The longtime chairman of the street-brawling Proud Boys group was arrested in Miami and charged with conspiracy Tuesday over his role in the failed insurrection at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.
In a statement, prosecutors alleged Enrique Tarrio and five other defendants were leaders or members of a special Proud Boys detachment known as the “Ministry of Self Defence” and that they “conspired to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, the certification of the Electoral College vote.” Prosecutors added that Tarrio allegedly met with the leader of the far-right wannabe militia group the Oath Keepers the day before the Capitol riot.
Multiple members of the “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys had been accused of lending their support to the fascist mob that stormed the Capitol in a last-ditch attempt to secure Donald Trump a second presidential term, but Tarrio himself had so far escaped being named in an indictment. On Tuesday, the Department of Justice added him to an existing case involving five other Proud Boys members: Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, Zachary Rehl, Charles Donohoe, and Dominic “Spaz” Pezzola. The six are named in an indictment with charges that include obstruction, aiding and abetting, theft of U.S. property, and conspiracy. Tarrio joins the list of over 770 other individuals charged in relation to the mob attack.
While Tarrio was not physically present at the Capitol, federal authorities said, the Proud Boys cadre “directed, mobilized, and led members of the crowd onto the Capitol grounds and into the Capitol, leading to dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, and assaults on law enforcement.” DC police previously arrested Tarrio on Jan. 4, 2021 for burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a historic African-American church in December 2020, as well as illegally carrying high-capacity magazines. He was convicted and served time in DC jail; the terms of his release included an order to stay out of the city.
Numerous Proud Boys members did join the mob that beat its way through Capitol Police into the building — forcing the evacuation of Congress, destroying and stealing property inside, injuring over 100 law enforcement officers, and causing five deaths. Prosecutors wrote that Tarrio issued instructions for members to attend the rally before the riot “incognito.” He allegedly participated in a Telegram chat tracking and coordinating the activities of members during the riot as well. The charged Proud Boys also raised funds for equipment in the lead-up to the event and communicated with one another via radio on the day of the attack, the indictment states. Materials circulating between the Proud Boys before Jan. 6 mentioned occupying buildings as part of a “1776”-style revolution.
Tarrio isn’t the first leader of an extremist organisation to seemingly dodge charges for Jan. 6 only to be busted later. Stewart Rhodes, the head of the far-right wannabe militia group the Oath Keepers, was charged earlier this year after federal investigators obtained access to encrypted Signal chats in which the group’s leadership coordinated members’ involvement in the riot. Those chats included meetings about “unconventional warfare,” “convoy operations,” and discussions of which firearms to bring to a “massively bloody revolution.” Likewise in Tarrio’s case, authorities are citing an extensive backlog of chat messages and social media posts as evidence in the case. The indictment states that Tarrio met with Rhodes for 30 minutes in a parking garage on Jan. 5 for a conversation during which the Capitol was “referenced.”
After Tarrio’s arrest on Jan. 4 for burning the flag, the indictment states, members of the Ministry of Self Defence group urged each other to destroy encrypted chat records so that police couldn’t obtain them from their leader’s phone. By the next day, however, they had added Tarrio to a new leadership group in which members freely discussed the attack. Various Proud Boys including Biggs documented themselves entering the Capitol grounds for online posts.
Tarrio then travelled to Baltimore and spent much of Jan. 6 cheerleading the attack on social media and, according to prosecutors, attempted to contact Nordean and Biggs while they were in the building.
In January 2021, Tarrio was publicly revealed to be a police informant who had ratted out over a dozen criminals nearly a decade before, according to Reuters. That news didn’t sit well with the Proud Boys, who have since lost cohesion as a national movement and splintered into a series of local chapters. Both the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers are facing a separate lawsuit from the DC attorney general’s office aiming to bankrupt their operations. Tarrio’s lawyer, J. Daniel Hull, declined to comment.
The Proud Boys were originally founded by Gavin McInnes, who had co-founded Vice Media but has since morphed into a full-time far-right clown. Trump infamously addressed the group during a September 2020 presidential debate, responding to a question about their support for him by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” The statement was widely interpreted, including by Proud Boys members themselves, as an endorsement.