Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio has some ideas of how he’s going to spend his approximately five months in D.C.’s Central Detention Facility. He hopes to re-read a book titled Secret Societies and Psychological Warfare.
In an interview with VICE News conducted six days before he booked himself into the jail on Monday evening, Tarrio said he liked that book in particular, written by an accused conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier, because of its insights into how political movements work.
He’s also writing a book, titled American Warlord, which he’ll sell on an online marketplace affiliated with the Proud Boys.
If the implications of his chosen jail time activities aren’t clear, Tarrio plans to remain fully involved with the far-right movement he’s helmed for almost three years, even while serving a sentence for stealing a Black Lives Matter banner from a historically Black church during a Proud Boys rally, and illegally possessing two high-capacity magazines in D.C. (Hours before surrendering to jail, Tarrio’s attorney filed an emergency appeal for a shorter sentence, accusing the judge of bias.)
“I have no intention of leaving the organization at all,” Tarrio said. Despite his past comments saying he’d step down from his leadership role to focus on local politics, now he says he’s not so sure if he’s ready to give up the throne.
“I won’t be able to fulfill my duties,” said Tarrio, “but I think the guys have it well taken care of.”
While five months isn’t a long time to spend in jail, relatively speaking, Tarrio’s removal from the public sphere comes at a fraught time for the far-right street-fighting gang. Rumors of infighting and splinters escalated after a bombshell Reuters report earlier this year revealed that Tarrio had once worked as a “prolific” federal informant, causing many within the organization to brand him as “a rat.” Some chapters even declared “independence” from the main organization.
Meanwhile, more than 30 individuals with ties to the Proud Boys are now facing charges for their alleged role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol—and some prominent organizers with the group have been hit with serious conspiracy charges (they’ve pleaded not guilty).
There’s not a lot of specific information about how Proud Boys select their leader. Tarrio assumed the role of chairman in late 2018 when the group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, abruptly stepped down after Proud Boys were arrested for a violent brawl in New York City. Tarrio has repeatedly hinted at a re-election process slated for this month, and told VICE News that he’s still deciding whether he wants to run for re-election to remain in control of the entire organization. Regardless, he plans to remain the leader of the Miami Proud Boys (or at least what’s left of it, following a reported mutiny within the chapter). (Disclosure: Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE in the mid-1990s. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He founded the Proud Boys in 2016.)
Despite increased scrutiny on the group and rumors of internal strife, the Proud Boys have remained incredibly active since Jan. 6 by inserting themselves into hyper-local culture war dramas. For example, they’ve worked as security for a far-right evangelical pastor outside a Planned Parenthood in Salem, Oregon; shown up to school board meetings around the country to protest mask mandates; organized their own small-town parade floats; and engaged in protests against the Cuban government in Miami.
They’ve also continued to engage in casual political violence. Last weekend, for example, members of the group appeared to attack and mace an activist and researcher of the far-right in Olympia, Washington. And a recent brawl between Proud Boys and anti-fascists in Portland, Oregon, resulted in bloodshed and gunfire.
As far as reconciling his political aspirations (he once tried, and failed, to run for U.S. Senate out of Florida) with the group’s tendencies toward violence, thuggish behavior, and alliances with white supremacists, Tarrio isn’t too worried.
He insists that from the get-go, there have been disputes over optics. “From the beginning, there have always been two types of Proud Boys. And we, internally, we just call them the rally boys and the party boys—so, like, the activists, and then just the guys that want to hang out and have a beer,” said Tarrio. “We’ve had our bad apples.”
Over the years, Tarrio said, he’s resolved conflicts or simmering beefs between chapters by having them fight it out. “At our national event, every year, we put a boxing ring together, or I rent an octagon, the guys put gloves on, and they just fucking go ham on each other,” he said. But sometimes, he added, “they don’t even want to fight. They get drunk, they slap each other’s asses, they kiss each other on the fucking cheek, lick each other in the fucking face, you know? And I’m like, you guys were just fucking calling each other the most stupidest thing just a month ago.” Tarrio appeared to cherish these moments, describing them as “pretty magical.”
Tarrio and the Proud Boys have a particular knack for glomming onto any simmering culture war du jour. It just so happens that Tarrio is headed to jail as MAGA-types and certain members of Congress have labeled Jan. 6 defendants “political prisoners.” Tarrio isn’t missing an opportunity to latch onto newfound grievances about the justice system under Biden. “It may be me today who is bearing the brunt of an over-politicized Biden Justice Department that caters to the Marxist mob; tomorrow it will be everyday Americans who they will set their sights on,” he said in a statement.
Just before Tarrio surrendered to jail Monday night, he swung by the U.S. Capitol wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of Malcolm X on it and the words “@FreeTheProud Boys; By Any Means Necessary.” On the back of his T-shirt read “THEY CAN’T KILL US ALL” and “#FreeBiggs, #Free Rufio” (in reference to two prominent Proud Boy organizers who have been ordered detained pending the outcome of their cases). He posed for a series of photographs, posted to his Telegram channel; in one he held up a lighter in front of the Capitol. In another, he cradled what appears to be a statue of a ceramic rooster, presumably in reference to the insignia of the group. In a third, he assumed the “V” pose, initially made famous by Nixon and co-opted by Proud Boys ally and former Trump adviser Roger Stone.
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