The FBI on Tuesday said Washington, D.C., police arrested the Miami-based leader of the far-right Proud Boys days before the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol because they had developed information showing he was among those planning to incite violence as Congress voted to certify the presidential election.
In the agency’s first remarks since a pro-Trump mob attempted to overrun Congress as it voted to certify the results of the presidential election, Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge at the FBI’s Washington field office, said federal authorities had worked in the preceding days to identify bad actors planning to attend a Jan. 6 rally near the White House in support of President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged.
He held up the arrest of Henry “Enrique” Tarrio Jr. as an example of efforts to stop the violence before it began.
“In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 rally, the FBI worked internally with every FBI field office to ensure we were looking for any intelligence that may have developed about potential violence during the rally of Jan. 6,” D’Antuono said, amid calls by U.S. lawmakers to investigate why law enforcement agencies weren’t better prepared to push back the mob that moved from the Trump rally to the Capitol.
“We developed some intelligence that a number of individuals were planning to travel to the D.C. area with intentions to cause violence,” he said. “We immediately shared that information and action was taken, as demonstrated by the arrest of Enrique Tarrio by the Metropolitan Police Department the night before the rally.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, Tarrio told the Miami Herald that the FBI is scapegoating him to cover up their own failures. He condemned the violence against police officers and the attack on the Capitol, which he said he watched “from my hotel room 100 miles away.”
“The people who killed that officer should be hunted down,” said Tarrio, referring to the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries sustained in the attack. “But to use me as a stupid excuse, it just shows how inadequate and ineffective they are as an agency.”
The timing D’Antuono gave for Tarrio’s arrest was incorrect. Tarrio — who has received national attention as the chairman of a pro-Trump organization known for street brawls and marching in tactical gear — was actually arrested two days before the rally on an outstanding warrant related to the burning in mid-December of a Black Lives Matter banner belonging to a Methodist church.
Police said video showed Tarrio burning the banner, and social media posts showed him bragging about it.
When police arrested Tarrio in Washington on Jan. 4, they said they found two empty high-capacity rifle magazines decorated with Proud Boys logos in his backpack. An affidavit filed by police the following day includes a copy of a post from Tarrio on the social media site Parler discussing plans for Proud Boys to be at the rally, to dress in black — they often wear black and gold polo shirts with the Proud Boys insignia — and break up into smaller groups. Another post highlighted by Metropolitan Police included a picture of Proud Boys members on a smoke-filled street, captioned, “Lords of War.”
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that FBI officials in Virginia raised concerns about the likelihood of violence one day before the attack in Washington. D’Antuono said the agency’s intelligence was shared with its various joint terrorism task forces.
Tarrio said his social media posts weren’t calls to violence, and said members of the Proud Boys didn’t enter the Capitol, though at least one member of the group was arrested after posting a picture of himself smoking a cigarette inside the Capitol. According to an affidavit filed by police with the District of Columbia Courts, Tarrio also told officers at the time of his arrest that he sells the magazines and was bringing them to a customer in the district.
“There was a heavy failure by law enforcement to not quell this earlier,” Tarrio told the Miami Herald. “They should have rained tear gas down on the front of that Capitol to make sure no one got in.”
Tarrio was charged on Jan. 4 with one misdemeanor count of destroying property worth less than $1,000, and two felony counts for possession of the magazines. He pleaded not guilty to all three counts, according to reports on his arraignment, and was released the next day after a judge told him he was barred from stepping foot into Washington, D.C., except to attend a June 8 hearing on his case.
Tarrio’s attorney, Lucas Dansie, did not respond to a message left with a receptionist Tuesday. Dansie has sought to block police from searching the contents of a cellphone and laptop he says were seized when Tarrio was detained, and to force them to return the devices.
Asked for additional information about Tarrio’s arrest and any connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, an FBI spokesman referred the Miami Herald to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, noting that Tarrio was arrested by local authorities.