Burning BLM Banner Gets Proud Boy Leader Jail Time, Appears Punished For The Message He Targeted9 min read
Earlier this week, Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio was sentenced to jail after admitting to burning a Black Lives Matter banner that had been taken from the Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. in December 2020.
Notably, Tarrio was neither accused nor charged with stealing the flag, or even of trespassing on church, but only of destroying the banner.
Video of the incident circulated on social media, and numerous media outlets reported on the incident soon after it occurred.
Proud Boys and other white supremacists burn a Black Lives Matter sign from the Asbury United Methodist Church in D.C. while dousing it with lighter fluid to intensify the flames. This public act is intended to terrorize and send a message to Black people. pic.twitter.com/0YNsTDaVqF
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) December 13, 2020
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney for the District, Michael Sherwin, urging that the destruction of the banners be prosecuted as a hate crime.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney for D.C. Michael Sherwin, @AGKarlRacine is asking that anyone charged for tearing down and burning Black Lives Matter signs at D.C. churches last week face penalty enhancements for committing hate crimes. pic.twitter.com/avZhwW7X8f
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 18, 2020
The FBI and the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department thereafter announced that they were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
Tarrio publicly took credit for the flag burning almost immediately.
On the Proud Boys’ podcast, Tarrio said he was “damn proud” that he “went ahead and put the lighter” to the church’s BLM sign and “engulfed it in flames,” the DCist/WAMU reported.
And, in a post on social media a few days after the incident, Tarrio stated:
As I said on @WarboysTV
The FBI is currently [ ] investigating a supposed “hate crime” perpetrated by the ProudBoys. They’re even offering a reward.
I’m here to tell you that there was no hate crime committed. The only hate there is in my heart is for communism and an authoritarian government. BLM is a Marxist movement. It isn’t about the color of someone’s skin.
Against the wishes of my attorney I am here today to admit that I am the person responsible for the burning of this sign. And I am not ashamed of what I did because I didn’t do it out of hate … I did it out of love. Love for a country that has given my family SO MUCH. The burning of this banner wasn’t about race religion or political ideology it was about a racist movement that has terrorized the citizens of this country. I will not standby and watch them burn another city.
So let me make this simple. I did it.
Come get me if you feel like what I did was wrong. We’ll let the public decide.
WOW. Read it. 😬 pic.twitter.com/GMiMLavRaw
— PatriotTakes 🇺🇸 (@patriottakes) December 18, 2020
Tarrio was thereafter arrested on January 4, 2021 on charges of destruction of property.
On July 19, 2021, Tarrio pleaded guilty to burning the flag in violation of D.C. Code § 22-303, which is entitled “Malicious burning, destruction, or injury of another’s property.” That ordinance provides:
“Whoever maliciously injures or breaks or destroys, or attempts to injure or break or destroy, by fire or otherwise, any public or private property, whether real or personal, not his or her own, of the value of [less than $1000] … shall be fined not more than [$1,000] or imprisoned for not more than 180 days, or both.”
On August 23, D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Harold Cushenberry sentenced Tarrio to 90 days’ incarceration, sixty days of which were suspended. Tarrio must report to the D.C. jail by September 6.
Tarrio admitted to breaking the law by destroying property that did not belong to him, and for that, he certainly should be held accountable. But Tarrio’s sentence seems substantially more severe than the punishments that have been handed down to leftwing vandals who were convicted of similar offenses.
During the summer of 2020, in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, BLM and antifa agitators rioted and regularly damaged private and public property – including burning American flags – during protests throughout the country. Many of those provocateurs were arrested and prosecuted for their crimes, and their sentences can be compared to Tarrio’s:
- Sydney Foster: was charged with threatening a police officer and criminal damage to property after smashing windows at a bookstore and a post office during a BLM protest in Madison, Wisconsin. Foster was sentenced to two years of probation. No jail time.
- James Brisendine: pleaded guilty to arson for lighting a dumpster on fire during a BLM protest in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was sentenced to counseling. No jail time.
- Andrew Magoon: pleaded nolo contendere to disorderly conduct where, as part of a group who were throwing bottles at officers, emerged armed with a baseball bat and continuing to enter the roadway after being ordered not to do so. He was sentenced to a fine (which was suspended 12 months). No jail time.
- Kayla Sharp: pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct for “engaging in a riot” as part of a group throwing glass bottles at police officers. She was sentenced to 45 days, all suspended, and a $248 fine. No jail time.
Or, contemplate the sentence of Brian Jordan Bartels, a 21 year-old member of antifa who instigated a riot in Pittsburgh after the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd.
According to Fox News, Bartels smashed the windows out of a marked Pittsburgh police vehicle and then spray-painted a letter A on it during a May 30 protest.
#BREAKING NEWS: Pittsburgh Police say 20 year old Brian Bartels is the man who incited riots in downtown #Pittsburgh yesterday. This is video taken of him destroying a police cruiser. An arrest warrant has been issued. https://t.co/AFYsrV2vsD
*WARNING* Explicit Language pic.twitter.com/CNmoVHx7Fn
— Tim Williams (@realtimwilliams) June 1, 2020
When an indictment was filed against Bartels, U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady released the following statement:
On Saturday, several thousand citizens came to downtown Pittsburgh to protest the tragic death of George Floyd. They came to air legitimate grievances, consistent with the best traditions of our country. As they marched through downtown, the protest was peaceful.
