The mother of former Proud Boys leader Enrique “Henry” Tarrio on Thursday maintained her son’s innocence just days after he was sentenced to more than two decades in prison for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, insisting that he didn’t play a serious part in the attack.
“Twenty-two years of sentencing seems, like, extremely excessive,” Zuny Duarte Tarrio said at a press conference held in the Miami Lakes law office of her son’s attorney.
Speaking alongside defense lawyer Nayib Hassan, Duarte Tarrio called her son a “pawn” for the government, and the case against him a “witch hunt.” She said Tarrio’s family had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend her son against charges that he helped spearhead an effort to violently overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
She also pleaded for supporters to donate to an online legal defense fund to help Tarrio, a Miami native who served as the Proud Boys’ national chairman at the time of the Capitol riot.
A federal judge sentenced Tarrio on Tuesday to 22 years in prison following his conviction in May on charges of seditious conspiracy related to the central role he played in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob hoping to keep former President Donald Trump in power.
The sentence is the longest prison term handed down to any Jan. 6 defendant.
Hassan said Thursday that Tarrio’s team expected to appeal the sentence on Monday or Tuesday. He said that there were multiple avenues for the appeal, including issues with the trial’s D.C. venue, but didn’t specifically say which grounds he would pursue.
‘Henry said a lot of things’
Tarrio wasn’t actually in Washington, D.C. on the day of the attack on the Capitol — a point his mother raised at the press conference on Thursday. He had been ordered by a judge to stay away after he was detained for burning a Black Lives Matter flag that belonged to a Black church in the District and found at the time of his arrest to be in possession of high-capacity gun magazines.
Prosecutors argued, however, that Tarrio commanded Proud Boy members from afar as a mob of pro-Trump rioters moved on the Capitol in an attack that according to a U.S. Senate report led or contributed to the deaths of seven people. According to his indictment, Tarrio and his colleagues set up a “Ministry of Self Defense” and exchanged hundreds of encrypted text messages about their “1776 Returns” plan to “storm the Capitol” and ring in the new year with a “revolution.” As Tarrio was watching from a television in a Baltimore hotel room, prosecutors said he messaged other members that he was “enjoying the show.”
“Make no mistake ... we did this,” he wrote.
Hassan acknowledged that while Tarrio could say things that are “inappropriate,” his rhetoric didn’t support the government’s argument that he sought to stage an insurrection. Tarrio’s attorneys have argued that neither Tarrio nor the Proud Boys had a premeditated plan to storm the Capitol.
“Henry said a lot of things,” Hassan said, using Tarrio’s nickname. “There was a lot of fluff, but there was nothing backing it up.”
At multiple points in the press conference, Tarrio’s mother said she was “proud” of her son for “expressing himself freely” and insisted that he did nothing more than speak out in favor of the candidate he believed to be the rightful winner of the presidential election.
She also said that Tarrio had been involved in politics “in the best way” and had always been supportive of the rule of law and law enforcement.
“Twenty-two years is a lot for a patriot,” she said.
Looking for political help
Tarrio had run-ins with the law well before he became associated with the Proud Boys. He was arrested in South Florida in 2013 on fraud charges related to a scheme to sell stolen diabetic test strips. He was initially sentenced to serve a 30-month prison term for his role in that case, but a judge agreed to reduce that sentence to just 16 months after prosecutors revealed that he had assisted local and federal law enforcement in multiple drug and illegal gambling investigations.
Tarrio took charge of the Proud Boys in 2018 after its founder Gavin McInnes stepped down from the role, overseeing the group’s rise within mainstream Republican politics. In addition to his involvement with the Proud Boys, Tarrio also served as the Florida director of the independent group Latinos for Trump during the former president’s 2020 reelection bid.
Tarrio’s sentence — and those of other Proud Boys members — have been criticized by at least some prominent Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading contender for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination.
In an interview with the conservative outlet Newsmax on Wednesday, DeSantis said that Jan. 6 defendants, including the Proud Boys members who were prosecuted, had been treated too harshly, and suggested that he might pardon them if elected president next year.
“I think we need a single standard of justice,” DeSantis said. “So we’ll use pardons and commutations as appropriate to make sure everyone’s treated equally.”
Tarrio’s mother said Thursday that the governor’s comments were a reason for hope for her family, especially given the long prison sentence her son is currently facing.
“It gives us hope that somebody’s going to look at everything that went on with a different set of eyes,” Duarte Tarrio said. “And it does give us hope that somebody — an elected official — is going to look at this.”