The leader of the Proud Boys, the violent far-right group, was arrested in Washington DC and charged with destruction of property and a firearms offense, according to local police.
The arrest of Enrique Tarrio on Monday comes ahead of pro-Donald Trump protests in Washington planned for Tuesday and Wednesday to coincide with the US Congress’ vote on Wednesday affirming Joe Biden’s election victory.
The demonstrations are organized by the Proud Boys and other rightwing activists, who falsely allege election fraud and want to see the results of the presidential election overturned in Trump’s favor.
The property destruction charges are related to Tarrio’s admitted role in burning a Black Lives Matter banner torn from a historic Black church during a previous pro-Trump protest in Washington on 12 December, which DC police and the FBI said they had been investigating as a potential hate crime. Police said Tarrio, who lives in Miami, Florida, was arrested after his arrival in the District of Columbia on Monday.
DC police said Tarrio had also been charged with possessing two high-capacity ammunition magazines, which were with him when he was arrested. The District of Columbia, which has some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation, bans the possession of firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Less than three weeks before Biden will be sworn in as president, Trump has been encouraging supporters to continue to protest over the results of an election he refuses to admit he lost.
The National Park Service said it had received three separate applications for pro-Trump protests on Tuesday or Wednesday, with estimated maximum attendance at 15,000 people.
Experts who monitor extremist groups fear the demonstrations could bring more chaos and violence to the US capital, the Washington Post reported, including renewed violent attacks by the Proud Boys on leftwing counterprotesters.
The US capital has mobilized the national guard ahead of the planned protests. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a limited national guard deployment to help bolster the metropolitan police department, and has asked local area residents to stay away from downtown DC.
“There are people intent on coming to our city armed,” said Robert Contee, the acting police chief, on Monday.
During a presidential debate in September, Trump was asked to condemn the Proud Boys and other violent rightwing groups linked to white supremacy, and instead told the group to “stand back and stand by”, adding that “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left”.
Over the weekend, Trump retweeted a promotion for the rally with the message: “I will be there. Historic Day!”
At a November rally, which drew about 15,000 people, Trump staged a limousine drive-by past cheering crowds in Freedom Plaza, on Pennsylvania Avenue. And at the December rally, which drew smaller numbers but a larger contingent of Proud Boys, Trump’s helicopter flew low over cheering crowds on the National Mall.
Tarrio’s arrest was first confirmed by the New York Times.