The leader of the far-right group Proud Boys was arrested by police in Washington on Monday for participating in the burning of a church’s Black Lives Matter banner.
According to a District of Columbia police spokesperson, 36-year-old Henry “Enrique” Tarrio was charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property in connection with the burning of the banner stolen from Asbury United Methodist Church during a Dec 12 rally.
Spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck said that Tarrio, the Afro-Cuban international chairman of the Proud Boys who lives in Miami, was arrested shortly after he arrived in the city as a warrant was issued for his arrest, the Associated Press reports.
Tarrio’s arrest comes ahead of protests in the nation’s capital this week organized by supporters of President Donald Trump. The president’s supporters are convening this week as Congress is expected to vote to affirm former Vice President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Tarrio is also facing a weapons charge as police found two high-capacity firearm magazines when he was detained, according to AP.
He previously told The Washington Post that he was among those who participated in the banner burning last month.
The former congressional candidate was still in custody Monday night. The newspaper notes that he could appear Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court and that the U.S. attorney’s office could alter the charges brought against him by D.C. police.
As previously reported, a similar pro-Trump protest held last month in Washington, D.C., saw protesters burning Black Lives Matter banners and signs at historically black churches.
Police investigated the incidents at Asbury United Methodist Church and Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church as potential hate crimes. Two other churches were also said to have been vandalized on Dec. 12.
Asbury Senior Pastor Rev. Ianther M. Mills compared the incident to “cross burnings” in a lengthy statement posted to Facebook at the time.
“For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings,” she wrote. “Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head. We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened.”
“We are a people of faith. As horrible and disturbing as this is for us now — it doesn't compare with the challenges and fears the men and women who started Asbury, 184 years ago, faced,” she added. “So, we will move forward, undaunted in our assurance that Black Lives Matter and we are obligated to continue to shout that truth without ceasing. We are assured that our church is surrounded by God's grace and mercy.”
Despite the arrest, Tarrio is still active on Twitter and has responded to reports of his arrest with emojis and GIFs stating “Oh Happy Day.”
Tarrio ran for the U.S. House to represent Florida’s 27th Congressional District. However, he withdrew before the Republican primary in August.
This week, the Metropolitan AME Church filed a lawsuit against the Proud Boys in D.C. Superior Court over damage sustained during the December rally. The lawsuit names Tarrio and other John Doe members of the group that are believed to have participated in the banner burning, according to WTOP.
The Proud Boys have faced much criticism in the national media over the last few years as the group has been active in expressing their support for Trump and have been involved in violent clashes.
In October, Tarrio denounced racism and white supremacy as he tried to shoot down attempts to conflate Proud Boys with white nationalism.
“I denounce white supremacy. I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other ism that is prejudice towards people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin,” Tarrio said during an interview with WSVN.
During the lead-up to the 2020 general election, Trump was criticized for not clearly denouncing white supremacists and the Proud Boys group during a presidential debate. Trump later issued a clear denunciation.
"I've said it many times, and let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing. But I condemn that," Trump said on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.
Tarrio explained last month that he would plead guilty to a destruction of property charge and even pay the church the cost of the banner but said he would not admit to committing a hate crime because the action was not motivated by race, religion or political ideology, according to The Washington Post.
Rather, he said that the action was committed because he believes the Black Lives Matter movement “has terrorized the citizens of this country.”
As clashes between protesters and counterprotesters led to at least four stabbings and more than 30 arrests on Dec. 12, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller approved on Monday a request from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to deploy D.C. National Guard to support local police during the demonstrations this week.
Bowser last month put much of the blame for last month's clashes on the Proud Boys group, calling the group “avowed white nationalists” who have “been called to stand up against a fair and legal election.”
After the four stabbings, authorities accused the Proud Boys and Trump supporters of looking for a fight. But Tarrio claimed that Proud Boys supporters reacted to being attacked.