Enrique Tarrio seen in a mugshot.
Ever since Proud Boys head honcho Enrique Tarrio found himself facing down a mountain of legal problems linked to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, he’s been hawking T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Enrique Tarrio Did Nothing Wrong.”
On Tuesday, that sentiment got a firm slapdown by Judge Timothy Kelly, who found, on the contrary, that Enrique Tarrio did a lot of things wrong — enough to earn him 22 years behind bars, the harshest sentence yet in a Jan. 6 case.
“I do think the evidence supports the inference that Mr Tarrio was the ultimate leader, the ultimate person who organized, who was motivated by revolutionary zeal,” said Kelly, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017. “That conspiracy ended up with about 200 men amped up, surrounding the Capitol, prepared for battle, led by his co-defendants.”
Tarrio, 39, who held the title of “chairman” in the far-right street-fighting gang since 2018, appeared in court wearing a long white-sleeved undershirt under his orange jumpsuit and his head clean-shaven.
He appeared to listen carefully to Judge Timothy Kelly as he ran through sentencing guidelines, occasionally taking notes, stroking his neatly-coiffed beard and adjusting his dark-rimmed glasses.
Tarrio’s quiet demeanor in the DC courthouse on Tuesday was a sharp contrast to the bombast and snark that he’s known for (once, in an earlier interview with VICE News regarding a separate legal proceeding involving a Black church, he told a reporter that he’d be “happy to drag my balls across their face in court”).
When he took the stand before learning his sentence, Tarrio offered, for the first time, an apology for Jan. 6 and an acknowledgement that his candidate, Trump, lost the 2020 election.
“This trial has humbled me,” Tarrio said in a steady voice. “What happened on January 6th was a national embarrassment.”
As he continued to read from his statement, his voice grew increasingly husky with emotion, and his words interrupted by occasional sniffing. “I do not think what happened that day was acceptable,” Tarrio said, before appealing directly to the judge to “not take my 40s from me” because he wishes to start a family.
Tarrio wasn’t actually present for the riot on Jan. 6. He’d been arrested two days prior, on his way into Washington D.C., on charges related to stealing a Black Lives Matter banner from a church and burning it during an earlier protest. Tarrio previously served five months in prison for that offense.
Following his arrest on Jan. 4, a judge ordered him to stay away from D.C, so he watched the mayhem unfold at the Capitol from his hotel room TV in Baltimore.
But even in his absence, Tarrio was still calling the shots on Jan. 6, argued Justice Department prosecutor Conor Mulroe. “The actions of that group [the Proud Boys] were absolutely pivotal to what happened on January 6th, and they followed directly from the plotting and planning of their leader, Enrique Tarrio,” Mulroe said. “Enrique Tarrio was THE leader of this conspiracy.”
Earlier in the proceeding, Judge Kelly noted that it was Tarrio who sought permission from Proud Boy elders to establish a special chapter called the “Ministry of Self Defense” or “MOSD” around the same time that Trump called on his supporters to travel to D.C. And, it was Tarrio who organized meetings and created rules for this special chapter that became a planning hub in the lead-up to Jan. 6, and who actively tried to stay in contact with other members on the day.
“I do find Tarrio was the top of the command structure,” said Kelly.
Throughout the course of the trial, jurors were shown damning voice memos and chats from the MOSD group, created weeks prior to Jan. 6, showing Tarrio and others gloating about the riot as it unfolded and afterwards. “Make no mistake, we did this,” Tarrio wrote, 15 minutes after the initial breach.
Mulroe also underscored what he described as Tarrio’s apparent lack of remorse, pointing to public statements he made after Jan. 6. “I’m not denouncing shit,” Tarrio posted on Jan. 9. “I’m done giving concessions. Not a single ounce of virtue-signaling will be shown. So you can fuck right off. Denounce this dick.”
Tarrio also made other statements, like “Proud Boys did nothing wrong” and “Enrique Tarrio did nothing wrong,” slogans which became rallying cries and grift potential, as they were emblazoned on T-shirts and sold online.
Tarrio’s lawyers, in their plea for leniency, pointed to his stint cooperating with law enforcement after he was accused of fraud in 2012. His lawyers asked the judge to “see another side of him [Tarrio]—one that is benevolent, cooperative with law enforcement, useful in the community, hardworking and with a tight-knit family unit and community support.”
Tarrio’s lawyer Nayib Hassan pointed to his client’s past volunteer work, such as “his involvement with Toys for Tots and helping children.” Hassan also sought to downplay Tarrio’s proclivity for shit-talking and making incendiary statements as just idle chatter with the goal of “fluffing himself up.”
“My client is no terrorist,” Sabino Jauregui, one of Tarrio’s other lawyers, said earlier on Tuesday as he unsuccessfully tried to dissuade Judge Kelly from tacking on a terrorism enhancement to one of the counts. “My client is a misguided patriot. My client thought he was saving this country, saving this republic.”
Tarrio and three of his top lieutenants were convicted by a jury in May on seditious conspiracy charges after a drawn-out five month-long trial that routinely saw the federal courthouse in DC descend into chaos due to the defendants’ squabbling lawyers.
Last week, Joe Biggs, a national Proud Boy organizer from Florida, was sentenced to 17 years (prosecutors had sought 33 years). He spoke briefly after he received his sentence and became emotional. “I’m not a terrorist, I don’t hate people,” Biggs told the courtroom, according to reporter Brandi Buchman.
Ethan Nordean, 32, who led Seattle’s Proud Boy chapter, was also sentenced last week to 18 years (prosecutors sought 27 years for him). Zachary Rehl, 37, leader of the Philadelphia Proud Boys got 15 years (short of the 30 years prosecutors asked for). Both men appeared to express remorse for their actions that day.
Dominic Pezzola, a 45-year-old low-ranking Proud Boy who was relatively new in the gang at the time of the Capitol riot and was responsible for the first breach into the building (he was seen on video smashing the window of the Capitol with a stolen police shield) was sentenced last week to 10 years.
“I stand before you with a heart full of regret,” a sobbing Pezzola said as he was sentenced. But as he was led out of the courtroom, he raised his fist and shouted “TRUMP WON!” according to reporter Jordan Fischer.
The government’s sprawling investigation into the Capitol riot, which has resulted in over 1,000 arrests, zeroed in on two groups as being the primary instigators: the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers, an anti-government militia. Six Oath Keepers in total, including the group’s founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. Rhodes, 57, was sentenced in May to 18 years. Dozens of Proud Boys have been convicted of lesser charges.
Despite their leaders facing decades behind bars and unprecedented levels of scrutiny on the gang, the Proud Boys have continued to operate brazenly since Jan. 6. They’ve cemented their reputation as the footsoldiers of the far-right, mobilizing around whatever the culture war issue du jour is (these days, that’s primarily drag events) while forging ties with local right-wing activists, including groups like Moms for Liberty and strengthening extremist alliances in their communities.
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