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Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio serves as a brown face of white supremacy

White supremacy will always attract nonwhite believers.

It should come as no surprise that there are several Latino male white nationalists who have gotten disproportionate attention in recent years, but in a country that keeps misunderstanding why the U.S. Latino community is nowhere near close to being a monolith, it is critical to examine how this notion of Latino white nationalists still feels strange to some.

The country’s estimated 62.1 million U.S. Latinos have ideologies from one extreme to the other.

Last week’s news that Enrique Tarrio, the former Afro-Cuban leader of the Proud Boys, was arrested on federal charges surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has sparked some interest in an apparently paradoxical reality: nonwhite Latino men worshiping at the altar of American white supremacy and providing cover to ensure that white nationalists stay mainstream.

As a journalist who’s been covering Latino communities for years, I know that this supposed paradox has never existed and that the country’s estimated 62.1 million Latinos have ideologies from one extreme to the other. American whiteness is a prize; it is where the power lies, and people like Tarrio would rather bask in that whiteness than fight against it and appear too “woke,” even it means tearing down democracy.

Non-Latino media have long been obsessed with proving the claim that more and more Latinos are longing to become white, which ignores the fact that being Latino is not just a sole racial construct but more of a messy combination with ethnicity. Voices from within the U.S. Latino community have responded by diving into the complexities of what it is to be Latino in modern-day America. While it is apparent that the country has become more multiethnic and multiracial, the quest for what Cristina Beltrán calls “multiracial whiteness” will always have an appeal in our community.

“For voters who see the very act of acknowledging one’s racial identity as itself racist, the politics of multiracial whiteness reinforces their desired approach to colorblind individualism,” Beltrán, an associate professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU, wrote after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “In the politics of multiracial whiteness, anyone can join the MAGA movement and engage in the wild freedom of unbridled rage and conspiracy theories.”

Such a belief in multiracial whiteness has roots not only in U.S. Latino communities but also in Latin American countries of origin. The most obvious example will always be Cuba. More than 60 years after the Cuban revolution, reactionary forces against big government, communism and oppression have become a media industry in places such as Tarrio's hometown, Miami. Of course, broadly painting Miami as some reactionary Latino white nationalist monolith is a mistake, but it would also be a mistake to say that such a reactionary sentiment does not have influence or impact.

In addition, anti-Blackness has deep roots in Latin American culture, and when such views get amplified through U.S. media, they’re rarely if ever challenged. For instance, at the height of the George Floyd demonstrations in 2020, Spanish-language news sites were rightly criticized for making the same bad editorial decisions that Fox News did while reporting on Black Lives Matter. So given that Spanish-language news played into Black Lives Matter hysteria, it makes sense that an Afro Cuban such as Tarrio could be inspired to burn a Black Lives Matter banner outside a historic Black church in Washington. Anti-Blackness is prevalent in U.S. Latino communities, even when the individual identifies as Black or brown.

Anti-Blackness has deep roots in Latin American culture, and when such views get amplified through U.S. media, they’re rarely if ever challenged.

Still, American media, Spanish-language media included, have no problem giving Tarrio the mic to insist on the following: “I'm pretty brown, I'm Cuban. There's nothing white supremacist about me.”

That’s the problem. Individuals such as Enrique Tarrio (who goes by Henry in written reports) are used to downplaying right-wing racism and white nationalism because they are not white themselves.

You would think we would have gotten past this in 2012, when “white Hispanic” George Zimmerman (who is half-Peruvian and looks more brown than white) caused the tragic death of a Black teenager named Trayvon Martin whom he had no reason to surveil and follow. Zimmerman’s reflexive suspicion of the teenager appeared to be an example of white supremacy from a Latino person.

American society shows more interest in Latinos who push a contrarian angle that borders on the extreme.

Part of America’s ignorance can be blamed on the lack of any real U.S. Latino political power, which makes our community an afterthought. American society shows more interest in Latinos who push a contrarian angle that borders on the extreme instead of realizing that 62.1 million U.S. Latinos could become a true political force and defender of democracy if only less attention was given to Latino white nationalists.

White supremacy will always attract nonwhite believers, and for white nationalists, having that brown or Black leader will always serve to downplay the evil behind the curtain. U.S. Latinos must continue to call out such blatant moves and side with those who want to protect American democracy, as imperfect as it still is.

“Henry” Tarrio is just the latest example of a nonwhite believer siding with the enemy. That will only sound shocking to Americans who don’t know their own history. For white supremacy to succeed, it needs nonwhite adherents who think they, too, can be white. In the case of Tarrio, now charged with helping plan the Jan. 6 attack, that belief could come at a heavy price.