Enrique Tarrio, the Miami-based leader of the far-right Proud Boys group, has been arrested in Washington, D.C. Police say he burned a Black Lives Matter banner that was stolen from a Black church, reports the New York Times . The incident occurred in December during a protest mounted by supporters of President Donald Trump.
According to the Times, Tarrio has been charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property; the 36-year-old was also charged with weapons violations after two high-capacity firearm magazines were found in his possession when he was taken into custody earlier today.
Tarrio and other Proud Boys are in D.C. ahead of a protest planned for Wednesday, when the presidential election results are expected to be certified. The Proud Boys are among Trump's staunchest defenders, and they've been prominent figures in recent protests in the nation's capital that have turned violent. The protesters have falsely claimed that the election was "stolen" from Trump.
.@DCPoliceDept & #FBIWFO are seeking suspects in a Destruction of Property offense that occurred on 12/12/20 in the 1500 blk of M St, NW. If you have info, contact MPD: call (202) 727-9099/text 50411. #WantedWednesday https://t.co/7jk3IMogtV pic.twitter.com/rKPPsP1ifq— FBI Washington Field (@FBIWFO) December 16, 2020
The Black Lives Matter banner was torn down from the Asbury United Methodist Church on December 12, the date of one of the most violent protests. Tarrio told the Washington Post in a December 18 interview that he participated in burning the banner, although he said he did not tear it down.
"If they want to get me for destruction of property, I won't even give them a fight," he said at the time. "I'll tell them [I'm] guilty."
Tarrio did not immediately respond to a voicemail from New Times seeking comment on his arrest.
Although the banner-burning charge is a misdemeanor, Tarrio could face enhanced penalties if prosecutors pursue the case as a hate crime.
In addition to the criminal charge, Tarrio faces a lawsuit for a separate incident of property destruction at another historically Black D.C. church, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (AME). Lawyers for the church say the Proud Boys hopped a fence and stole a Black Lives Matter sign from the church on December 12 — the same day as the banner burning incident. The lawsuit calls the incident a hate crime.
"During a time of year that is meant to be joyous and restful, the congregants, staff, and church leadership instead had to endure and respond to a hate crime," the complaint states. "While the congregation remains determined to continue Metropolitan AME’s legacy of fighting for racial justice, the attack has created a sense of heightened awareness of how dangerous it can be for Black people to speak out against white supremacy."
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