Jan. 6 committee interview sheds light on origins of Proud Boys ‘1776 returns’ document

By | December 27, 2022

An obscure cryptocurrency advocate from Florida may be the original source of an incendiary document at the heart of the seditious conspiracy charges against members of the Proud Boys.

Samuel Armes told the Jan. 6 select committee in a newly disclosed interview that he didn’t draft the document, titled “1776 returns,” itself — and had no role in aspects that laid out an operational strategy to occupy federal buildings on Jan. 6, 2021, to disrupt the transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.

But in a colorful hourlong interview with the committee, Armes said he helped formulate some of the ideas that the document relied on — and that eventually ended up in the hands of Proud Boys national chair Enrique Tarrio, one of five charged with seditious conspiracy.

The revelation comes just as Tarrio and his four allies — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola — are set to go to trial on allegations that they spearheaded the violent assault on the Capitol, pinpointing weak points around the Capitol and using the cover of the mob to help overwhelm police lines.

Prosecutors cited “1776 Returns” in Tarrio’s indictment. The document describes plans to “Storm the Winter Palace” — a reference to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The indictment also notes that in celebratory text messages with Tarrio, an associate referenced 1776 and Tarrio responded with “The Winter Palace.”

Armes, a former State Department and Special Operations official, said he recognized components of the document as ideas he had composed as part of a “war gaming” exercise he did in August or September of 2020. He would later share those ideas with a friend in the crypto industry who happened to be an associate of Tarrio’s.

Armes said that in college he had been groomed to join the CIA and FBI before his stint in the State Department and special operations. He also briefly worked for a Florida state representative before ultimately veering into crypto. In his studies, he often participated in “war gaming” scenarios, skills he used during his stint in government.

Armes told the panel that in August or September 2020, after observing riots that took place across the country — against the backdrop of the raging Covid pandemic — he jotted down some thoughts on potential worst-case scenarios for the transfer of power. His views, he said, were partially informed by the August release of the Transition Integrity Project, a similar “war gaming” exercise conducted by 100 campaign and government experts to envision potential threats to the transfer of power.

“It was just how I thought things might happen in a scenario where a certain president doesn’t leave the White House or there is just mad chaos in the streets because no one knows who’s in charge,” Armes said.

Armes said his eventual three-to-five-page document sketched out scenarios in which an unruly mob might gather in Washington, and he appended images and Google Maps screenshots. While it was meant to be a private document, Armes said, he recalled sharing it with an interested friend, Erika Flores, an ally from the cryptocurrency world with whom he interacted frequently in the latter months of 2020. Flores, he noted, was also a friend of Tarrio’s.

“So I ended up sharing it with her on a Google Drive. And after that, I thought nothing of it,” Armes told the committee. “I would’ve never imagined that it turned into the document that I was shown last week, would’ve had zero clue, zero idea. … It’s horrific for me to even imagine that something that I would’ve written would’ve been used to source this kind of, like — I guess call it ‘terroristic document.’”

Attorneys for Tarrio did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Flores could not immediately be reached for comment, but she appears to have spoken with the select committee, as well. A committee investigator told Armes that Flores attributed the writing of the “1776 Returns” document to him and asked her to share it with Tarrio. Asked about that contention, Armes called it “blame-shifting.”

Armes went through the nine-page “1776 Returns” document with the committee, separating aspects that he said he had written from components he said he did not. Armes said he had a cursory relationship with Tarrio as a result of their mutual friendship with Flores. Flores, he recalled, introduced them in Miami and Tarrio tried to get Armes’ advice for building out his T-shirt-selling business. Armes said he also met Tarrio once at a restaurant with Flores.

Armes’ connection with at least one other figure associated with Jan. 6 also piqued the committee’s interest in Oath Keeper James Beeks.

Beeks, a Michael Jackson impersonator who had been starring in a touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” when he was arrested for his role in the Jan. 6 attack, also met Armes through crypto-related endeavors.

Armes said Beeks had encouraged him to join the Oath Keepers and expressed his anti-government worldview in conversations. Armes said Beeks also made romantic advances, which he says he rebuffed. Beeks invited Armes to join him in Washington on Jan. 6, Armes recalled, but he turned him down. Armes said he had been interviewed by Justice Department investigators about this connection. Beeks is set to go on trial in February.

The odd connections between Armes and two prominent Jan. 6 figures — both derived from their crypto connections — prompted a moment of levity during the interview.

“I promise, we’re not all like that,” Armes joked.

“I feel like that, at the end of this conversation, we need to have a followup rehabilitative conversation about the joys of crypto,” joked his lawyer, Anessa Santos.

Armes’ short interview featured yet another memorable — if humorous — exchange when Armes’ leg cramped and he was suddenly incapacitated.

“Charley horse. Charley horse,” his lawyer said.

“I’m good. I just did leg squats today, and I maxed out my PR squats and now its hurting,” Armes replied.

“He’s on the floor,” Santos interjected.

After he recovered, Armes made a point to emphasize that he set a personal best of 425 pounds during his squat routine.

“That will now be in the Congressional Record, so that’s good,” the committee investigator responded.

“Yeah,” Armes said. “That’s cool.”