On Monday afternoon, the leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, was arrested in Washington D.C. for allegedly burning a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a historic Black church during protests following a “Stop the Steal” rally last month. Police have charged Tarrio with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property, but authorities have described the incident as a potential hate crime which, should those charges be pursued, could lead to an increased penalty.
The incident took place on December 12 when the banner was stolen from Asbury United Methodist Church after a pro-Trump rally spiralled into violence. At the rally, hundreds of Trump's supporters, some sporting the Proud Boys signature black and yellow, looked to confront counterprotesters near the White House.
Tarrio admitted to The Washington Post that he had participated in the burning of the Black Lives Matter banner and said he intended to plead guilty to destruction of property, as well as pay the church for the cost of the banner. But he said he would not admit to committing a hate crime. Tarrio claims that neither he nor other members of the Proud Boys knew that the church was historically attended by a predominantly Black congregation. “We didn’t Google the church and go ‘Oh, it’s a Black church, let’s target it,” Tarrio told The Washington Post. “The sign was taken down because of what it represents.”
According to D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Public Information Officer Sean Hickman, Tarrio was also charged with two felony counts for possession of two magazines that allow guns to hold additional bullets known as a high-capacity ammunition feeding device.
Tarrio is currently the national chairman of the far-right, neo-fascist political group. They are known to describe themselves as a men’s organization for “Western chauvinists.” He got involved with the Proud Boys after volunteering at an event for far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos in 2017, reports Vox. In 2018, Tarrio became a fourth-degree Proud Boy. This is achieved by enacting violence against a purported member of Antifa. He also briefly ran for Congress in Florida’s 27th congressional district earlier this year but withdrew.
This incident may not be the last we hear from the Proud Boys, either. Tarrio was arrested by D.C. Metropolitan Police officers when he arrived at the nation’s capital ahead of demonstrations planned by supporters of President Donald Trump to protest Wednesday’s congressional vote to certify president-elect Joe Biden’s victory. The Proud Boys are reportedly attending to show support for Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
Tarrio's actions have only insighted more fear around the Proud Boys' dangerous motives, particularly when it comes to the BLM movement at large. The church replaced the banner, but it was stolen again over the holidays, prompting the church to formally request extra protection during Wednesday’s planned protests. “We just want to see justice be done,” Rev. Dr. Ianther Mills, senior pastor at Asbury, told The Associated Press.
Tarrio is scheduled to be arraigned before Judge Jonathan Pittman in Washington DC later this afternoon, reports Fox News. Destruction of property carries a sentence of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 USD fine. It is up to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue more severe hate crime charges.