agent provocateur.
“In the media, there’s a swirling notion that undercover informants instigated Jan. 6,” Mr. Smith, who represents the defendant Ethan Nordean, said several weeks ago during a pretrial hearing.
“That’s not our belief,” he went on, adding, “I think it’s slander actually.”
Instead, the lawyers have made a different point, arguing that the information the informants have provided to the government appears to be exculpatory and contradicts the central allegation in the case: that their clients went to Washington on Jan. 6 with a plan to storm the Capitol and disrupt the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
The defense, in fact, has upended the standard pattern and rather than attacking the informants has embraced them, issuing subpoenas to more than a half-dozen to appear as witnesses at the trial. But so far they have not managed to get any on the stand.
On Tuesday, for example, Judge Timothy J. Kelly quashed a subpoena the defense had given to Kenneth Lizardo, a Massachusetts Proud Boy who had what the judge described as “a reporting relationship with the F.B.I.” Judge Kelly ruled that Mr. Lizardo could avoid testifying at the trial because if he were called he planned to exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
His situation suggests the extent of the bureau’s network of informants.
On the day before the Capitol attack, Mr. Lizardo accompanied Mr. Tarrio (who was himself a former F.B.I. informant) to a meeting with Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia, in an underground parking lot in Washington. At that time, Mr. Rhodes’s chief lieutenant in the Oath Keepers, Greg McWhirter, the group’s vice president, was also working as an informant for the bureau.
While not much is known about the identities of the other informants in the Proud Boys, the bureau had placed secret sources in several chapters around the country, including in Cleveland and in Salt Lake City, according to a private log of internal F.B.I. messages obtained by The New York Times.
During the trial, defense lawyers have also mentioned an informant known only as Danny Mac, who once led a Proud Boys chapter in New Jersey. Matthew Walter, a former chapter president from Tennessee, told The Times last month that he had a relationship with the F.B.I. that lasted several months around the time of Jan. 6 and added that as many as 20 other members of the group did as well.
Ms. Loh said that she began working with the F.B.I.’s office in San Antonio, Texas, in 2018 or 2019 after falling victim to an attack from what she described as activists from the leftist movement antifa. At first, she said, she gave the bureau what she believed was “useful information” on leftist protesters.
Soon, however, she began getting paid for her work. At that point, Ms. Loh, who once served as a top official in an organization called Latinos for Trump, started providing information to the F.B.I. on “any type of domestic terrorism — on the right or the left,” she said.
More recently, according to the government, Ms. Loh has been active in assisting people charged in the Capitol attack “in fund-raising efforts and protesting against their conditions of confinement.” She also confirmed the government’s contention that she engaged in discussions with one of the defendant’s family members about replacing a defense lawyer in the case.
The constant and unexpected emergence of informants has unsettled the defense team. At the court hearing on Thursday, several defense lawyers complained to Judge Kelly that they had no idea if there were more informants hiding in the wings.
“There’s more C.H.S.s than there are defendants in this case,” Sabino Jauregui, one of Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers said, using an abbreviation for confidential human source, the F.B.I. official term for an informant.
“I asked my intern the other day if she’s a C.H.S.,” he said.