He’s already the leader of the Proud Boys, a far-right street fighting club, and now Enrique Tarrio is setting his sights on Congress.Local Florida news outlets reported over the weekend that Tarrio — who has zero political experience — has filed election paperwork for the Sunshine State’s 27th Congressional District, in a bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala in the purple district next November.
His credentials are, shall we say, unusual. The Proud Boys, who describe themselves as “Western chauvinists,” are considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center on account of their Islamophobia, white nationalism, and misogyny. Tarrio, 35, was named chairman of “Proud Boys International” in November of last year, taking over from the organization’s founder, Gavin McInnes. McInnes’ resignation came after nine of his members were arrested for violently brawling with protesters in New York City, following his speaking appearance at the Metropolitan Republican Club. The violence was caught on camera, and showed Proud Boys hurling racist and homophobic slurs at passersby, as well as repeatedly kicking protesters. The arrestees’ sentences ranged from community service to four years in prison. Tarrio insisted that the Proud Boys were acting “in self-defense.”Tarrio has done some time himself: He spent 16 months in federal prison for participating in a scheme to sell stolen medical equipment. Currently, he runs an online store selling Proud Boys and patriotic swag, like T-shirts and caps.He'll first have to use his credentials to secure the GOP nomination, going up against another Republican challenger, former Spanish-language broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. In the swing district, created in 2012, constituents voted for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the last two national elections. Shalala, who took office in January, replaced a moderate, pro-LGBTQ Republican congresswoman.
The fact that Tarrio, who attended the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago, is running at all, is yet another example of how emboldened right-wing extremists are smelling political opportunity in the deep partisan divisions of the Trump era. In 2018, far-right extremists in at least 13 states ran for positions in state or federal government.In a statement to Miami New Times, a spokesperson for Tarrio called Shalala “Hillary Clinton’s puppet” who was trying to move America “towards a Communist police state.”Since his coronation as leader of the Proud Boys in 2018, Tarrio has become somewhat of a local Florida celebrity through his ardent support of former Trump adviser Roger Stone, who’s been frequently photographed with the group and is currently facing charges linked to the Mueller investigation. Tarrio and others have routinely shown up at Stone’s court appearances or Trump events wearing T-shirts saying “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong.”More recently, Tarrio made national headlines when he helped organize a rally in Portland, Oregon, which has become a hotbed of political violence between Proud Boys and antifascist protesters since the 2016 election. Tarrio and his supporters claimed that the point of the rally, which cost was to exercise their First Amendment rights, but he was later caught on camera bragging about how they wasted “all their [Portland]’s fucking resources to make this rally.”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.Cover: Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators march across the Hawthorne Bridge during an "End Domestic Terrorism" rally in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. The group includes organizer Joe Biggs, in green hat, and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, holding megaphone. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)