Washington, D.C. District Attorney Karl Racine yesterday announced he would be filing a civil lawsuit against the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and other far right groups involved in organizing the January 6 riots, in which hundreds of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Although the specific amount sought was not stated, the lawsuit aims to recover millions of dollars the city spent defending the Capitol Building.
“They caused extensive damage to the District, our democracy and particularly the brave men and women of our Metropolitan Police Department,” Racine said in his announcement.
The suit is the "first effort by a government agency to hold individuals and organizations civilly responsible for the violence at the U.S. Capitol on the day Congress ceremonially confirmed President Biden’s 2020 election victory," writes the Washington Post. The paper goes on to note that the lawsuit cites an old and relatively obscure law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, "enacted after the Civil War to safeguard government officials carrying out their duties and protect civil rights." Racine's civil suit joins another filed by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and a third filed by a group of police officers who defended the Capitol.
In what may complicate efforts to weaken the groups involved and hold their leadership accountable, the New York Times reports that in the year following January 6, the Proud Boys and other far right groups who maintained a high national profile during Trump’s term in office have changed their organizational framework and tactics. Instead of a centralized leadership, the Proud boys in particular have taken a much lower profile, splintering into dozens of tiny independent cells, appearing in small towns and suburbs across the country.
“The plan of attack if you want to make change is to get involved at the local level,” Jeremy Bertino, a Proud Boys member from North Carolina, told the Times.
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Toward this end, the group, known for its misogynistic and white nationalist views, has become a menacing presence at town council, school board and health department meetings in New Hanover, North Carolina, Downer’s Grove, Illinois, Beloit, Wisconsin, and an estimated 140 other small towns across America over the last year.
While they have materialized at public debates over numerous issues, their primary focus in recent months has been on mask and vaccine mandates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some instances, they have threatened town council and school board members directly; in others, they have merely stood at the back of the room with their arms folded. In either case, they are using their visible presence in these small towns as a means of recruiting new members, hoping to bolster their numbers and local political clout prior to the upcoming midterm elections.
The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes and received National attention a year later following the August 12 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville. When McInnes stepped down from his leadership role, he was replaced by Enrique Tarrio, who had earlier founded the Florida-based group Latinos for Trump. Tarrio in turn was arrested two days prior to the January 6 riots, under suspicion he was planning violent protests in response to the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election. In the days following, six members of the Proud Boys were arrested for storming the Capitol Building.
For more on the Proud Boys and the January 6 attack, see:
The Southern Poverty Law Center on the history of the Proud Boys and its founder.
Rolling Stone's report detailing organizational meetings and communications between January 6 organizers and members of Congress and the White House staff.