A historic African-American church in Washington DC has filed a lawsuit against members of the far-right nationalist group the Proud Boys after its leadership took credit for burning a church's Black Lives Matter banner during a rally supporting Donald Trump last month.
Two banners – one at Metropolitan AME and another at Asbury United Methodist Church – were burned during the groups’ violent demonstrations in the nation’s capital on 12 December.
Metropolitan AME, with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, sued Proud Boys International LLC, eight unnamed participants and organiser Enrique Tarrio after he admitted in comments on the right-wing social media app Parler and on a Proud Boys-affiliated podcast that he was responsible for burning a church’s sign.
"In the burning of the BLM sign, I was the one that lit it on fire," he said on the War Boys podcast last month. "I was the person that went ahead and put the lighter to it and engulfed it in flames, and I am damn proud that I did."
Lawyers' Committee president Kristen Clarke announced that the suit “seeks to hold accountable those responsible for vandalising and terrorising a historic Black church because of its support for racial justice.”
“This attack is a new chapter in a long and despicable history of mob violence targeting Black houses of worship,” she announced on social media. “We want to make clear to the Proud Boys and other extremists who dare to assault our institutions, our humanity and our dignity, that we will stand up and hold them accountable. Attacks on Black churches have no place in society today.”
Washington DC police are investigating the "destruction of property offense" as a hate crime with aid from the FBI.
US Attorney Michael Sherwin said in a statement on that the fires were meant to “terrorize Black people, violated DC law and were hate crimes.”
“They harmed people of colour, and every person who lives and works in our city who believes in fairness, justice and racial equity,” he said.
Mr Tarrio told The Washington Post last month that he would not admit to committing a hate crime because he believes the Black Lives Matter movement "has terrorized the citizens of this country.”
Four churches were vandalised during demonstrations in Washington on 12 December. In a New Year’s Eve letter police requesting increased police presence ahead of planned protests in Washington this week, Asbury’s senior pastor Rev Ianther Mills reported that a second banner was stolen from the church "sometime over Christmas weekend.”
The lawsuit filed on Monday includes several pages of social media messages coordinating plans for demonstrations and violence on 12 December, including calls to stock up on guns and ammunition and “keep our enemies awake.”
“In countless messages transmitted over social media platforms and messaging services, Defendants and their co-conspirators promised that there would be violence in their wake, and, as the events [of 12 December] demonstrate, they made good on their promises,” according to the lawsuit.
The church and plaintiffs seek “compensatory, punitive, and injunctive relief, and aims, with this action, to ensure that nothing like this will happen again at the hands of Defendants, their affiliates, agents and co-conspirators – not to Metropolitan AME, and not to the thousands of other people and organizations that find themselves targeted for violence by the Proud Boys.”
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