The leader of the Proud Boys extremist group has been sentenced to five months in prison for burning a Black Lives Matter banner and bringing high-capacity magazines to Washington DC two days before the Capitol riots.
Enrique Tarrio, who has led the far-right extremist organisation since 2018, told the court he was “profusely” sorry for his actions, calling them a “grave mistake”.
Tarrio was a part of a group that stole and set alight a Black Lives Matter banner on display in a Washington church on 12 December last year, following a pro-Trump rally.
The 39-year-old was arrested when he returned to DC on 4 January, shortly before the Capitol riots, and was found with two high-capacity magazines that are banned under the city’s strict gun control laws.
Tarrio said the magazines, emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo, were for someone who has purchased them, according to a police report.
He was ordered to stay away from Washington, where thousands descended two days later to violently disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over then president Donald Trump.
Law enforcement later said Tarrio was picked up in part to help quell potential violence.
Reverend Dr Ianther Mills, senior pastor of the Asbury United Methodist Church, told the court the burning of his church’s banner was an “act of intimidation and racism” that caused “immeasurable and possibly irreparable harm” on the community.
“His careless act of violence and hatred, targeted at a congregation of individuals with a lived history of social and racial injustice, had the presumably desired effect,” she said.
“Asbury was forced to reckon with the very tangible evidence that we continue to live in a world where people radicalize hate based upon race and skin colour.”
Tarrio pleaded guilty in July to destruction of property and attempted possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device.
A police spokesman told The Associated Press in December that investigators were probing the events as potential hate crimes, but no hate crime charges were filed against Tarrio.
The judge said Tarrio deserved even more time behind bars than the three months that prosecutors had sought.
Judge Harold Cushenberry criticised the Proud Boys leader for claiming that he didn’t know that the banner came from a church even though there was a video of Tarrio standing near the church when it was stolen.
“Mr Tarrio has clearly – intentionally and proudly – crossed the line from peaceful protest and assembly to dangerous and potentially violent criminal conduct,” the judge said.
Proud Boys members describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists”. Its members frequently have engaged in street fights with antifascist activists at rallies and protests.
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Authorities have narrowed in on the Proud Boys and other extremist groups, like the Oath Keepers, in their investigation into the Capitol riots that sent politicians running and injured dozens of law enforcement officers.
Nearly 600 people have been charged in relation to the Capitol insurrection, but some of the most serious charges – involving accusations of planning to block the certification of the vote – have been filed against members of the extremist groups.
About three dozen people charged have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates.
In one case, four group leaders have been charged with conspiring to impede the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Tarrio hasn’t been charged in the Capitol attack.
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