Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested Monday after allegedly destroying a Black Lives Matter sign at a historic Black church in Washington D.C. last month.
Tarrio, chairman of the far-right self-described group of all-male “Western Chauvinists,” was taken into custody on suspicion of destruction of property after the Dec. 12 incident during a pro-Trump rally in downtown Washington, the city’s police department said in a statement.
The city’s oldest Black house of worship, the Asbury United Methodist Church, said last month that a Black Lives Matter sign was removed from its building and set on fire.
Tarrio, 36, who lives in Miami, was arrested upon entering the city Monday and found to have two high capacity magazines, the department said. He faces an additional gun charge, the department said.
The arrest comes two days before more anticipated pro-Trump protests in the city, plans that prompted the mobilization of the National Guard ahead of of possible violence.
Also on Monday, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church sued Tarrio and the Proud Boys over the alleged destruction of a Black Lives Matter sign during the same Dec. 12 pro-Trump rally.
In a complaint filed in Washington, D.C., Superior Court, the church accused Tarrio and its members of “engaging in acts of terror and vandalizing church property in an effort to intimidate the Church and silence its support for racial justice.”
Eight unidentified members of the Proud Boys are also named in the suit.
The incident occurred on the night of Dec. 12, after an event that featured right-wing figures like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn.
A widely-circulated video showed several people destroying a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the church, which was founded in 1872 and hosted Frederick Douglass’ 1895 funeral.
In the suit, lawyers for the church alleged that between five and eight members of the group leapt over its iron fence, broke the zip ties that held the plastic Black Lives Matter sign in place and joined “in the celebration of the sign’s destruction.”
In the incident at Asbury, the church’s senior pastor said that pro-Trump supporters had taken a Black Lives Matter sign from its walls and “literally burned it in the street.”
Metropolitan’s lawyers said that Tarrio “conspired” with other Proud Boys to plan and promote “violent” events throughout the summer and fall of 2020, including on Dec. 12.
The suit cited “countless” messages on social media and other platforms that appeared to encourage members to “buy ammo,” “clean your guns,” and “keep our enemies awake. Tonight we become nightmares.”
The Proud Boys didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday, but in a post on the social media site Parler, Tarrio said “You can’t put an idea in chains. You can’t sue it.” He added that the “armor of God protects me.”
Last month, Tarrio told local news outlets in Washington D.C. that he was responsible for burning one of the signs.
“I was the one that lit it on fire,” he told DCist/WAMU. Tarrio said that he’d been angered to learn that authorities were investigating the incidents as a potential hate crime.
On a podcast affiliated with the Proud Boys, Tarrio added that he was speaking out against the wishes of his attorney and wasn’t ashamed to admit he burned the sign because it symbolizes a “racist movement.”
A spokesman for the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department said Monday that the investigations are still active.
The pro-Trump events this week are expected after the president last week called for a “wild protest” on Jan. 6, the day a joint session of Congress will announce the official winner of the 2020 election.
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents Monday to stay away from the city’s downtown and to “not engage with demonstrators who come to our city seeking confrontation.”