The District of Columbia has filed a civil lawsuit seeking harsh financial penalties against far-right groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers over their role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court, also names dozens of the groups' senior members, many of whom already face criminal charges for taking part in the violent attack on the Capitol building while Congress was meeting to certify the 2020 election results.
Karl Racine, Washington's attorney general, said the suit seeks compensation for damages to the District of Columbia and to inflict maximum financial damage on the groups responsible.
“Our intent is to hold these violent mobsters and violent hate groups accountable and to get every penny of damage we can,” Racine said. “If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that's a good day.”
There was no immediate response to emails sent to the groups seeking comment.
The lawsuit cites as its basis a post-Civil War 1871 law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act.
“We’re using the Ku Klux Klan Act and other laws to absolutely bring as much financial pain -- hit them in the pocket -- as possible,” Racine said.
A similar tactic was used to secure a $26 million verdict last month against white supremacist groups and individuals responsible for organizing the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one person was killed after a man plowed his car into a group of counter-protesters.
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Racine announced the suit Tuesday alongside Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. Norton said the suit is designed to secure extra funding to support D.C. police officers injured while defending the Capitol building and to serve as a warning to extremist groups.
“They're going to have to spend money to defend themselves,” Norton said. “Even if we don't get a penny in restitution, this lawsuit's deterrent effect will say, ‘Be prepared to spend money to defend yourself because we are coming after you.’”
She said the District has not been reimbursed for much of the costs from that day.
“From damage to police property to medical expenses related to the attack the by perpetrators including Proud Boys and Oath Keepers must pay the District of Columbia,” Norton said.
Racine said evidence presented in the multiple federal criminal cases underway already proves “explicit evidence of conspiracy” to commit violent acts in the nation's capital. He said the lawsuit presents an opportunity to publicly explore and expose the financial support structure of the far-right extremist network.
“I sure hope they try to defend the case,” he said. "We can't wait to propound searing questions about the finances of these individuals and these groups.”
Racine would not say if he had spoken with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the criminal cases.
The lawsuit was filed with the help of two groups that have been tracking the events leading up to Jan. 6 -- the States United Democracy Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
“It’s about holding the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and dozens of insurrectionists accountable for the violent assault on our democracy and the trauma they inflicted on the District and public safety officers that day,” States United Democracy Center CEO Joanna Lydgate said.
“Accountability for Jan. 6 is critically important to preventing another violent insurrection from happening in D.C. or in state capitols across the country,” Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said.
The Proud Boys emerged from far-right fringes during the Trump administration to join mainstream GOP circles. The Oath Keepers is a militia group founded in 2009 that recruits current and former military, police and first responders.