Ahead of Pro-Trump Protest, Proud Boys Leader Arrested for Burning BLM Banner at Black Church

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As thousands are expected to descend on Washington, D.C., to join far-right protests over the election results Wednesday, the leader of the Proud Boys hate group, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested on property destruction charges for burning a Black Lives Matter banner off a historically Black church during similar protests last month. Many churches have requested extra protection, and the Metropolitan AME Church is suing the Proud Boys. “Sadly, our nation has a very dark and sordid history of targeting historically Black churches,” says Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who represents the church in its lawsuit. “We will use civil rights law as a way of sending a message to extremists that they are not above the law and will be held accountable for their dangerous, toxic and dark actions.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about what’s happening inside Congress tomorrow, but there are a lot who are deeply concerned about what’s happening outside on the streets. The Pentagon has approved a request by the Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser to call out the National Guard ahead of the planned anti-democracy protest by Trump supporters. Wednesday’s rally is scheduled to coincide with that joint session of Congress, when the lawmakers will vote to certify the results of the presidential election. During a similar protest in December, four people were stabbed, 33 arrested. There were violent confrontations between far-right groups and anti-fascist counterprotesters.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Proud Boys hate group, Enrique Tarrio, was arrested Monday on misdemeanor property destruction charges after he publicly admitted to tearing a Black Lives Matter banner off a historically Black church in Washington, D.C., and setting it on fire last month. Police say Tarrio had illegal high-capacity magazines of ammunition on him when he was arrested. The Metropolitan AME Church has sued the Proud Boys for, quote, “engaging in acts of terror and vandalizing church property in an effort to intimidate the church and silence its support for racial justice.” After the attack, the church’s pastor said, quote, “For me, it was reminiscent of cross burnings.” Shortly after the attack, Tarrio told The Washington Post, quote, “Let me make this simple. I did it.”

Kristen Clarke, you’re the lawyer who is spearheading for the church this lawsuit against Proud Boys. Talk about the significance of this.

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, sadly, our nation has a very dark and sordid history of targeting historically Black churches, which are important institutions that have long provided a safe haven for Black communities. But the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was targeted by the attack that you were describing, is a particularly special institution. It dates back to 1872. It’s a place where Frederick Douglass spoke, where luminaries and people who have fought for racial justice throughout the decades have taken to the podium and spoken to crowds across D.C. to advance justice. This is a very special institution, and it sits on one of the oldest properties in D.C. that has the longest and unbroken chain of Black ownership. It’s served righteously today by the Reverend William Lamar IV.

And this is a church that has openly demonstrated its support for the Black Lives Matter movement. And on December 12th, members of the Proud Boys and other extremists ripped their sign down and targeted other churches, in one instance involving the Asbury Methodist Church. They ripped that sign down, poured accelerant on the banner and burned it at night. And it was indeed a scene that really kind of hearkened back to the cross burnings of a bygone era, and it very much represents a kind of a modern-day cross burning intended to instill fear and to promote chaos in communities across our country.

So this lawsuit is about standing up and vindicating the rights of this historically Black church, but the lawsuit is also about sending a message to other bad actors out there seeking to carry out the objectives of the Proud Boys, seeking to promote racial chaos. When we look back at history in our country, you know, we think about the four girls at the Birmingham church that was bombed, the nine peaceful worshipers who were killed during a prayer service at the Charleston church. We think about three historically Black churches in Louisiana that were burned just a year ago. And this makes clear that there is kind of an unbroken chain of racial violence and a dark history when it comes to the targeting of Black churches. And with this lawsuit, we are making clear that we will not allow the Proud Boys to carry out mob violence with impunity. We will use the courts to hold him accountable. And we will use civil rights law as a way of sending a message to extremists that they are not, again, above the law and will be held accountable for their dangerous, toxic and dark actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, I want to thank you for being with us, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. But, Juan, I think you have one more question, and before we lose Kristen, I want to make sure you get that in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, I wanted to ask her about this whole issue of the rally of the pro-Trump folks in front of Congress. I don’t think I recall a president calling for a rally, a protest, in Washington. I’ve heard of presidents speaking sometimes or addressing rallies that they supported. But especially in the context of the fact that these 10 former secretaries, all the living former secretaries of defense, issued this amazing letter this week calling for no intervention of the military on the issue of the election, do you have some concern about possible violence, not only by the right wing, but possibly by agents provocateurs who may pose as leftists or progressives trying to confront these right-wing folks to devolve into possible violence that no one is looking for?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, in many respects, what we saw on December 12th was the chaos and violence that ensues when you combine toxic election disinformation with racial violence, a threat that really has been growing across the country. And I do anticipate that there is some potential for the kind of chaos that we saw in December to unfold inside our nation’s capital once again. I’m glad that we’re seeing D.C. leadership, both the mayor and the D.C. attorney general, really taking bold and swift action to hold members of the Proud Boys accountable, to make clear that this is not a place where open carry is permitted. And I think that vigilance is required, and leadership is most certainly required at this moment.

It really has been incredibly chaotic and unruly, with members of Congress openly and brazenly planning to stage this baseless, you know, kind of sham protest tomorrow in the halls of Congress. But I think, for Americans, at the end of the day, we know the tremendous barriers and hurdles that were crossed to register our voice at the ballot box amid the pandemic. There is nothing that will change the final and fair outcome of this election. And I’m confident that we will move forward as a democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, I want to thank you for being with us, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

When we come back, we go to Georgia. Republican election officials there push back on Trump’s desperate attempt to steal the election, but voting rights activists say this may be a falling out among thieves. We’ll look at the purging of votes in Georgia up until this day. Stay with us.

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