The Miami native and former leader of the far-right Proud Boys has spent the past 128 days in a Washington, D.C., jail after pleading guilty in August 2021 to burning a Black Lives Matter Flag and possessing high-capacity firearm magazines. For more than four months, Tarrio has sat in a cell, at times enduring what he described as "shitty" conditions, awaiting his return to South Florida's political scene.
But with only days until his January 14 release, the onetime leader of the notorious hate group says the time behind bars has given him time to think — and to decide he no longer wants to lead the Proud Boys.
"Once I get back and organize the mess in South Florida's Proud Boys, I'm gonna take a step back from leadership. It's something I should have done before, and that was my mistake," Tarrio tells New Times in a phone call from inside the D.C. jail.
Before his incarceration in September, Tarrio was the chairman and public face of the Proud Boys, a militant organization that describes itself as a men's drinking club with "Western Chauvinist" values and frequently brawls with leftist protesters at political events.
Proud Boys members — including a number from Florida — have been implicated in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Though Tarrio himself was not at the riot (owing to his January 4 arrest for the flag burning), the former chairman has been sued in his capacity as Proud Boys leader by a host of private parties and government entities for the events that transpired that day and is currently subject to a subpoena from the U.S. House of Representatives January 6 Committee.
He likens all the lawsuits against him to a "war of attrition."
Owing to his ties to the organization and loyalty to its members, Tarrio says he'll never fully leave the Proud Boys, but aside from day-to-day member business, his life post-incarceration will be focused on broader political activism at a local-government level.
"I have a vision of what I'm going to do next, and I'm dying to get started. We've been federal protesters for a long time and I want to get us hyperfocused at a local level," Tarrio says, though he's intentionally vague about the specifics of his plan, including who he's referring to when he says "we."
Without getting into detail, Tarrio says he intends to create a new organization focused on "political activism" and organizing around right-wing causes — not dissimilar to one of his previous ventures, Latinos for Trump, a grassroots political nonprofit where he served as state director for Florida and then chief of staff. His idea is to use the experience from Latinos for Trump and the connections he made with the Proud Boys to organize people in local politics, including school-board meetings, city-council meetings, and municipal elections.
He wants to specifically target the youth and women, demographics that were not always reachable from the confines of a supposed men's drinking club like the Proud Boys.
Tarrio sees this new venture as the next step in the arc of what he calls the "MAGA movement" that started with former President Donald Trump. While the ideology of the group he wants to rally leans right of center, he doesn't describe it as strictly "Republican" or "conservative," but more as a collection of people who supported Trump after feeling disenfranchised.
He wants to specifically target youth and women, demographics that were not always reachable from the confines of an ostensible men's drinking club.
"Moms are a very, very strong force. They count for about 80 to 90 percent of protesters at the school board," Tarrio explains. "I want to get people who wanna go door-knocking, who wanna run for office, people who think the same and just want to grab a sign and a bullhorn and get them organized."
As for the Proud Boys, Tarrio says he'll remain a spokesperson for the organization if he's asked, though he won't put his name in the running. Vice City, the Proud Boys chapter that Tarrio helped found and eventually turned against him under new leadership, is no longer recognized by the wider Proud Boys organization, according to an official Proud Boys Telegram channel. Still, Tarrio says, he wishes that chapter well and wants to help them raise money for their January 6 legal fees when he gets out.
Tarrio is set to be released from jail this Friday, January 14, and return to Miami over the weekend.