The city of Washington, D.C., sued far-right groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers on Tuesday, seeking to collect on the financial costs of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and its aftermath.
The suit aims to hold accountable two groups that prosecutors say played a leading role in an assault by thousands of supporters of former president Donald Trump that aimed to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
‘If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that’s a good day’
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine told reporters the defendants had caused physical and financial harm to Washington and its residents, adding that the city will seek “severe” financial penalties against the defendants.
“Our intent … is to hold these violent mobsters and these violent hate groups accountable and to get every penny of damage we can,” he said at a news conference. “If it so happens that we bankrupt them, then that’s a good day.”
The lawsuit seeks to recover the costs of deploying roughly 1,100 city police officers to bolster other police forces who defended the Capitol against the attack, which it says amounts to millions of dollars.
It also seeks to recover medical and paid-leave costs incurred afterward for more than 65 officers injured during the assault and more than 1,000 who have sought therapy since.
The lawsuit opens up another legal front against alleged participants in the Jan. 6 attack.
Four people died and hundreds were injured during the multi-hour onslaught, and one police officer died the next day of injuries sustained while defending Congress. Four officers who were at the Capitol that day have since taken their own lives.
700 people face criminal charges
Prosecutors have also filed conspiracy charges against some members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, saying they planned the attack in advance and were in the vanguard of the assault.
Nearly 700 people face criminal charges stemming from the event.
The lawsuit announced Tuesday invokes the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which allows people to sue for civil rights violations. The law has been used to target the Klan and other extremist groups — most recently last month, when a jury found the organizers of a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., liable for $26 million in damages.
The suit does not name Trump or former members of his administration as defendants.
Racine said evidence presented in the multiple federal criminal cases underway 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.
It is not clear whether the two groups are in a position to defend themselves, or whether the lawsuit will yield any financial penalties. Lawyers defending several of those named in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Proud Boys emerged from far-right fringes during the Trump administration to join mainstream Republican circles. The Oath Keepers is a militia group founded in 2009 that recruits current and former military, police and first responders.
In Canada, the Proud Boys are included on the federal government’s list of terrorist groups.
Racine and other District officials said they hoped the lawsuit would serve as a warning to deter similar behaviour by other extremist groups.
“If we don’t get a penny in restitution, this lawsuit’s deterrent effect will say, ‘Be prepared to spend money, because we are coming after you,'” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District in the House of Representatives.