Police in Washington, D.C., arrested the leader of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys on Monday afternoon in connection with last month’s burning of a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a historic Black church in the city. Authorities apprehended Enrique Tarrio, who lives in Miami, when he entered the city ahead of Wednesday’s scheduled rally among fellow far-right advocates of overturning the 2020 election in an effort to keep President Donald Trump in office. While the charge of destruction of property is a misdemeanor, prosecutors are also investigating whether actions of the 36-year-old Tarrio and the Proud Boys—a white nationalist, male-chauvinist organization—constitute a hate crime, which would carry additional penalties.
The Proud Boys were part of the pro-Trump demonstration on Dec. 12 in the capital. Full of grievance and provocation, ultimately the Proud Boys got what they wanted that night, violence and chaos, as the event spiraled into street skirmishes with counterprotesters, including a stabbing. That night four churches in the district were vandalized, including Asbury United Methodist Church, which sits six blocks from the White House. The historic Black church’s Black Lives Matter banner was taken and burned. The act evoked the disturbing history of Black churches being burned in the U.S. during Reconstruction and the civil rights movement. In the aftermath of the December rally, Tarrio admitted to burning the banner in a series of statements on far-right platforms, daring police to arrest him. On Monday, police did just that as Tarrio was believed to be arriving from the airport for Wednesday’s rally.
Tarrio was also charged with two additional felony counts when police found the far-right leader to be in possession of high-capacity magazines, which allow weapons to hold and load more ammunition, during Monday’s arrest. Local authorities are concerned about the potential for violence during Wednesday’s pro-Trump, anti-Democracy event, which is coordinated to be held during the certification of the Electoral College tally of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.