At last count, more than 700 people have been criminally charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And on Tuesday, D.C.’s attorney general targeted dozens of them with a civil suit.
These include the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and over 30 people whom Attorney General Karl Racine accuses of planning, promoting and participating in the attack on the Capitol. The violence that day led to a number of deaths, including five law enforcement officers. Hundreds of officers were also injured in the violence, and still carry the physical and emotional scars from that day.
“This suit is seeking substantial financial damages to obtain restitution and recompense to victims, including law enforcement officers, many of whom continue to suffer physical and mental trauma and the District itself,” Racine said in a statement Tuesday.
“By seeking justice through this civil lawsuit, we will hit the organizers, planners, and participants in their wallets and purses in order to deter and dismantle their ability to strike again.”
As with the recent successful $26 million lawsuit against the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Racine’s suit cites the modern legal equivalent of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which allows parties to sue over civil rights violations.
And during a news conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday, Racine was candid about how he wants the suit to impact the defendants.
“If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that’s a good day,” he said. “When hate is dispatched and eliminated, that’s a good day.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who also appeared at Tuesday’s lawsuit announcement, pointed out another intended effect of the suit: deterrence.
“They’re going to have to spend money defending it,” she said. “So 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.'”
Spotlighting their communications in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Racine’s lawsuit accuses the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys with recruiting new members, threatening detractors with violence and mobilizing forces “to engage in acts of violence, including in connection with the ultimate conspiracy to commit the January 6th attack.”
Some of that other violence includes the so-called “Million MAGA March” on Nov. 14, 2020, as well as the “Stop the Steal” rally on Dec. 12, 2020.
It was during the latter that anti-racist banners were vandalized and destroyed – including by one suit defendant, the Proud Boys so-called “chairman” Henry “Enrique” Tarrio. He was arrested over that vandalism when he arrived in D.C. shortly before the insurrection. While a judge barred him from being in the District on Jan. 6, the suit accuses him of coordinating with people who took part in the assault.
Two nonprofits helped with the lawsuit: the Anti-Defamation League and the States United Democracy Center. Two law firms — Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and Dechert LLP — provided pro bono counsel as well.
Joanna Lydgate, the States United Democracy Center’s CEO, said such lawsuits are necessary, because the lies that led to Jan. 6 pose a threat to the nation.
“The attack on our democracy is far from over,” Lydgate said at Tuesday’s announcement, “and if we don’t take action, we risk letting violence become a feature of our political life.”