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NEWS ANALYSIS

Former Proud Boy chairman Enrique Tarrio, convicted of sedition last week for the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, left his mark locally and nationally, mainstreaming the white supremacist group within the Republican Party.

Proud Boys occupied five seats on the Miami-Dade County’s GOP’s 2021-2022 executive committee. Following the Jan. 6 riots, Tarrio was invited to speak to the Boca Raton Regional Republican Club.

After his conviction, social media was flooded with previous photos of Tarrio with national GOP leaders: Donald J. Trump Jr.; Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is now governor of Arkansas; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; and Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. 

Tarrio integrated the Proud Boys agenda with Christian nationalists that now occupy positions on school boards, county commissions, the state Legislature and arguably the Florida governor’s mansion, activists who have investigated the Proud Boys told The Key Biscayne Independent.

Both groups oppose critical race theory, abortion access for women, LGBTQ rights, restriction of assault weapons and anything they see that resembles “woke.”

“The problem is that they are tolerated within the Miami-Dade Republican Party and within the Republican Party of Florida. They are allowed at their events,” said Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member and activist.

Key Biscayne is not immune.

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Former Gen. Michael Flynn, a white Christian nationalist and QAnon conspiratorialist who served in the Trump administration, has embraced the Proud Boys. During Key Biscayne’s last election, a far-right group tied to Flynn targeted Village council candidate Oscar Sardiñas.

Before that, following a Village Council meeting in July 2021, council members asked a police presence be added to future meetings after vitriolic public comment – including one speaker who derided the “deep state” and expressed sympathy with those arrested for the Jan. 6 riot.

Across the bridge in Miami, though, Tarrio’s name became tarnished when it was revealed he worked as a federal informant before he came to fame, ratting out fellow petty criminals. The Miami Proud Boys split into factions, named “Vice City” and “Villain City.”

“Although he is somewhat of a retard, we don’t feel that this type of punishment is warranted for what he did,” Vice City tweeted after the conviction. “This country is lost,” Villian City responded.

Andy Campbell, a senior editor at Huffington Post, wrote “We are Proud Boys: How a Right-wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism.”

In an interview four months ago with The Majority Report, Campbell said it was Tarrio who after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., decided to align with like-minded forces in the GOP.

“Through Enrique, they did absolutely that and now they are celebrated in their political violence,” he said. “This has been a real evolution.”

The group’s profile rose when it was namechecked by President Donald Trump during a 2020 presidential debate.

“Proud Boys — stand back and stand by,” said Trump, a harbinger to what would happen on Jan. 6, when federal prosecutors said the group was instrumental in directing the siege on the Capitol.

Tarrio wasn’t there, though. He had been arrested two days prior for allegedly burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a Black church during another protest. He was sentenced to five months for that crime and then was indicted – and now convicted – of sedition for his role in planning the Jan. 6 riot.

Defenders of Tarrio often say he can’t be a white nationalist because he is of Cuban descent.  But the rise of white nationalism among Hispanics has been well documented. Mauricio Garcia, who police say killed eight – including children – at a Texas shopping mall on Saturday was also Hispanic and wore a RWDS patch or Right Wing Death Squad – the same patch worn by Proud Boys and sold by the group.

Miami Against Fascism, an activist group, spoke to the Key Biscayne Independent about Tarrio. The spokesman asked not to be identified out of fear of violent retaliation against him for the work of the organization. The New York Times credited Miami Against Fascism with uncovering how The Proud Boys infiltrated the Miami-Dade Republican Party in a story last October.

“In their rhetoric, they align themselves with the growing idea of Christian nationalism,” the spokesman said. “And all of that has kind of brought together many different forces who previously were very different politically.”

When a trio of “anti-woke” GOP candidates endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the far-right group Moms for Liberty won seats on the Sarasota school board; they celebrated with members of the Proud Boys

Broward County School Board member Brenda Fam spoke at a anti-LGBTQ rally, where uniformed members of the Proud Boys were in attendance.

The Miami Against Fascism spokesman said that while it appears the local chapters of the Proud Boys are somewhat in disarray, he expects the group as a whole to remain active in Republican circles.

“Will the local GOP reject their role in some kind of definitive way? There is no indication that they will,” he said.

John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.