Proud Boys leader stepping down as far-right group gets into local politics

Enrique Tarrio tells NPR that chauvinist gang will start ‘running our guys for office’

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 29 June 2021 20:21 BST
Capitol rioter attacks police officers as crowd chant 'U-S-A! U-S-A!'

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Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio will step down from his position in September while the group – a far-right, self-described chauvinist gang labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – focuses its efforts around local politics in the aftermath and political fallout from the Capitol insurrection.

In an interview with NPR, Mr Tarrio said he will leave his role as national chairman to focus on his Florida chapter, while other members “start getting more involved in local politics, running our guys for office from local seats, whether it’s a simple GOP seat or a city council seat.”

At least one former Proud Boys member, Joel Campbell, is running for a city council seat in Topeka, Kansas, though he told NPR that if he was to seriously pursue his political ambitions, “I could not be associated with them anymore.”

Over the last several years, staging political violence leading up to the 2020 presidential election and galvanised by Donald Trump after he invoked their name from the debate stage, the Proud Boys have a emerged as a “fascistic, right-wing political bloc” relying on street-level violence in concert with right-wing media and GOP elected officials, according to SPLC senior research analyst Cassie Miller.

“They work symbiotically with right-wing media and a power structure – helmed by Trump – that is eager to clamp down on protesters and enact political revenge on progressive constituencies like Portland,” she wrote.

Dozens of people with alleged ties to the group are among the hundreds of people who were arrested or under investigation in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, with several men charged with conspiring to attack the halls of Congress, fuelled by Mr Trump’s “stolen election” narrative to forcibly overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Prominent Proud Boys members Ethan “Rufio Panman” Nordean and Joe Biggs were among those arrested for obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building.

Mr Tarrio, who was not present during the assault, was charged with two felony counts of possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device and ordered to stay out of the nation’s capital after he was arrested in the city the day before the attack, after he admitted to burning a Black Lives Matter banner from a historic Black church during a violent December rally.

The city’s Metropolitan Police Department had issued an arrest warrant for destruction of property, a misdemeanor offence, last month; he was arrested on 5 January after entering the capital from Miami.

Following his arrest, officers found two magazines, compatible with AR-16 and M4 rifles, in his bookbag.

Mr Tarrio admitted in comments on the right-wing social media platform Parler and on a Proud Boys-affiliated podcast that he was responsible for burning a church’s sign.

“In the burning of the BLM sign, I was the one that lit it on fire,” he said on the War Boys podcast last month. “I was the person that went ahead and put the lighter to it and engulfed it in flames, and I am damn proud that I did.”

In the days before a pro-Trump mob broke into the Capitol, Mr Tarrio promised that the Proud Boys would “turn out in record numbers” on 6 January but the group will be “incognito” without its black-and-yellow outfits, according to Parler posts included in court filings.

Later that month, he was accused of being a “prolific” informant for federal law enforcement since at least 2012, after court records revealed his cooperation with police while undercover, leading to prosecutions for more than a dozen people in cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.

Mr Tarrio has dismissed reports that the group has struggled financially or splintered in the wake of the insurrection and revelations that he allegedly worked with police, telling NPR that chapters are “all on the same page.”

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