Tarrio, who appeared on a video feed from the central lockup, faces a misdemeanor charge of destruction of property in connection with the burning of the banner last month. He also is accused of felony counts of possessing two extended gun magazines, each capable of holding 30 rounds of .223-caliber, AR-15-compatible ammunition.
Tarrio pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge denied a request from his attorney, Lucas I. Dansie, to limit the stay-away order to Black Lives Matter Plaza. “There are Black Lives Matter banners throughout D.C.,” she said. “I deny your request.”
The hearing came as two days of demonstrations were getting underway in downtown Washington by supporters of President Trump’s false assertions that he won the presidential election. Far-right online forums are urging demonstrators to bring firearms Wednesday, in violation of District laws, and D.C. police are providing some Black churches extra protection.
Members of the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist group with ties to white nationalism, are participating in this week’s protests and have attended earlier rallies in the District. The group has shown up ready to fight.
Tarrio had previously told The Washington Post that he burned the banner during a pro-Trump protest on Dec. 12. Police said in an arrest warrant that to make their case they relied on his statements to the news media and videos that show him crouched with others near the banner as it was being set on fire.
Tarrio, wearing a rumpled sweat jacket, spoke only briefly in court. He stepped back at the judge’s request so his face could be seen on the video, saying, “Is that better, your honor?” When the judge instructed him that he could not take firearms into the District, he said he understood “wholeheartedly.” He was convicted in federal court in 2014 of defrauding the United States and transporting stolen goods, and in a Florida court in 2004 for grand theft and dealing in stolen property, court papers show.
As Tarrio left the lockup Tuesday to join supporters, he said he was “pulled out of a car at gunpoint for a misdemeanor,” comparing the circumstances of his arrest to that of Trump confidant Roger Stone. “I don’t need to be in D.C. to keep the fight going,” Tarrio said.
D.C. police arrested Tarrio on Monday afternoon as he headed toward downtown in the back seat of a silver Honda Crosstour. Police said he had come from the airport and they pulled him over in the Third Street Tunnel.
Police said that during his arrest they found in his bag two high-capacity ammunition magazines, which are illegal to possesses in the District, adorned with Proud Boys insignia. According to court documents, Tarrio told police that he sells ammunition magazines and had a customer lined up for a sale.
Tarrio was being sought on the destruction of property charge in the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner taken Dec. 12 from Asbury United Methodist Church. It was one of four churches vandalized that night. Police labeled the burning a potential hate crime. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek a hate crime enhancement, and that was not discussed at the hearing.
The arrest affidavit says video and photos posted on social media do not show Tarrio “personally lighting the banner on fire or holding an open flame to it.” However, the affidavit also says, “The available video does not preclude defendant Tarrio had an opportunity to apply an open flame to the banner.”
One video shows a group of people who appear to be members of the Proud Boys in front of Asbury United Methodist Church holding a large Black Lives Matter banner with Asbury’s logo and Internet address.
Tarrio does not appear in that part of the video, in which someone is heard yelling, “Where’s that lighter fluid?” according to the warrant. A crowd chants, “Light it up.”
The warrant says Tarrio “appears to be crouched down at the bottom right corner of the banner holding a white paper cup in his left hand.” It is then, the warrant says, that “an open flame is momentarily seen beneath Tarrio’s cup, but the source of the flame is unclear.”
Police said other videos show Tarrio holding what appears to be an unlit lighter in his right hand. At one point, the warrant says, he moves the cup from his left hand to his right hand. But by then, police said, the banner “appears already to be engulfed in flames.” The video shows two other men next to Tarrio holding lit lighters.
Tarrio posted a statement on the Parler social media site on Dec. 18 saying he had burned the banner. He told The Post that he would plead guilty to destruction of property but not to committing a hate crime. He would not comment on the involvement of others.
Police said they sent Tarrio a text message on Dec. 22 requesting to talk with his legal representative. Police said he responded, “At this point I haven’t retained my attorney in this situation yet. But I won’t need my attorney to inform you that I will be using my 5th.” That apparently is a reference to his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In the warrant, police quoted a post on Tarrio’s Parler account that says: “FBI: NOOOO you can’t burn a Black Lives Matter banner! That a hate crime?” The post then reads, “I’ll do it again. Pass me the lighter.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Raymond, the magistrate judge, pointed to that posting, and to others, as a reason to bar Tarrio from the District.
In his interview with The Post, which is excerpted in the arrest warrant, Tarrio said the burning of the banner was not motivated by race, religion or political ideology and that neither he nor his followers knew Asbury was a Black church.
Marissa J. Lang contributed to this report.