Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, center, and demonstrators wearing Proud Boys attire gather in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, center, and demonstrators wearing Proud Boys attire gather in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (Photo: Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Black Church That Could Bankrupt the Proud Boys

Proud Boy figures control a web of limited liability companies hawking protein supplements, FAFO merchandise, and $200 bullhorns.
April 8, 2021, 2:23pm

What would it take to bankrupt the Proud Boys? 

One of the oldest historically Black churches in America may soon find out. 

Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the Proud Boys’ leader, has so far refused to answer a lawsuit filed on January 4 by the Metropolitan AME Church accusing him and other members of committing acts of terror by destroying Black Lives Matter signs in Washington, D.C., in December. 

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And that leaves the downtown-D.C. church days away from a likely default victory, legal experts say—one that could hand the church, founded in 1872, the power to blow the lid off the notorious street-fighting gang’s murky financial empire, begin hunting down its assets, and stake a claim on what it finds. 

Tarrio dismissed that possibility out of hand.

"The Proud Boys is not a legal entity, so I don't know what money they'd go after,” he told VICE News. “If they try to go after mine, I'd be happy to drag my balls across their face in court.”

Such bravado may prove misplaced, legal experts said, if the church’s high-powered legal team secures the court’s blessing to start searching for assets. 

A review of business records by VICE News suggests top Proud Boys leaders have links to a network of LLCs in Florida and elsewhere, crowdfunding operations, and at least one online store selling Proud Boys–branded merch. These companies have hawked protein powder, gun-themed T-shirts, and even hoodies on behalf of former President Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone. Others, like the suggestively-named Daiquiri Brothers LLC based in Hawaii, only hint at a purpose.

Staking a claim on assets that aren’t transparently controlled by defendants named in the lawsuit would be a complex legal affair even if the church wins, legal experts said. And it would likely require further courtroom wrangling, as well as a decision by the church to move forward with claiming any damages awarded by the judge. 

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But if the church does go there, it could also unravel the inner workings of the high-profile far-right gang, reveal how the group funds its operations—and, potentially, force the Proud Boys to hand over assets, or even members’ personal property, to the church. 

“Once they get a judgement, they can enforce it with subpoenas and court-ordered depositions,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia. “If that happens, the leader of the Proud Boys could run, but he can’t hide.”

“Targeting Black houses of worship”

About a month before the Capitol riot of January 6, the Proud Boys took to D.C. in droves as part of the so-called Million MAGA March, on Dec. 12. Police say four churches were vandalized that day, and that four people were stabbed and 33 arrested in clashes between pro-Trump groups and counterprotesters in downtown Washington. 

A video from that weekend shows a group of Proud Boys chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Fuck antifa!” as they tear down a Black Lives Matter sign from outside the Metropolitan AME Church. Another video shows Proud Boys gathered around another Black Lives Matter sign stolen from a different church, pouring gasoline on it and setting it on fire. 

Tarrio was later arrested and charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property over the burned banner and two felony counts for allegedly possessing large-capacity gun magazines. Tarrio pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

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“The conduct of the Proud Boys in Washington, D.C., on December 12, 2020, amounted to a new and dangerous chapter in the long and terrible history of white supremacist mob violence targeting Black houses of worship,” the Metropolitan AME’s lawsuit reads. 

Tarrio is the only Proud Boy specifically named in the church’s civil complaint, which also targets eight unidentified members dubbed “John Does 1-8,” and a limited liability company called Proud Boys International LLC. 

Tarrio called the lawsuit “frivolous and ridiculous” in an interview with The Washington Times in February, and said he hadn’t hired a lawyer. 

“To be honest with you, I don’t care,” Tarrio told the paper. “They’re not going to get anything out of me. If they want to parade this win, that’s fine.”

Legal experts, however, said that collecting from Tarrio would be the relatively straightforward part, if he loses. Collecting from the others would be a lot tougher. 

The unnamed Proud Boys would need to be identified—although media scrutiny of the group, as well as subsequent high-profile indictments connected to the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol nearly a month later, have already shed light on some top-ranking members. 

Jason Lee Van Dyke, the lawyer who established Proud Boys International LLC, served as the group’s interregnum leader for just two days following Gavin McGinnes’ departure, which he announced Nov. 21, 2018. During his very short tenure, he inadvertently released the names of the eight Proud Boy “Elders,” which included Ethan Nordean, a Seattle-area Proud Boy currently facing serious conspiracy charges for his alleged actions on January 6. Nordean pleaded not guilty

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(Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He later founded the Proud Boys in 2016.)