Then, the protest turned violent. Bartels was the first to incite violence. With others looking on outside PPG Pains Arena, Bartels spray painted a Pittsburgh Police car. Other protesters yelled “Stop!”, but Bartels smashed and jumped on the windshield. Others then joined in. The car was set on fire and destroyed.
This was the inflection point in the demonstration! What was peaceful became lawless. Ultimately, Pittsburgh police cars were burned. Mounted Pittsburgh Police officers were attacked. And projectiles were thrown at Pittsburgh Police Officers. What started as a peaceful demonstration, turned into a violent evening of destruction throughout downtown Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported that Bartels’s actions “spurred on a crowd to further violence that led to the car being burned and other damage,” including damage to 60 businesses and properties.
For these actions, Bartels was sentenced to just one day in U.S. custody and six months in a halfway house.
Similar slaps on the wrist were imposed on those who were charged with defacing the Foley Federal Building and the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse in Las Vegas during a Black Lives Matter protest in spring of 2020. The defendants there spray-painted walls with obscenities and graffiti, and small bushes were set on fire causing approximately $71,000 of damage.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an off-duty Federal Protective Service security officer stationed inside the federal building reported hearing people in the crowd chant “Get him!” and “Get the cop!”
In that case, two of the defendants – Alexander Kostan and Reginald Lewis – were each sentenced to three years of probation and six months of house arrest for defacing federal property – the minimum possible sentence – with no jail time at all.
And often, progressives are not even arrested or criminally prosecuted at all.
In 2016, Black Lives Matter protestors in Portland, Oregon took an American flag from a supporter of Ammon Bundy (who was acquitted on federal conspiracy and firearms charges arising out of his occupation of federal park land) and set it on fire in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center.
According to the Willamette Week, a BLM organizer admitted that they did not have permission to destroy the flag, but defended their conduct, stating, “The American flag stands for things we don’t support and for people who don’t support us. We have no love for that flag.”
This flag burning incident, like that of Henry Tarrio, was captured on social media.
Nevertheless, it does not appear that any arrests or prosecutions resulted from this incident – that the flag was someone’s private property, like the BLM banner in Tarrio’s case, made no difference whatsoever.
We know that liberal media routinely glorifies and rationalizes leftist violence and destruction as a righteous struggle by heroic freedom fighters against malevolent and oppressive forces.
For instance, an article in the progressive magazine The Nation argued that instances of vandalism and looting by the radical left are not “lapse[s] of judgment and loss of control” but “reasonable and articulate expressions” of personal beliefs “in the face of overwhelming state brutality and structural economic and racial injustice.”
Attacking police stations … makes rational sense. It is not the sudden, spontaneous expression of a disordered and irrational mob but the clear enactment of a political position, the fulfillment in some small but concrete way of the central demand being made by protesters across the country: Police need to be defunded, and some police stations need to disappear.
Another piece published on the website of left-leaning think tank New America asserted that condemnation of property damage by BLM is “despicable” because it suggests that property damage “is a bigger problem than the continued massacre of Black people by police.”
By outward indications, it seems that Judge Cushenberry may have been influenced by these false and pernicious arguments.
To be sure, if Tarrio had a significant criminal record, that could explain why his sentence was so much harsher than those of his political opposites who were convicted of similar crimes. And it appears that Tarrio has criminal convictions from 2004 and 2013 – although those were not for crimes of violence or destruction of property.
One must hope that this is the reason for the disparity between Tarrio’s sentence and the sentences imposed on those who committed comparable offenses in the name of leftwing causes. Otherwise, the message is clear: BLM activists are permitted to immolate an American flag that belongs to others with virtual impunity because they object to what it stands for, but it is not okay for anyone to burn a BLM banner for the same reason.
Of course, this would violate federal sentencing law, which prohibits courts from creating “unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct.”
It also would defy the Constitution to penalize a defendant because he has expressed antipathy toward groups like Black Lives Matter or because he has associated with others, like the Proud Boys, who embrace views that cause liberals to clutch their pearls.
Equal justice should mean just that. Honoring the law does not mean exalting the left, and the guidons of woke causes should not be treated by our courts as holy sacraments worthy of specialized protection. Doing so erodes confidence in the fairness of our criminal justice system, promotes vigilantism and contributes to extremism on both ends of the political divide.
We must hold people accountable for wrongdoing, but in a manner that is colorblind and viewpoint neutral. There is no place for “affirmative action” when it comes to sentencing. The inverse is also true – our judges should not be imposing harsher penalties because a defendant is too white, too conservative, or a supporter of Donald Trump.
Judges are supposed to be our backstop against government overreach. When they succumb to the progressive virus that disparages law enforcement and teaches hatred of America, our entire Republic is in danger.
As Henry Tarrio’s case demonstrates, we may have reached that point.
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