Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the US Proud Boys extremist group, has a past as an informer for federal and local law enforcement, repeatedly working undercover for investigators after he was arrested in 2012.
This is according to a former prosecutor and a transcript of a 2014 federal court proceeding obtained by Reuters.
In the Miami hearing, a federal prosecutor, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and Mr Tarrio’s own lawyer described his undercover work and said he had helped authorities prosecute more than a dozen people in various cases involving drugs, gambling and human smuggling.
Mr Tarrio, in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday (local time), denied working undercover or cooperating in cases against others. “I don’t know any of this,” he said, when asked about the transcript.
“I don’t recall any of this.”
Law enforcement officials and the court transcript contradict Mr Tarrio’s denial. In a statement to Reuters, the former federal prosecutor in Mr Tarrio’s case, Vanessa Singh Johannes, confirmed that “he cooperated with local and federal law enforcement, to aid in the prosecution of those running other, separate criminal enterprises, ranging from running marijuana grow houses in Miami to operating pharmaceutical fraud schemes”.
Mr Tarrio, 36, is a high-profile figure who organises and leads the right-wing Proud Boys in their confrontations with those they believe to be Antifa, short for “anti-fascism,” an amorphous and often violent leftist movement. The Proud Boys were involved in the deadly insurrection at the Capitol January 6.
The records uncovered by Reuters are startling because they show that a leader of a far-right group now under intense scrutiny by law enforcement was previously an active collaborator with criminal investigators.
Washington police arrested Mr Tarrio in early January when he arrived in the city two days before the Capitol Hill riot. He was charged with possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines, and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a December demonstration by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Though Mr Tarrio did not take part in the Capitol insurrection, at least five Proud Boys members have been charged in the riot. The FBI previously said Mr Tarrio’s earlier arrest was an effort to pre-empt the events of January 6.
The prosecutor said Mr Tarrio’s information had led to the prosecution of 13 people on federal charges in two separate cases, and had helped local authorities investigate a gambling ring.
An FBI agent at the hearing called Mr Tarrio a “key component” in local police investigations involving marijuana, cocaine and MDMA, or ecstasy. The Miami FBI office declined to comment.
There is no evidence Mr Tarrio has cooperated with authorities since then. In interviews with Reuters, however, he said that before rallies in various cities, he would let police departments know of the Proud Boys’ plans.
It is unclear if this was actually the case. He said he stopped this coordination after December 12 because the DC police had cracked down on the group.
As Trump supporters challenged the Republican’s election loss in often violent demonstrations, Mr Tarrio stood out for his swagger as he led crowds of mostly white Proud Boys in a series of confrontations and street brawls in Washington and elsewhere.
The Proud Boys, founded in 2016, began as a group protesting political correctness and perceived constraints on masculinity. It grew into a group with distinctive colours of yellow and black that embraced street fighting.
In September their profile soared when Mr Trump called on them to “Stand back and stand by.”
Mr Tarrio, based in Miami, became the national chairman of the group in 2018.