Miami Mutineer Enrique Tarrio Presided Over America's Descent Into Discord

Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys at a Virginia rally in January 2020.
Enrique Tarrio and the Proud Boys at a Virginia rally in January 2020. Photo by Anthony Crider
Miami's favorite hometown insurrectionist is heading back to the clink.

On May 4, former Proud Boys leader and Miami native Enrique Tarrio and four of his comrades were found guilty of a slew of federal charges in connection with the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Although Tarrio was not in attendance at the riot owing to his arrest two days earlier for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag, prosecutors accused him of orchestrating the attack and directing high-ranking Proud Boy members who called themselves the "Ministry of Self Defense" in their siege of Capitol Hill.

Tarrio, along with Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, and Zachary Rehl, were convicted of seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, among other charges. A fifth defendant, Dominic Pezzola, known for shattering a Capitol building window, was acquitted of a seditious conspiracy charge but convicted of several counts including robbery of government property and assaulting, resisting, or impeding an officer.

Tarrio is no stranger to a prison cell, having served sentences for a 2012 scheme to resell stolen diabetic medical supplies and for burning that Black Lives Matter banner from a D.C. church.

This time around, he faces 20 years in federal prison, accused of spearheading a historic assault on the heart of the U.S. government after refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election.

From his days chainsmoking Malboros near his family home in the Miami community of Flagami to his darkest hours cleaning up human feces in a federal jail cell in 2022, New Times has been covering Tarrio's journey into the national spotlight since the get-go. His rise paralleled the country's descent into political unrest and violence as the Proud Boys, under his wing, established itself as the unofficial militia of the far right during Donald Trump's presidency.

Over the years, New Times has spent hours chatting with Tarrio, tooling around Miami and interviewing him at his family's home as he dealt with looming jail time for previous criminal charges. A portrait emerged of a man who seemed amicable and mild-mannered but beneath the surface was fomenting civil discord while fashioning himself as a revolutionary.

Humble Beginnings

Tarrio was born in Miami, a first-generation American son of Cuban immigrants. He grew up skateboarding near the local laundromat and venturing out in small fishing boats around the Blue Lagoon south of Miami International Airport. He was raised among Catholic, conservative family members, some of whom were Cuban exiles and reserved a strong disdain for leftist politics.

An avid gamer as a teenager, he told New Times he attended the now-defunct Il Savior Academy in Sunset before dropping out in 11th grade. His parents divorced when he was young but raised him together.

His mom described him as a spoiled but generous kid.

"He would give away things that we gave him. He still shares everything," she told New Times.

Tarrio claimed he fell in with the wrong crowd in his mid-teenage years. One of his first major brushes with the law was when he was arrested for stealing a motorcycle around age 20.

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Photo (right) by Joe Raedle/Getty Images and (left) by Enrique Tarrio
Sticky Fingers

The Miami native was charged in 2013 in federal court in a scheme to sell stolen diabetic test strips.

After his arrest, he reportedly worked as an informant and helped the feds build cases against multiple defendants. He had his prison sentence cut nearly in half, to sixteen months.

A law enforcement agent told the court that Tarrio helped locate illegal gambling operations, while his attorney touted Tarrio's role assisting in cases involving a marijuana grow-house and narcotics sales.

Following his release from prison, Tarrio started two businesses, one installing security equipment and the other using GPS tracking for businesses, he told New Times.

Proud Boys Rising

Tarrio joined the Proud Boys' Miami chapter when it was a burgeoning group with a relatively small membership. At the time, the Proud Boys were still headed by founder Gavin McInnes, a Vice Media chief turned provocateur who described his brainchild as a fraternal organization that preaches Western pride and abhors racial guilt.

"I kind of liked Gavin McInnes," Tarrio told New Times. "I do think conservatism is what's going to save America."

Tarrio attended the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right event, among other high-profile rallies, and participated in the group's clashes with leftist protesters around the country. His refusal to shy away from confrontation helped him rise through the ranks and obtain Proud Boys' highest designation as a "fourth-degree" member.

"Tarrio achieved that rating in Portland this past June, after he punched an Antifa protester who threw a shrapnel-covered firework into the crowd, which landed at his feet, video shows," New Times reported in a December 2018 profile.

In October 2018, an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan featured McInnes as speaker, drawing protests and incidents of vandalism at the property. Several Proud Boys who beat up a group of protesters were charged with instigating a riot and attempted assault. The resulting controversy prompted McInnes to announce he was stepping down as head of the Proud Boys.

Tarrio became the new face of the Proud Boys after being selected as chairman of the organization in late 2018.

Busy Bee

Under Tarrio's leadership, the Proud Boys' notoriety ballooned as it gained a reputation as a far-right outfit committed to confrontations with Antifa and leftist protesters. Though many of its high-ranking members were booted off social media for hate speech violations, they continued to recruit members nationwide.

The group's willingness to engage in violent clashes appeared to be galvanized by statements from McInnes.

"Violence doesn't feel good. Justified violence feels great, and fighting solves everything. I want violence. I want punching in the face," he said in February 2017 in regards to a clash between Antifa and the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys hosted gatherings coast to coast in 2019, from the Demand Free Speech Rally in D.C., featuring Laura Loomer and Milo Yiannopoulos to the End Domestic Terror Rally in Portland organized by Tarrio's fellow Florida Proud Boy Joseph Biggs.

Tarrio meanwhile raked in revenue running the "" online merch site, which sold politically charged T-shirts and custom engravings on coins and gun magazines. He buddied up with Republican political operative Roger Stone, who enlisted the Proud Boys for help with Stone's media campaigns.

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, along with tension over COVID-19 lockdowns, created a powder keg political environment in which Tarrio and the Proud Boys thrived. Messages from local Proud Boys Telegram chats showed that members geared up for and reveled in violent confrontations that were escalating around the country.

