Noting that the Constitution protects the right to protest, D.C. Superior Court Judge Harold L. Cushenberry Jr. said Tarrio’s conduct in the Dec. 12 demonstration “vindicated none of these democratic values. Instead, Mr. Tarrio’s actions betrayed them.”
The banner was stolen from Asbury United Methodist Church, a historic Black church at 11th and K streets NW, as far-right protesters marched in Washington in support of Trump’s effort to delegitimize President Biden’s election victory. Tarrio pleaded guilty last month to burning the banner and to a charge of attempted possession of a high-capacity ammunition magazine.
“That day I made a grave mistake, a very, very bad mistake,” Tarrio, 37, said, appearing in court via video from Miami, where he lives. Wearing glasses and a patterned leisure shirt and occasionally sipping from a water bottle, he sat mostly expressionless throughout the half-hour proceeding.
“I’d like to profusely apologize for my actions,” he said, before Cushenberry sentenced him to 155 days in the D.C. jail. The judge rejected defense lawyer Lucas Duncie’s request for a sentence of community service, to be performed in Miami.
The judge ordered Tarrio to report to the jail within two weeks.
In a victim impact statement, Asbury’s senior pastor, the Rev. Ianther M. Mills, wrote of the “emotional and psychological impact” of the banner-burning on the church’s “aging congregation, many of whom, if not part of it themselves, are direct descendants of individuals who traveled north during the Great Migration” in the early and mid-20th century, when millions of African Americans fled oppression in the Jim Crow South.
“They migrated here in search of opportunity, but also to escape the stress, fear and anxiety of terror, including acts of social and racial injustice,” Mills wrote.
“Imagine, if you please, a marauding band of seemingly angry white men moving about the city, apparently looking for trouble,” she added. “Now imagine the images conjured up in the minds of Asbury’s congregants as a result of these white men burning the BLM banner: visions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, cross burnings. . . . ”
When he pleaded guilty on July 19, Tarrio said in court that if he had “known that the banner came from a church, it would not have been burned.” Authorities said the banner was stolen by “unidentified members” of the Proud Boys before being set afire on a street corner. Tarrio was not charged in the theft.
“Mr. Tarrio does not seem to have yet fully accepted responsibility,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul V. Courtney told the judge Monday. “Now he denies knowing that the banner came from a church at all, even though there is video that shows him standing on the church’s lawn . . . at the time other members of the Proud Boys were stealing and marching with the banner.”
The Dec. 12 demonstration, during which several far-right groups roamed through downtown Washington, fighting with counterprotesters and others, was a prelude to the violent unrest of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, trying to stop Congress from confirming Biden’s election victory.
Prosecutors have charged numerous alleged members or associates of the all-male Proud Boys with having various roles in the Jan. 6 riot, including aggressive attacks on police that helped the mob breach the Capitol. Four alleged Proud Boys leaders are accused of directing the Jan. 6 assault, including a man who had been with Tarrio during the Dec. 12 demonstration, authorities said.
During a previous court hearing, Courtney said the plea agreement under which Tarrio was sentenced does not “prevent the government from bringing different or additional charges” against him in the future “based on his conduct on January 6th, 2021, or any other time.”
Tarrio, who has not been charged in the Jan. 6 riot, has denied being involved in planning the assault on the Capitol.
More than three dozen people were arrested Dec. 12, and four people were stabbed in a clash involving supporters and opponents of Trump. Police said four churches, including Asbury Methodist, were vandalized that night. One of them, Metropolitan AME Church, on M Street NW, has sued Tarrio and the Proud Boys organization. The civil case is pending in D.C. Superior Court.
“Tarrio made very clear that he was proud of his crime,” Courtney said in a sentencing memo filed in court ahead of Monday’s hearing. “He sought to exploit and profit from his criminal conduct in an apparent effort to bring himself and the Proud Boys increased media attention.”
After the Dec. 12 demonstration, but before he was arrested, Tarrio told The Washington Post that he did not regret burning the banner. He said he thinks the BLM movement, and the movement known as antifa, short for anti-fascist, are threats to the United States.
Around the same time, on the far-right social media platform Parler, Tarrio, who is of Cuban descent, said he had burned the banner “out of love . . . for a country that has given my family SO MUCH.”
He wrote: “The burning of this banner wasn’t about race religion or political ideology it was about a racist movement that has terrorized the citizens of this country. I will not standby and watch them burn another city,” an apparent reference to last summer’s racial justice protests.
In last year’s first presidential debate, on Sept. 29, Trump was asked whether he would be willing to denounce extremist groups such as the Proud Boys. Trump replied: “Proud Boys — stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
In his sentencing memo, Courtney, apparently referring to Jan. 6, said, “It was certainly foreseeable to Tarrio” that his boasting about Dec. 12 on social media “sent his followers the message that traveling to Washington, DC, to engage in violent and destructive activity was not only acceptable but encouraged.”
As for the Proud Boys’ ideology, Courtney relied on a description published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, a research organization in the social sciences department of the U.S. Military Academy.
The center said, “The group’s narratives amplify anti-Marxist and anti-communist sentiment . . . and distorts those sentiments by mixing in misogynistic, fascistic, and ethno-nationalist worldviews.”
After the Dec. 12 demonstration, D.C. police obtained an arrest warrant for Tarrio in the banner burning, charging him with destruction of property, a misdemeanor.
On Jan. 4, two days before the mob besieged the Capitol, police stopped a car in which Tarrio was riding shortly after it entered Washington. While taking him into custody, they said, they searched his book bag and found two high-capacity ammunition magazines bearing Proud Boys symbols.
The magazines, illegal in the District, were empty but capable of holding a total of 60 rounds. They were compatible with AR-15 and M4 rifles, authorities said. Tarrio told police that he sold such magazines on the Internet and had planned to deliver the two in his bag to a buyer who was in the city for the Jan. 6 pro-Trump march.
In addition to the destruction-of-property offense, Tarrio was charged with two felony counts of possessing high-capacity magazines.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, one of the felony charges was dismissed, and the other was reduced to a misdemeanor count of attempted possession. On July 19, he pleaded guilty to that offense plus the destruction-of-property charge.