After Reuters broke the news that Enrique Tarrio, 36, the current chairman of the Proud Boys, was a “prolific” police informant, online supporters and members of the right-wing extremist group were defiant, suspicious, and in disbelief at the revelation their leader was reportedly a rat.
On Telegram, a popular messaging app on the far right, reactions to the story came hard, fast, and varied: some believed this was the classic case of a "fake news” smear campaign, while others said his treachery was all an attempt to counter the “Deep State” and antifascist activists.
“Enrique has my support as the leader of the Proud Boys—period!” said one supporter in a Telegram exchange with other Tarrio supporters. Another user was skeptical at the news: “Is this fact or fake news? I never pegged Enrique as an informant.”
“They’re trying to take down the Proud Boys—our beacon of light—we won’t let that happen so no worries,” wrote another Proud Boys fan.
But a former prosecutor in Miami involved in Tarrio’s case confirmed to Reuters that Tarrio had unquestionably been a key informant in both FBI and local police investigations.
“He cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises,” said Vanessa Singh Johannes in a statement, “ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes.”
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In a court transcript from a 2014 proceeding in Miami, an FBI agent and Tarrio’s own lawyer clearly stated that he was an undercover for authorities, helping gather evidence in cases that ultimately prosecuted over a dozen people.
In the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence that Tarrio was a police snitch, others on the far right went into full damage control mode justifying his actions as acceptable, without a clear understanding of what (if anything) the alleged undercover work actually involved.
“I read it earlier this morning,” said one Telegram user in a chat about the news. “I have no problem with someone informing on human trafficking, child trafficking, kiddie porn, or animal abuse. That's Just me." (No court documents, whatsoever, support claims that Tarrio’s undercover work heroically exposed a cabal of pedophiles.)
On Wednesday afternoon, Tarrio broke his hours of silence to finally address his supporters in a screed published on his public-facing Telegram channel in which he accused Reuters of sensationalizing his cooperation with law enforcement as part of a larger conspiracy to destabilize the Proud Boys.
“You are seeing the media and government propaganda machine work in real time,” Tarrio wrote. “We’re known because of our work.. Work that will never end no matter how much weight is put upon our shoulders. They’ve silenced us...demonetized us...used us as a scapegoat for their own failures...and most importantly...put us in fucking chains.”
(Disclosure: Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE Media. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He founded the Proud Boys organization in 2016.)
Tarrio then followed up with an ominous reference to conspiracy theories surrounding the death of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead from suicide inside his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. “I will NEVER commit suicide,” Tarrio wrote. “Just in case anyone needed to know.”
A former one-time leader and lawyer of the Proud Boys, Jason Lee Van Dyke, told VICE News that he knew Tarrio personally and never suspected he was snitching on the activities of the group to authorities.
“I was surprised as anybody to hear about it,” he said, “Because I was in [the Proud Boys] for two years. And there was never anything indicating to me that he was an informant.”
Van Dyke is a controversial figure who is no longer affiliated with the Proud Boys. He was revealed to have attempted joining neo-Nazi terror group the Base and is known for a messy court battle with a rival.
He told VICE News the group was supportive of the common police officer, but said federal agents were not viewed favorably within the streetfighting organization filled with self-described “Western chauvinists.”
“The group saw the rank and file police officers having a lot of the same beliefs of their own,” he said. “A local cop and an ATF agent would be treated totally differently by the Proud Boys. Rank and file police officers would have a lot more respect.”
Van Dyke maintained the group never had any informants that he was aware of, but allegations of members being informants did occur often. Sometimes they would then be dragged in front of their local chapter’s “Proud Boy Sharia Court.
At past Proud Boy events, Tarrio regularly flaunted his cordial relationship with local police. Proud Boys, who were once staunchly pro-cop, seemed to revel in the notion that police viewed them as cooperative and law-abiding—as opposed to “antifa,” their common enemy.
That special relationship between law enforcement and Proud Boys began unraveling around December, when pro-Trump protesters found themselves up against police who were unwilling to get behind the “Stop the Steal” movement. When Tarrio was arrested days before the attempted insurrection at the Capitol, Proud Boy supporters quickly turned on police‚ even calling to burn down D.C. police HQ, which they accused of colluding with antifa.
Correction (01/29/21): This story has been updated to accurately characterize someone with whom Van Dyke had a court battle.