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Proud Boy Leader Arrested Hours After Historic Black Church Sues Over Black Lives Matter Sign Destruction


Members of the Proud Boys kick a member of Antifa on the ground during a protest on Dec. 12, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Hours after being sued by an historic Black church accusing his group of “terror” and “vandalism,” Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested on Monday for the destruction of a Black Lives Matter sign hanging from another one.

A Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said that Tarrio, 36, was arrested upon entering Washington, D.C. pursuant to a warrant and that authorities found two high-capacity firearm magazines on him, leading to an additional charge of possession. The development falls mere hours after the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church sued the Proud Boys and its leader in a lawsuit accusing them of acts of “terror” and vandalism that opened up “a new and dangerous chapter in the long and terrible history of white supremacist mob violence targeting Black houses of worship.”

The Black church’s civil suit opens a window into the Dec. 12 protest where Proud Boys are suspected of destroying two signs supporting the racial justice movement.

In media interviews, Tarrio proudly proclaimed he destroyed one from different historic Black church: Asbury United Methodist, the act for which he was arrested.

He has not been charged for the destruction at Metropolitan A.M.E.

“White supremacists like the Proud Boys, would rather see the country burn than to see it united together under justice and freedom for all,” Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “Black churches and other religious institutions have a long and ugly history of being targeted by white supremacists in racist and violent attacks meant to intimidate and create fear. Our lawsuit aims to hold those who engage in such action accountable.”

On Dec. 12, hundreds of Proud Boys stormed around Washington, D.C., in protests that devolved into melees with counterprotesters. In addition to four stabbings, where the motives of the suspect were not immediately clear, there was also a reported gunshot during similar protests across the country in Olympia, Washington. The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church—the spiritual home of many legendary Black figures like Frederick Douglass—called it “no accident” that the Proud Boys visited and damaged its property.

“For several months, defendants planned and coordinated their efforts, both on the internet and in person,” the complaint states. “They exhorted each other with inflammatory language: ‘buy ammo [and] clean your guns’ and ‘[t]onight we don’t sleep . . . . Tonight we keep our enemies awake. Tonight we become nightmares.'”

Tarrio, the Proud Boys chairman, boasted to the Washington Post about the sign-burning from the Asbury United Methodist, which is not a party to the new lawsuit.

Sharing an article headline “Proud boys chairman says he is ‘damn proud’ for burning the Black Lives Matter banner of a historic Black church after Trump march,” Tarrio took a screenshot of coverage of his Asbury United Methodist admission and posted another chest-thumping declaration on Parler: “I’ll say it again… and I’ll say it loud for the people in the back… I’M DAMN PROUD I DID IT!”

The screenshot of the post is included in the complaint, which quotes approval from his far-right brethren: “Proud of your f*cking boy, Enrique,” the group’s organizer Joe Biggs is quoted as saying.

On Dec. 22, Tarrio remained unrepentant after sharing a graphic mocking the possibility of an FBI investigation into his act as a hate crime.

“I’LL FUCKING DO IT AGAIN,” Tarrio posted.

Metropolitan A.M.E. says that social media evidence points to the Proud Boys’ role in the destruction of their Black Lives Matter sign, too, allegedly scaling a fence and trespassing onto their property to accomplish the deed.

“A Twitter video of the attack on Metropolitan AME shows one Proud Boy, wearing a black beret with yellow insignia, breaking from the pack to turn to the sidewalk and raise both hands in the ‘ok’ hand signal—a hand signal used by members of far-right organizations to express support for white supremacy,” the complaint states. “This hand signal is commonly used by Proud Boys members including defendant Tarrio, as shown in the photo below.”

Outgoing President Donald Trump’s refusal to denounce the group during a debate with President-elect Joe Biden and his cryptic remarks that their members should “stand down and standby” has been interpreted by many, including some in the Proud Boys’ ranks, as a tacit endorsement and call for vigilantism.

As Trump embraces desperate last-ditch efforts to stay in power, Proud Boys have answered his call on Twitter to take to the streets on Jan. 6. Tarrio called for “1000 boots on the ground” on that date, saying that the group will go “incognito” rather than wear their “traditional Black and Yellow” colors, according to the complaint.

Metropolitan AME wants punitive damages, a declaration that group violated the D.C. Bias-Related Crime Act, and a possible injunction, leveling five counts including bias-related conspiracy, conversion, trespass, and intentional destruction of religious property.

Citing a Nov. 20th episode of the group’s show WarBoys, the civil rights group said their ranks also plan to disrupt Biden’s inauguration to Jan. 20.

Read the complaint below:

(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."