In August 2020, a vicious brawl erupted at the Back the Blue Rally in Portland during which a Proud Boys-affiliated militant organizer, Alan Swinney, sprayed people with bear mace, brandished a firearm, and severely injured a man by shooting him in the eye with a paintball gun.

At a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden the following month, when moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would disavow violent far-right militia groups, Trump uttered the famous words, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by."

That year, Tarrio filed to run for U.S. Congress, but his campaign raised little money and promptly fizzled out.

Following Trump's defeat, Tarrio and other high-level Proud Boys became progressively more agitated, disillusioned, and resolved to take a militant stand against the government.

"The media constantly accuses us of wanting to start a civil war. Careful what the fuck you ask for. We don't want to start one… but we will sure as fuck finish one," Tarrio posted on November 6, 2020, according to federal court documents.

On November 25 that year, as election fraud conspiracies swirled, Tarrio purportedly posted that the American people are "at war" with Joe Biden.

"No Trump. No Peace. No Quarter," the post stated.
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Sitting in the recording studio of his office on August 23, Tarrio awaits the sentencing for his misdemeanor charges of destruction of property and attempting to possess high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Photo by Joshua Ceballos

Flag Nabber

Two days before the January 6 insurrection, Tarrio was arrested and charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property for burning a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from a historic Black church in Washington, D.C.

The incident was part of a wave of protests in support of Trump following his loss in the 2020 presidential election. Proud Boy members stole the banner from Asbury United Methodist Church on December 12, 2020.

Tarrio also faced weapons charges after police discovered two high-capacity firearm magazines in his possession at the time of his arrest.

After pleading guilty to two charges, Tarrio was sentenced to 155 days in a Washington, D.C., jail in August 2021.

"Mr. Tarrio did not care," Judge Harold Cushenberry said during a hearing. "That's what I think. He cared about himself and self-promotion."

Tarrio learned his fate as he sat inside his studio in Westchester. He appeared unfazed by the news while family in the other room burst into tears upon hearing his sentence.

"Like Jeffrey Epstein, I'm not going to kill myself in jail," Tarrio told New Times following his sentencing.
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Enrique Tarrio
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Fecal Encounters

Just two months into his five-month sentence, Tarrio filed an emergency motion asking to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement in Miami because of "horrendous conditions" inside D.C. Central Detention Center.

He said he had to deal with poop-filled water flooding his cell, guards slamming him into concrete walls, and the constant smell of burning toilet paper that fellow detainees use to light cigarettes.

"For the past four days, I've had water and feces in my cell, and the officers don't give me a way to clean that. I've had to clean other people's feces with my own toilet paper," Tarrio said in his hearing before Judge Jonathan Pittman.

At the hearing, Tarrio appeared starkly different in his orange jumpsuit and glasses in place of his typical black and yellow Proud Boy uniform and black aviator sunglasses. He described how he spent his first month in solitary confinement — 23 hours per day in his cell — although D.C. Department of Corrections maintained he was placed in protective custody for his safety.

His mother compared her son's experience to a "ride in hell."

"He likes to be around people," she told New Times. "He's a talker. And in one hour, you don't have time to shower, use the phone for fifteen minutes, and wait fifteen minutes for a second phone call. There's no time for anything."

Vice City Infighting

Notwithstanding his plea for compassionate release, the former far-right leader had to stick it out in jail for a few more months.

Tarrio did not receive sympathy from members of Miami's Vice City Proud Boys, the chapter he founded in 2018. The group disavowed their former leader and frequently called him a rat after Reuters uncovered Tarrio had worked as an informant for federal law enforcement following his arrest in 2012.

"Enrique Tarrio planned January 6. Why do you think he got taken out the day before and was saying what to do from the sidelines," read a message from the Vice City Proud Boys Telegram chat. "He is now at it again and filed a motion for early release to snitch on more people. Don't know what his hurry is to get out. He is safer in that fucking rat cage than coming back to Miami."

The infighting forced Tarrio to form a new chapter called Villain City. New Times previously reported the Vice City faction was no longer recognized by the national Proud Boys organization and was removed from its official list of chapters in the state despite operating under the Proud Boys title, rules, and bylaws.

"1776 Returns"

Less than two months after he was released from jail for the flag-stealing charge, Tarrio was arrested in Miami and charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"On Jan. 6, the defendants 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," prosecutors alleged.

The feds claimed Tarrio was at the center of the plot and met with other far-right groups to coordinate the siege.

At one point, he traveled to an underground parking garage, where he met with militia group Oathkeepers' founder Stewart Rhodes and other far-right figures on the eve of the January 6 attack, prosecutors alleged.

Tarrio watched the Capitol Hill riots from afar, sidelined by his January 4 arrest. But the feds maintained that he stayed in contact with high-ranking Proud Boys as they stormed the Capitol.

The blueprint for the siege was drawn partly from a document that Tarrio allegedly received from his purported romantic interest, Miami cryptocurrency maven Eryka Gemma Flores. (Gemma was not charged in the case.) The document "1776 Returns" outlined a plan to storm government buildings around the Capitol, including the House and Senate office buildings and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tarrio was charged alongside defendants Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida; Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Washington; Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York.

In correspondence with a Proud Boys member the day of the siege, prosecutors claim, Tarrio sent messages stating, "Make no mistake... We did this."
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Naomi Feinstein is a staff writer at Miami New Times. She was born-and-raised in South Florida and is a graduate of the University of Miami where she majored in journalism and political science. While at UM, Naomi worked for the student-run newspaper The Miami Hurricane and was named the 2021 Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Florida's College Journalist of the Year. She later received her master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein

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