Bombshell moment Proud Boys leader finally admits Trump lost 2020 presidential election

Enrique Tarrio’s admission – more than two years after the Capitol riot – came too late to save him from the longest January 6 sentence to date

Rachel Sharp,Alex Woodward
Thursday 07 September 2023 05:09 BST
Related video: Convicted Proud Boys organizer calls Alex Jones from prison

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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As he pleaded with a federal judge for leniency on 5 September, the former leader of the far-right Proud Boys admitted that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

Enrique Tarrio, 39, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for orchestrating a failed plot to keep the former president in power – marking the longest sentence ever to date among the hundreds of cases connected to the Capitol riot on 6 January, 2021, an attack fuelled by Mr Trump’s false narrative that the election was “stolen” from him and “rigged” against him.

Before his sentence was handed down in US District Court in Washington DC, Tarrio apologised for his actions, branded the Capitol riot a “national embarrassment” and vowed that his days of meddling in politics are over.

He also publicly denounced his false claims that the election was “stolen” from Mr Trump.

“My candidate lost,” he admitted.

“What happened on January 6 was a national embarrassment ... I do not think what happened that day was acceptable,” he said.

Choking up with emotion, Tarrio said that he had let his family down with his actions as he begged the judge not to rob him of his 40s behind bars.

“I am not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the results of the election was not my goal,” Tarrio said. “Please show me mercy. I ask you that you not take my 40s from me.”

He added: “When I get back home I want nothing to do with politics, groups, activism or rallies ... and when you walk out that door your honour, I won’t be saying anything other than that.”

But the admission came too late to save him from being hit with the longest prison sentence to date over the Capitol riot that resulted in five deaths and hundreds of law enforcement officers injured.

US District Judge Timothy Kelly said that Tarrio was the “ultimate leader” of the Proud Boys’ conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election in Mr Trump’s favour.

Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years in prison
Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years in prison (AP)

“I do think the evidence of Mr Tarrio’s leadership was, quite frankly, evident during trial,” the judge said. “I do find the evidence shows that Mr Tarrio was on the top of the command structure with regard to the planning of the offence.”

January 6 “broke our previously unbroken tradition of peacefully transferring power,” he added.

Tarrio was among four members of the group convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes earlier this year following a four-month trial.

A jury determined that Tarrio, as the group’s leader, organised and directed a mob towards the US Capitol, where Proud Boys dismantled barricades and broke windows to breach the halls of Congress, then bragged about their actions on social media and in group chat messages that were later shared with jurors.

He served as a “naturally charismatic leader, a savvy propagandist, and the celebrity Chairman” of the group, wielding his influence over his subordinates and allies to “organize and execute the conspiracy to forcibly stop the peaceful democratic transfer of power” as lawmakers convened to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, federal prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Tarrio instead used his talents “to inflame and radicalise untold numbers of followers, promoting political violence in general and orchestrating the charged conspiracies in particular,” they argued.

Federal sentencing guidelines indicated Tarrio could have faced 27 to 33 years in prison. Prosecutors sought a sentence of 33 years.

As he did with other Proud Boys cases, Judge Kelly applied what is called a terrorism “enhancement” to the sentencing guidelines but refrained from imposing larger prison sentences for crimes he has contrasted to mass casualty events.

Proud Boys members including Zachary Rehl, left, Ethan Nordean, center, and Joseph Biggs, walk toward the US Capitol on January 6
Proud Boys members including Zachary Rehl, left, Ethan Nordean, center, and Joseph Biggs, walk toward the US Capitol on January 6 (AP)

Four other members of the group were sentenced last week for their roles in the attack. Ethan Nordean received a sentence of 18 years in prison, tying Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for what is now the second-longest sentence to date among the hundreds of people convicted in connection with January 6.

Joe Biggs was sentenced to 17 years, Zachary Rehl was sentenced to 15 years, and Dominic Pezzola – the sole co-defendant among them who was not convicted of seditious conspiracy – was sentenced to 10 years.

Tarrio’s verdict marked the first successful seditious conspiracy conviction against a January 6 defendant who was not physically at the Capitol that day – he was barred from entering Washington DC after he was arrested for burning a Black Lives Matter banner outside a church during a riot weeks earlier. He watched the insurrection from a hotel room in Baltimore.

During the Proud Boys trial, prosecutors presented hundreds of internal messages revealing the group’s culture of violence and preparations for an attack in the weeks leading up to January 6.

Prosecutors argued that Proud Boys were not merely obedient followers of then-President Trump’s commands but were preparing for “all-out war” to undermine millions of Americans’ votes and upend a democratic election to preserve his presidency.

In the insurrection’s aftermath, Tarrio wrote on the social media platform Parler that “when the government fears the people, there is liberty,” a post he accompanied with a photo of House members ducking for cover.

“When he wrote those words, Tarrio was not referring to politicians’ fear of being voted out of office,” prosecutors wrote. “He was speaking concretely and approvingly about what the members of Congress and their staffs were experiencing that very afternoon: fear of injury and death at the hands of a vicious mob that included Tarrio’s own hand-picked soldiers.”

Defence attorney Sabino Jauregui claimed that his client was simply a “misguided patriot” who never intended to “bring down” the government. Tarrio’s attorneys sought unsuccessfully to separate Tarrio from the destructive actions of other Proud Boys on the ground.

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