Friday, March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Proud Boys’ Tarrio testified Jan. 6 assault ‘shocked’ him, despite contrary evidence


MIAMI — A month before his arrest in Miami this year, the leader of a far-right nationalist organization was questioned by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — but he did not keep his mouth shut like several other witnesses by invoking his constitutional right against self incrimination.

Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio, who was indicted in March along with a handful of other members, said under oath that he was not to blame for the insurrection aimed at stopping Congress’ vote that day certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in the presidential election.

“I wasn’t there on January 6th,” said Tarrio, who is currently facing sedition and related charges at a trial that started Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C. “I wasn’t the cause of what happened on January 6th.”

Tarrio, 39, said during his sworn deposition last February that he was shocked by what he saw on TV in his Baltimore hotel room on the day that thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and destroyed government property in a violent confrontation with police that led to the deaths of seven people. His hindsight commentary, however, seems to contradict his text messages to Proud Boys’ colleagues at the time saying he was “enjoying the show” and encouraging them to stay.

“I have my views that I think the government, the United States government, is a bit oppressive,” Tarrio testified during his Feb. 4, 2022, deposition before two members of the House of Representatives committee and their investigative staff. “But that doesn’t mean that those images didn’t shock me. You know, I didn’t think it was real.”

The reality is, nearly two years later, the federal government has charged more than 900 people, many from Florida, in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol building. Unlike Tarrio, the vast majority of them were actually there at the time of the assault. Of those, about 470 have pleaded guilty and more than 30 have been found guilty at trials, according to the Justice Department.

Tarrio is accused in an indictment of organizing a group of hard-core Proud Boys members — the Ministry of Self Defense — to develop “national rally planning” for a “Stop the Steal” protest on Jan. 6 to coincide with Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote that same day. The indictment further accuses Tarrio and the other Proud Boys defendants of devising a militant offensive to target the Capitol building, using the internet not only to develop strategies and recruit members but also to raise funds and buy paramilitary gear for the assault.

But, to prove the main sedition charge in the indictment, prosecutors will have to prove that “the purpose of Proud Boys’ conspiracy was to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force” in thwarting Congress’ effort to certify the Electoral College results showing Biden won the presidency.

Despite the specter of being charged in the Jan. 6 investigation, Tarrio chose to speak his mind during his 231-page deposition with the House committee — unlike other high-profile witnesses such as Republican political operative Roger Stone and Gen. Michael Flynn, who invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. The transcript of his deposition was released Wednesday along with those of other witnesses who appeared before House Jan. 6 committee members and investigators.

Tarrio, who had a T-shirt business before his arrest, spoke to the House committee not only about the Jan. 6 attack but also offered his views on a variety of divisive political issues. Among them: insider observations about his own group, the meaning of being an American, and a list of his favorite and least favorite modern presidents.

In February of this year, Tarrio left his position as the national chairman of the Proud Boys, which describes itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world, aka Western Chauvinists.”

In his deposition, he explained that the term “Western” means an American form of “civilization” and “Chauvinism” as “extreme patriotism.”

“My personal opinion on this … we’re different from the rest of the world, and we are a free country and we are a free society,” Tarrio, who is of Cuban descent, said during the deposition. “The ability to be able to protest [against] the government … where my family came from, you can’t do that.”

Asked by a House committee investigator which political or public figures embody that spirit, Tarrio embraced both Democratic and Republican presidents.

“Teddy Roosevelt is somebody that I look up to,” he said. “John F. Kennedy was another person. I’m not a big fan of [Bill] Clinton, but I think that the country during his time was in a good place. Not a big [George W.] Bush fan. Not a big [Barack] Obama fan.

“And I think, just beyond United States presidents … the founding members of this country — like, Sam Adams is somebody I really look up to.”

And how about past president, Donald Trump, where does he fit in on your scale, Tarrio was asked.

“I’m a big fan of President Trump,” he said. “I think that he was a person that said it how he felt. You know, I disagreed with him a lot of times, with a lot of things, but I think — all in all, I think he was a great president. He didn’t give us more wars.”

In the deposition, Tarrio also tried to dispel public perception that his organization and the militia-style Oath Keepers were aligned logistically and politically — that they joined forces to attend Trump’s rally on the National Mall on Jan. 6 before marching to the Capitol to “Stop the Steal” of the presidential election.

Tarrio had arrived in the nation’s capital a couple of days early to face charges in an unrelated criminal case involving the burning of a Black Lives Matter flag at a pro-Trump rally in December 2020. As part of his bail, a judge ordered Tarrio to leave Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5 — but before he left Tarrio met with Oath Keepers’ leader Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and others in a garage.

Tarrio said the Jan. 5 meeting in the hotel garage — filmed by a documentary crew and presented by the House committee as part of its evidence of a planned attack — amounted to nothing. He insisted that Rhodes “just happened to be there” and that his encounter with him involved shaking his hand.

“Me and Stewart Rhodes didn’t get along, or don’t get along, for a very long time, since 2019,” Tarrio said during the deposition. He said his interactions with Rhodes entailed “a lot of F-bombs, different versions of the F-bomb” and that he considered “the whole Oath Keepers group the ‘Oath Breakers.’ ”

Tarrio recounted a showdown with left-wing Antifa radicals at a rally in Portland. Rhodes had promised on an internet chat board that the Oath Keepers would provide bus transportation to move right-wingers in and out of the progressive city.

Instead, “he pulled out on us last-minute,” Tarrio said, adding that he left hundreds of Proud Boys by the side of the road.

Refocusing on the roots of the Jan. 6 assault, House investigators then asked Tarrio about whether he actually thought the presidential election was stolen from Trump — a falsehood disproved by recounts in battleground states and legal challenges in the courts that led to the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“I have a very complicated view on that,” Tarrio said. “I can’t tell you with certainty that I believe that the election was stolen, or that the election wasn’t stolen. … Do I think it’s possible the election was stolen? Maybe, but I can’t tell you with certainty.”