WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia on Tuesday filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, accusing the two extremist groups and their members of conspiring to attack the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
The lawsuit represents the latest legal fallout for the two groups, as well as the latest effort to deploy a federal law originally intended to address the threat of the Ku Klux Klan to try to hold people and organizations liable for the assault on the Capitol. The district’s case highlights the hundreds of local police officers who responded to the riots to provide backup for the overwhelmed US Capitol Police, the injuries that some of those officers sustained, and the financial costs to the city.
“Our own citizens were hellbent on destroying the freedoms and ideals on which our country was founded and continues to aspire to achieve,” DC Attorney General Karl Racine said at a press conference in front of the Capitol announcing the case. “January 6th was, to say the least, a brazen, violent, and deadly attack that traumatized this city, this community, and our country. And importantly, no one — no one — bore the brunt of this gutless attack more than the courageous law enforcement officers."
The lawsuit joins the hundreds of criminal prosecutions against the supporters of former president Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol, civil lawsuits filed by members of Congress who fled from rioters and police officers injured trying to defend the building, and a far-reaching investigation by the special congressional committee. The night before the DC lawsuit was announced, the Jan. 6 committee shared a collection of text messages turned over by Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows that revealed desperate attempts by Fox News hosts and Donald Trump Jr. to get Trump to do something to stop the insurrection.
"He's got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough," Donald Trump Jr. texted, according to excerpts read by Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the panel.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,” Fox News’s Laura Ingraham wrote.
Unlike some of the other civil lawsuits filed in connection with Jan. 6, the DC case doesn’t name Trump or some of his prominent allies like Rudy Giuliani as defendants. Asked why the suit filed Tuesday does not name the former president, Racine did not answer directly about the different approach.
"This lawsuit is focused on the individuals and the entities that organized, planned, and participated in the mob activity on Jan. 6,” he said at the press conference, adding that altogether the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and the Democratic Attorney General have sued Trump more than 150 times.
“When you win 80% of your cases that you file against the president of the United States, you know what that means? That means you've called out lawless behavior. So we're not afraid to sue presidents or former presidents,” Racine said. “Our investigation and our work continues."
The DC lawsuit represents a dramatic closing act on the national stage from Racine as the district’s first elected attorney general; he announced he won’t run for reelection in 2022. His office was a thorn in Trump’s side from the start. In June 2017, Racine held a press conference with his Maryland counterpart Brian Frosh to announce they were taking Trump to court over his refusal to give up his financial interests in his business empire after taking office. The fight ultimately homed in on the Trump International Hotel in downtown DC, the hub of the city’s Trump-era social scene. Trump, whose position was backed by both a team of private attorneys as well as the Justice Department, repeatedly failed to knock the suit out of court.
The argument over whether Trump had violated what are known as the emoluments clauses of the US Constitution finally reached the US Supreme Court during this final year in office. In January, less than a week after President Joe Biden was sworn in, the justices tossed the case filed by DC and Maryland as well as one filed by a government watchdog group as moot once Trump was no longer president.
Beyond the emoluments case, the DC attorney general’s office frequently joined with its Democratic counterparts in other states to sue over Trump administration actions. Last year, the office also filed a civil action against Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, accusing it of misusing funds as a nonprofit entity. Last month, a judge ruled that part of the city’s case could go forward.