Miami (CNN) – The leader of the far-right group Proud Boys doesn’t care that lawmakers were terrorized by rioters inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan.6 while trying to do their job.
I’m not going to cry for people who don’t give a sh * t about their constituents. I’m not going to empathize with them, ”says Enrique Tarrio.
More than a dozen people affiliated with the often violent, far-right ‘Western chauvinist’ group have been charged for their role in the insurrection, so CNN sat down with Tarrio to hear if he had any explanation or justification for his actions, or if it will now change course.
Give direct answers, but then add many caveats.
What he hasn’t done is change his mind about the role the Proud Boys played on January 6 or his feelings about the persecution of congressmen despite the release of an incredibly violent video. The attack left five dead and dozens of police officers injured.
The day after the attack, Tarrio posted a photo of the members of the House of Representatives crouching and hiding, with a caption: “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny … When the government fears the people … there is freedom.” He told CNN he was quoting Thomas Jefferson, although there is no evidence that the third president said that, according to his foundation.
«When they support the bombing of children with drones in the Middle East … [y] those people are dead and they are simply cowering because a group of misfits entered the Capitol, I will not be empathetic, “Tarrio tells CNN.
And he redoubles his argument, discarding the specter of a mob that had knocked on the doors of the Chamber and the Senate trying to reach insiders: “I am not going to worry about people whose only concern is being reelected.”
Tarrio was not in the Capitol on January 6. He was ordered to stay away from Washington, after being arrested in the city two days before the uprising for a misdemeanor involving the burning of a church’s Black Lives Matter banner in December, in addition to weapons charges. He admitted both to CNN.
He says over and over again that he doesn’t support the attack on the Capitol, but he won’t condemn the attackers either.
It’s not that simple, he says. “I think that condemn is a very strong word.”
Tarrio says he understands what frustrated people so much. Donald Trump supporters have felt demonized after being called “deplorable” and have been angered by protests that have turned violent in places like Portland and Minneapolis, shutdowns due to the coronavirus and being banned from popular social media sites, he says. . Some, though not Tarrio, believe the lie that the election was stolen.
Tarrio believes that members of his organization were trapped in the moment, adding that he could have done the same if he had been there.
But he is also convinced that the group never had plans to storm the Capitol.
LEE: Canada will include the Proud Boys in the list of terrorist groups
The double-edged sword of notoriety
Court documents show that the Proud Boys are perhaps second only to the Oath Keepers when it comes to an organized group facing the most charges.
The Proud Boys are charged with conspiracy, threatening to assault a federal agent, stealing a police officer’s shield, robbery, robbery and destruction of government property, carrying a dangerous weapon, assaulting, resisting or hindering the agents, and removing barriers and fences in the Capitol.
Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boy from New York, used the stolen riot shield to repeatedly smash a window in the Capitol.
Footage from the attack shows the pro-Trump mob entering through that broken window.
Tarrio says that Pezzola simply “smeared it up.” I just don’t see a [acto] heinous as if he had attacked someone or hurt some one.
He believes its members – along with some others in the right-wing and anti-government Oath Keepers – are being scapegoats because of their notoriety.
He says his men – and they are all men – were not violent that day and are being charged with serious crimes for trespassing and disrupting Congress.
They need to roll a head. They need heads on stakes, ”argues Tarrio. «The FBI and the Department of Justice [están] using the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers as their point of reference, to show people that they did something.
The Proud Boys’ profile skyrocketed after Trump told the group to “back off and wait” when asked to speak out against the extremists during the first presidential debate.
MIRA: Who are the Proud Boys? This we know of the group that Trump asked to “back off and wait.”
The Proud Boys raised funds and sold merchandise with that mention, and Tarrio seems happy to report that their membership doubled in the following days.
But he is not willing to accept more scrutiny along with more attention. Instead, he is quick to evade.
While happy to criticize the violence sometimes associated with anti-fascist protesters known as antifa in cities like Portland, Oregon, he fails to acknowledge the role of the Proud Boys in the violent clashes themselves, saying they fight only to defend themselves.
He is even backtracking on calling for Antifa to be declared a terrorist organization, not because his hatred of them is less, but because he fears that the same classification could be used against his group and others to “silence their freedom of expression.”
Canada recently made that decision, adding the Proud Boys to its list of terrorist groups. But Tarrio insists that he had changed his mind about Antifa prior to that decision. Tarrio disagrees with Canada’s designation and says the Canadian Proud Boys are considering their legal options to combat it.
Tarrio is close to Trump’s confidant, Roger Stone, and even revealed that he had been called in to testify about Stone in front of an investigative jury.
Stone was then facing seven counts of lying to Congress and witnessing manipulation in the investigation to find out whether the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia. A jury convicted Stone on all seven charges, but Trump later pardoned him.
During that case, an investigation was launched into whether Stone had threatened the judge after a post appeared on his social media account showing a photo of the judge and what investigators thought might be putting a target on his head. Stone testified that a person who worked with him on his social media accounts had chosen the image.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz first reported last week that an investigative jury had been convened in 2019. Tarrio said she testified because she had access to Stone’s phone a couple of times to post content on social media.
Tarrio says it had nothing to do with posting that image.
READ: Deciphering the symbols and extremist groups in the insurrection of the US Capitol
What comes next
The Proud Boys frontman says he has proof that his group never had any bad intentions on January 6. That proof, he says, is in internal communications in the days, weeks and months before the insurrection and is different from the public messages seen on Parler or Telegram. But in the next breath he says he will not share the claimed exoneration, at least not yet. He is waiting for the right moment when he will have the greatest impact on the cases against his men.
He says he did tell his group not to wear their normal colors for the January 6 rally. But, he says, that was not planning to evade the authorities, it was just to fool Antifa.
Tarrio admitted he was an informant for the FBI and other agencies after being convicted in a federal fraud case, but now says that the FBI should not be trusted and that he misuses its power.
However, he says that after what happened on January 6, his group is looking to change some of its tactics.
“I think now is the time to go ahead and topple the government by becoming the new government and running for office,” he says.
CNN’s Sara Sidner and Anna-Maja Rappard reported on this story from Miami and Mallory Simon wrote in New York.