The ranks of militarist far-right group The Proud Boys were rocked with the news that one of their main leaders was once a government informer.
Reuters uncovered court documents that show Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was accused of fraud in 2012.
Tarrio, who is a Black Cuban-American from Miami, was arrested in Washington, D.C. two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters including Proud Boys members.
Tarrio helped law enforcement in a variety of investigations nearly a decade ago by providing information and going undercover, Reuters reported.
The Proud Boys, who describes themselves as a male chauvinist group, were major aggressors during earlier protests and the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. Many are now surprised that Tarrio once worked in cooperation with the government his group recently tried to overthrow.
A transcript of a 2014 hearing in federal court in Florida regarding Tarrio’s sentence for participating in a scheme to resell diabetic test strips, revealed he had received reduced sentences based on his informant work.
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In the papers, both the prosecutor and Tarrio’s defense attorney speak of Tarrio’s “extensive cooperation” in arguing that his sentence of 30 months should be cut. The judge then reduced his sentence to 16 months, AP reported.
“Your Honor, frankly, in all the years, which is now more than 30 that I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had a client as prolific in terms of cooperating in any respect,” said Tarrio’s lawyer at the time, Jeffrey Feiler, according to the transcript.
Of course, Twitter exploded with this new revelation and what it says about the Proud Boys.
“Lol I doubt he had any real influence anyway. He was the face they threw up so they could claim to be multicultural when people pointed out their blatant racism. Other proud boys were already labelling him with racial slurs. But yeah, they are all criminals,” one person tweeted.
Others on social media imagined the backlash Tarrio will surely receive from fellow Proud Boy members. “Enrique Tarrio is an informant for law enforcement?? Well, doesn’t that put a target on #EnriqueTarrio‘s head from his own #ProudBoys cult!,” the tweet read, accompanied by photos of Tarrio with former Trump administration and family members.
When he was indicted in 2012, Tarrio helped the government prosecute more than a dozen other people, the federal prosecutor told the judge, according to the transcript. Tarrio was also involved in various police undercover operations involving anabolic steroids and prescription narcotics.
“From day one, he was the one who wanted to talk to law enforcement, wanted to clear his name, wanted to straighten this out so that he could move on with his life. And he has in fact cooperated in a significant way,” the prosecutor said.
Tarrio is now denying he was a federal informant. In an exclusive interview with Reuters on Dec. 26, he denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others.
“I don’t know any of this,” he said when asked about the transcript. “I don’t recall any of this.”
While there is no evidence Tarrio has cooperated with authorities in recent years, he did admit in various interviews with Reuters that he would let police departments know of the Proud Boys’ plans before rallies in various cities. “It is unclear if this was actually the case. He said he stopped this coordination after Dec. 12 because the D.C. police had cracked down on the group,” Reuters reported.
Many are now wondering if Tarrio is still an informant.
“A hot cup of coffee first thing on a sunny Wednesday morning? Wonderful! Knowing that somewhere in the wide world Enrique Tarrio is having to convince the #ProudBoys that he’s no longer an FBI informant? Priceless! (Sips coffee),” one person noted on Twitter.
Another noted that the timing of Tarrio’s arrest just prior to the insurrection is suspicious.
“There was always something fishy about his arrest the day before the Capitol riots. Wanted their asset to sit that one out. Also, it’s perfectly natural to respond to questions about being an undercover FBI informant with “I don’t recall any of this,” the tweet read.
Tarrio was accused of vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner at the historic Black church Metropolitan AME during a Dec. 4 protest in Washington, D.C., two days before the Dec. 6 insurrection. In a video that was posted on YouTube, Tarrio can be seen with the sign, according to a police report. When police detained Tarrio, officers found two unloaded magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo in his bag that had a capacity of 30 rounds each, authorities said.
Though Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol insurrection, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged in the riot. The FBI previously said Tarrio’s earlier arrest was an effort to preempt the events of Jan. 6.
Tarrio and The Proud Boys are being sued by civil rights attorney Kristen Clarke on behalf of Metropolitan AME church for vandalizing and attacking the church.
Tarrio’s leadership is already being challenged in The Proud Boys. Kyle Chapman, the founder of a “tactical defense arm” known for inciting street violence, claimed in a message on the encrypted chat app Telegram that he staged a “coup” against Tarrio, The Sun-Sentinel reported.
“We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilization,” Chapman wrote after using other bigoted language. “We recognize that the West was built by the white Race alone and we owe nothing to any other race.”
According to Chapman, he has renamed the group The Proud Goys, referring to the Jewish term for non-Jews. “Goys” is a term neo-Nazis have tried to appropriate and use to symbolize their anti-Semitism, The Sun-Sentinel reported.
In his post on Telegram, Chapman claims to have deposed Tarrio, whom he called a racial slur. Chapman wrote he will shift the group’s focus to “the issues of white Genocide, the failures of multiculturalism, and the right for White men and women to have their own countries where white interests are written into law and part of the body politic.”
The Proud Boys was founded in 2016 by far-right agitator and misogynist Gavin McInnes, who also co-founded the Vice media brand, AP News reported. (Vice has since severed all ties with McInnes.)
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The Proud Boys bills itself as a “Western chauvinist” fraternal organization. Tarrio, based in Miami, became the national chairman of the group in 2018.
Former prosecutor Vanessa Singh Johannes, who worked on Tarrio’s 2012 case, told Reuters she was surprised that the defendant she prosecuted for fraud is now a key player in the violent movement that sought to stop the certification of President Joe Biden.
“I knew that he was a fraudster – but had no reason to know that he was also a domestic terrorist,” she said.