The chairman of the right-wing Proud Boys group has been arrested in Washington over the torching last month of a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a church during violent protests, US police said.
Enrique Tarrio, 36, was taken into custody as the US capital braced for demonstrations against certification this week of Joe Biden as the next US president.
Mr Tarrio – who had just arrived in the city from Florida – was charged with destruction of property at the Asbury United Methodist Church, a mainly African-American church where he and others allegedly burned the banner during violent protests on December 12.
He was hit with additional charges of possessing two illegal high-capacity firearm magazines at the time of his arrest, police said.
In a parallel court case unveiled on Monday, local time, Mr Tarrio and other members of the Proud Boys were accused by the historic Metropolitan AME church – also mainly African-American – with tearing down and burning its banner during the protests last month.
On my sabbath, I wake up to the disgusting image of #ProudBoys ripping down a #BlackLivesMatter banner from my church. Will #Trump , who held up a bible in front of a church, bless not condemn this racist vandalism against Metropolitan AME Church ❓ @ap pic.twitter.com/yHy3N4X5rq
— Cornell William Brooks (@CornellWBrooks) December 13, 2020
“The conduct of the Proud Boys in Washington DC on December 12, 2020, amounted to a new and dangerous chapter in the long and terrible history of white supremacist mob violence targeting Black houses of worship,” the church said in its filing.
The arrest came ahead of protests planned on Tuesday and Wednesday by backers of President Donald Trump supporting his unfounded claim that he, and not Mr Biden, won the November 3 presidential election.
Washington police said they were worried about potential violence, particularly from groups like the Proud Boys, and warned that people carrying firearms would be arrested.
“We will not allow people to incite violence or intimidate our residents,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.