Van Dyke wrote in a letter to the church’s lawyers that he hasn't represented the real Proud Boys for more than two years and that Proud Boys International LLC is “defunct and has no assets.” 

That hasn’t stopped the church’s legal team, which includes a former federal prosecutor who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe named Jeannie Rhee, from pressing forward with their lawsuit.  

If the church wins, it could move on to a next step that would involve attempting to identify the Proud Boys involved in the incident and attaching its claim to them specifically, legal experts said. 

“You could potentially take their houses, and run them into the ground,” said Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor. “They might have thought they were just having some fun with a little sign-burning, only to have their financial future placed under a permanent cloud.”

“Fuck around and find out” 

Being a Proud Boy isn’t necessarily cheap. In fact, it may have gotten even more expensive over the years. 

Under Tarrio’s leadership, the group has increasingly focused on large-scale meetups that might entail air travel for some members, plus accommodations, not to mention copious amounts of beer and White Claw. 

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For example, Proud Boys drew significant numbers to Washington, D.C., three times between November 14 and January 6. They’ve typically stayed at the Harrington Hotel (aside from during January 6, when that hotel shuttered its doors ahead of time), where room rates are about $100 to $150 a night. The Proud Boys have also adopted a more militarized look in the last year—leaving them forking out for tactical vests, BaoFeng radios, and other gear, which they wear alongside their black and yellow uniform. 

Broadly speaking, the business of being a Proud Boy entails paying or collecting $25 membership dues, raising money for Proud Boy events, or streaming on monetized platforms like DLIVE. There’s also the 1776 Shop, an online marketplace affiliated with the Proud Boys, which sells $200 bullhorns emblazoned with Infowars stickers, album art for a Proud Boy anthem “Antifa Hoes,” and caps featuring popular Proud Boy acronyms like “FAFO” (“Fuck Around and Find Out”), “POYB” (Proud Of Your Boy), or “RWDS” (Right Wing Death Squad). These days, a lot of Proud Boy activity has involved crowdfunding large amounts of cash in short amounts of time to pay for legal fees stemming from the deadly Capitol riot and other incidents. 

Tarrio, for example, raised $80,000 through the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo after he was arrested on his way into D.C. on January 4 on a warrant related to the banner-burning incident, and oversized gun magazines were allegedly found in his bag. 

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There’s even Murder the Media, a Proud Boy–affiliated “news company” whose name was scrawled on the side of the Capitol on January 6. 

Do you have information about the Proud Boys? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Tess Owen and Greg Walters by Wire @tesstess or email tess.owen@vice.com and greg.walters@vice.com

And then there’s the web of LLCs surrounding the Proud Boys, which offer a glimpse into their side hustles, short-lived dreams, and business relationships past and present.

For example, Proud Boy “Elder” Nordean (aka Rufio Panman, a nickname inspired by a character from Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film “Hook”) sold protein powders for $40 a tub through a company Bangarang Elite Supplements LLC, which he created in 2017. His business partner at the time was Trevor Davidson, who was moonlighting as a law enforcement officer with the Everett Police Department in Washington (he’s since moved to Renton Police Department 40 miles south). Davidson told the Seattle Times he’s not involved with Nordean anymore. A Renton Police Department spokesperson told the Times that Davidson “met Mr. Nordean at church in 2017,” and the two bonded over their shared interest in working out, “so they created a supplement business.” 2017 was also the year that Nordean began showing up to events held by Patriot Prayer, a far-right group active in the Pacific Northwest. 

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Then there’s Daiquiri Brothers, established in April 2020 in Honolulu by the leader of Proud Boys Hawaii, Nick Ochs, a “reporter” from Murder the Media who was arrested the day after the Capitol riot. It’s not clear whether Daiquiri Brothers sells daiquiris or any sort of cocktail for that matter, but it’s worth noting that a 2019 speaking appearance in Honolulu by professional far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos was promoted by Daiquiri Brothers Entertainment. Ochs has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the Capitol riot. 

Meanwhile, West Palm Beach Proud Boy Robert Piccirillo (aka Bobby Pickles) runs a company called Fat Enzo LLC, which prints stylized images of Italian-American mobsters and serial killers like Ted Bundy, and Hunter S. Thompson slogans on T-shirts. There’s an entire section of the Fat Enzo website dedicated to merch inspired by far-right troll and failed congressional candidate Laura Loomer. 

Proud Boys International LLC, the company explicitly named in the church’s lawsuit, constitutes just one small tile in a sprawling mosaic of LLCs linked to the group in various ways. 

