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DC files lawsuit against two groups for costs of Jan. 6 response

The experience of members of Congress on similar litigation highlights the difficulty of bringing a lawsuit against the far-right groups

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announces during a news conference outside the Capitol he has filed a lawsuit against the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers over the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announces during a news conference outside the Capitol he has filed a lawsuit against the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers over the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Proud Boys International and Oath Keepers and about 30 of the groups’ alleged leaders and members “for conspiring to terrorize the District” in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who announced the civil lawsuit outside the House entrance, said the District seeks “to impose severe financial penalties” on those who caused the District to “deploy unprecedented resources to repel and defeat an attack on our country’s capital.”

Racine said it was the first lawsuit to hold accountable the far-right groups “for unlawfully interfering with our country’s peaceful transfer of power” and assaulting law enforcement officers. All but one of the named defendants already face federal criminal charges in connection with the mob that entered the building as Congress tallied Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.

D.C. filed its lawsuit under the Ku Klux Klan Act, passed in 1871 in the wake of the Civil War, which Racine said was designed to protect the country and citizens against violent conspiracies. But the experience of lawmakers on similar litigation highlights the difficulty of bringing a case against those far-right groups.

Democratic Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi used the same law to file civil lawsuits earlier this year to seek damages from Donald Trump and the former president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for their roles in the Jan. 6 events.

The lawsuit from Thompson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus whose long fight for civil rights has included removal of Confederate imagery from his state’s flag, also named Proud Boys International and Oath Keepers as defendants.

Ten more Democratic members of Congress joined that lawsuit in April. But Thompson also added two new defendants at that time because Proud Boys International had formally terminated its existence six days before the lawsuit was filed.

A judge entered a default in October against those two new defendants — the group Warboys and Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys — because they did not file any response to the lawsuit. The Oath Keepers did file a motion to dismiss Thompson’s lawsuit, as did Trump and Giuliani.

But in November, the lawyers for Oath Keepers withdrew from Thompson’s suit because the group hadn’t paid its legal fees or costs, and the lawyers told the court they “reached out several times and there has been a breakdown of communication.”

Police focus

D.C.’s lawsuit focuses on the costs related to the Metropolitan Police Department response, which it says are still being tallied but are estimated at “millions of dollars” for the week of Jan. 6 alone. About 850 officers were at the Capitol during the height of the attack, and at least 65 reported injuries fighting off the violent mob.

An MPD therapist has worked with nearly 1,000 officers since the attack in an effort to help them cope with the physical and emotional trauma, the complaint states, and some officers who responded were still on leave more than six months after the attack because of the trauma.

“We all agree that the tragedy of pedestrians hit by a vehicle by walking on a crosswalk are deserving of restitution and recompense at the very least,” Racine said at a news conference. “So, too, our law enforcement officers who were injured in the course of stopping a violent mob hell-bent on taking away our freedoms.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said an emergency supplemental appropriations bill signed into law in July included $9.1 million to compensate the District for direct costs, but medical treatment and pay leave are outside the scope of that federal funding.

“It is appropriate that the perpetrators of the attack compensate D.C. for the other costs D.C. incurred that day,” Norton said at the news conference.

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