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Attorney General Karl Racine of Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and 31 individuals associated with the far-right extremist groups involved in the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The suit seeks to recover the millions of dollars the District of Columbia spent to dispatch hundreds of the city’s police officers to the Capitol during the riot, and on medical and mental health treatment for officers in the months that followed the deadly attack.
“Our intent is to hold these violent mobsters and these violent hate groups accountable and to get every penny of damage that we can,” Racine told reporters at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, where he announced the lawsuit Tuesday. “We are going to seek the maximum level of financial penalty.”
Racine compared the events of Jan. 6 — when a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters violently stormed the Capitol as Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory — to the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it “a planned terrorist attack.”
“But this time, our own citizens were hell-bent on destroying the freedom and ideals on which our country was founded and continues to aspire to achieve,” said Racine.
The lawsuit seeks to use a Reconstruction-era federal law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act to hold members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers accountable for “conspiring to terrorize the District by planning, promoting, and participating in” the violence of Jan. 6.
The law, passed in 1871 and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, made it illegal to use "force, intimidation or threat" to prevent someone from voting, holding office or serving on a jury. The bill was coupled with other enforcement acts meant to protect freed slaves from vigilante violence following the passage of the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship and equal rights to Black Americans in 1868.
The KKK Act of 1871 was recently used in a civil case against the organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Counterprotesters and residents sued for damages, and although a jury decided last month to award more than $26 million to the plaintiffs, it did not come to a decision as to whether organizers were liable under the KKK statute of conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence.
This isn’t the first civil lawsuit stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who now serves as chairman of the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, filed a similar lawsuit citing the KKK Act earlier this year, as did several police officers who defended the Capitol during the riot.
Those lawsuits accused the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, along with Trump and associates of the former president, of conspiring to incite the violent insurrection. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., filed a similar civil lawsuit against Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Racine noted Tuesday, however, that his office’s suit is the first by a government agency that aims to hold individuals and organizations responsible for the violence that occurred at the Capitol.
Racine declined to say whether he has discussed the lawsuit with the Justice Department, which is overseeing more than 700 federal criminal cases stemming from Jan. 6, as well as an ongoing FBI investigation into the activities of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in the lead-up to the insurrection.
Twenty people who were alleged members or associates of the Oath Keepers have been arrested for their participation in the events of Jan. 6, including some facing charges of conspiracy. Four members of the group have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with federal authorities in their conspiracy investigation. Members of the Proud Boys have also been arrested on allegations of conspiracy.
Some of those facing federal conspiracy charges are named in the suit announced by Racine on Tuesday, which cites much of the evidence gathered by federal prosecutors in those cases.