And Van Dyke, who once tried to join the neo-Nazi group The Base, has argued in letters to the church’s lawyers, which were released in legal filings, that Proud Boys International LLC has had “nothing to do with” the group in two years. Van Dyke declined to comment to VICE News for this story.

But he wrote to the plaintiff’s attorneys that the Proud Boys had “failed to take over the LLC as promised” after he created it in November 2018, around the time of his short-lived stint as the group’s chairman. At that time, Proud Boys LLC already existed, having been incorporated through a registered agent provider in New York City a year earlier (records indicate that Proud Boys LLC is still active, but it’s not clear who owns it). 

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Instead, Van Dyke wrote that he forwarded court papers to Tarrio in Florida. And he sent the clerk “copies of several leads concerning LLCs in Florida—in which Mr. Tarrio has an ownership interest—which appear to be the proper parties to this suit.” 

Public records indicate that Tarrio has been associated with a handful of LLCs, some of which predate his time as Proud Boy chairman. One of them, Spie LLC, incorporated in 2006, even predates Tarrio’s 2012 arrest on fraud charges, which stemmed from a scheme selling stolen diabetes test kits. 

(Tarrio later became a “prolific” government informant, Reuters reported. He initially denied the claims, but weeks later told Bloomberg reporter Will Turton outside the CPAC event that there was “some truth to it” and that he “refused to apologize.”)   

In December 2017, several months after he attended the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Tarrio helped start the AMMO 1776 LLC, categorized as “Sporting Goods” and incorporated in Texas with two other known Proud Boys.

The following October, Tarrio created “Fund The West LLC,” one week after the Proud Boys were thrust into the national spotlight when a speaking appearance by founder Gavin McGinnes in New York City devolved into a violent street-fighting brawl. On November 29, Tarrio was promoted to Proud Boy chairman by the “Elders.” And the next day, he created ProudBoys LLC, registered to a Miami address, alongside Texas Proud Boy elder Joshua Hall. (Since February 2020, Fund The West LLC and Proud Boys LLC have both been labeled inactive.)

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There’s also WarBoys LLC, incorporated in Florida in July 2020 and registered to Tarrio’s home address in Miami. Tarrio is listed as the registered agent. Ex-Infowars staffer and prominent Proud Boy organizer Joe Biggs, and Nordean, are named as managers. Federal prosecutors say that Nordean acted as the Proud Boys’ de facto leader on January 6 in Tarrio’s absence. Both he and Biggs are facing conspiracy charges, and have pleaded not guilty.

WarBoys is also the name of the Proud Boys’ live podcast streamed on DLIVE, and it’s a slogan emblazoned on caps, flags, and T-shirts sold under their own category at the 1776 shop. 

Tarrio is also named as the vice president of GudThreads LLC, which was created in May 2020 at an address in Mission, Texas. Mayra Gutierrez, a prominent member of the unofficial pro-Trump group Latinos for Trump, is listed as the LLC’s secretary. 

This is yet another example of crossover between Proud Boys and Latinos for Trump. Tarrio helps run the Florida chapter of Latinos for Trump, for example. And Guttierez has been an outspoken supporter of the Proud Boys. In 2018, for example, she led a Latinos for Trump solidarity rally in New York City after Proud Boys were arrested for brawling with antifascists. 

The 1776 Shop also sells Latinos for Trump merchandise (including a baby onesie featuring Trump wearing a sombrero). 

And on November 13, Tarrio and members of Latinos for Trump flew in a private jet from Houston to D.C. ahead of a planned Million MAGA March. Starflite Management Group, which owns the 14-seater private jet, charges $33,850 for a one-way flight, USA Today reported. Latinos for Trump President Bianca Gracia told the paper that they’re able to finance such trips through “the kindness of donors.” 

On December 12, before pro-Trump protesters spilled into the streets of D.C., Tarrio and Gutierrez were among the group who visited the White House. (A White House spokesperson told the press that the group was participating in a holiday tour open to the public).

For now, it remains uncertain whether this odd assemblage of LLCs, side hustles and fund-raising operations will get drawn into a legal battle between the church and the far-right street-brawlers.

A lot would depend on the size of any potential damages. While the signs and banners that were destroyed wouldn’t be worth much, legal experts said the group’s notoriety following the Capitol riot might prompt the judge to support considerable punitive damages. 

“I think the environment for anyone affiliated with the Proud Boys in a Washington, D.C., courtroom would be very hard right now,” Rossi, the former prosecutor, said.