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The Guardian

Proud Boys leader received Covid-19 stimulus loans worth $15,500

Enrique Tarrio received two paycheck protection program loans intended for small businesses, for ‘security systems services’ Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, has long been criticized as a key promoter of disinformation about the pandemic and measures to counteract its spread. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images Government records show that Enrique Tarrio, chairman of the far-right Proud Boys group, received two federal government-backed paycheck protection program (PPP) loans worth a total of $15,500, the Guardian can reveal. Tarrio, based in Miami, Florida, was approved for an initial loan of $7,750 on 30 March, and a succeeding loan for the same amount on 16 April. The loans were issued to Henry Tarrio, an anglicized form of his name which he has used on other occasions. The Proud Boys began as an organization protesting against political correctness and boosting their idea of masculinity and grew into a rightwing group that embraced street fighting. Earlier this year, Canada named it as a terrorist entity. It is seen as having played an important role in the 6 January attack on the Capitol in Washington DC. In the loan documentation, which was obtained by the news non-profit ProPublica, after a Freedom of Information Act battle with the Small Business Administration, Tarrio is described as an independent contractor, working in the “Security Systems Services” industry, but the document names no associated business entity. Additional information provided to the Guardian by ProPublica shows that the street address on the loan application is associated with both Tarrio and one of the LLCs for which he is named as an officer in Florida state records. Those records show Tarrio as an officer in a number of inactive LLCs, including “SPIE Security LLC”, “Fund The West LLC” and “Proud Boys LLC”. In a questionnaire he completed for the Ballotpedia website in the course of an abortive 2020 congressional run, Tarrio described himself as the proprietor of “several companies that were involved in the surveillance and security industry”. However, Tarrio was not found to be a licensed security officer in a search of Florida state records. Another company, “Warboys LLC”, was voluntarily dissolved on 7 April. Records show Tarrio as the registered agent for that company, and Joe Biggs and Ethan Nordean as officers. Biggs, also of Florida, and Nordean, of Washington state, are jointly facing federal conspiracy charges relating to their alleged participation in the riot at the Capitol. In the lead-up to those events, Tarrio was arrested and charged over weapons offenses and the alleged vandalism of a Black church in Washington DC at a previous election-related rally. Following these charges, Tarrio was banned from entering Washington DC, and did not participate in the 6 January protests. No other Florida-based businesses are associated with the Proud Boys leader in that state’s public records. PPP loans were first issued under the Cares Act in 2020, under the Trump administration, as a stimulus measure to an economy battered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The program was revived in January 2021 under the Biden administration, and businesses were able to apply for loans up to 31 March. Tarrio’s loan was issued as part of the second round of PPP funding. One criterion for eligibility was that recipients not be a “business concern or entity primarily engaged in political or lobbying activities”. PPP loans are forgiven where it can be shown that at least 60% of money was spent on payroll costs. Independent contractors can use the loans to replace claimed lost earnings, and apply for forgiveness in order to keep the money. Although Tarrio took federal stimulus money, he has long been criticized as a key promoter of disinformation about the pandemic and measures to counteract its spread, including masks and lockdowns. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic’s first wave, counter-terrorism researchers at the Middlebury Institute noted that Proud Boys-related platforms showed “widespread engagement with violent conspiracy theories, disinformation, and promotion of narratives that downplay the Covid-19 pandemic”. Tarrio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.