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Black Church Wins Default Judgment Against Proud Boys

The far-right group ignored a lawsuit brought by a historic Black church in the nation's capital that was vandalized by a pro-Trump mob last year.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A District of Columbia judge on Friday granted a default judgment against the far-right Proud Boys after the group gave the cold shoulder to a historic Black church’s lawsuit over destruction of Black Lives Matter flags.

Two days before hundreds of pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Trump-aligned extremist group Proud Boys was sued in D.C. Superior Court by a Washington church that claims it was terrorized in December 2020 when members of the group vandalized Black Lives Matter signs after a pro-Trump rally.

The Proud Boys’ once-fringe profile was given a heightened boost when then-President Donald Trump, in a debate against then-candidate Joe Biden last September, instructed the Proud Boys specifically by name to “stand back, and stand by.”

Emboldened by that apparent endorsement from the White House, the polo shirt-clad Proud Boys rallied for Trump twice in Washington following his election loss, with bold demonstrations deteriorating into downtown street brawls at nightfall.

At a hearing on Friday, Superior Court Judge Heidi Pasichow granted a default judgment to the Metropolitan AME Church that was attacked, after the antagonistic, white nationalist group failed to respond to the church's lawsuit.

The historic Black church, whose parishioners included Frederick Douglass, alleged that when a group of Proud Boys members saw a Black Lives Matter sign displayed inside a wrought iron fence on the church’s property, they hopped the gate to destroy it.

“The Proud Boys share the white supremacist DNA of so many groups that came before them,” the church's pastor, the Reverend William H. Lamar IV, said Friday. “These groups sought to use physical, political, economic, social, and theological violence to intimidate our ancestors. The Proud Boys are using the same playbook.”

Represented by attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the firm Paul Weiss, Metropolitan AME Church brought its suit under the D.C. Bias and Related Crimes Act for conspiracy, defacement of private property, trespass, and destruction of religious property.

Attorneys for the church say the default ruling declares that Proud Boys International LLC forfeited the lawsuit and opens the door for further legal judgment.

“Today’s ruling was a victory in favor of decency and against violent racism,” said Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “The lawsuit was filed with the purpose of holding the Proud Boys and their leadership accountable for their campaign of racist violence, which they perpetrate with impunity.  

Talia Lavin, author of "Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy," says the Proud Boys are a “racist, violent group” that is “long overdue for a comeuppance after years of inaction and false equivalence from law enforcement." 

"After years of authorities deliberately ignoring a growing threat, this judgment against the Proud Boys demonstrates the beginning of a willingness to see them for what they are - a national gang that creates violence wherever they go, with the stated goal of provoking a civil war,” Lavin told Courthouse News on Friday.

In addition to the Texas-based Proud Boys International LLC, the complaint also named as a defendant the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio.

The church alleged Tarrio admitted to vandalizing its property in a recent podcast episode. He also allegedly posted on his Parler account that he was “damn proud” he aided members of the group in attacking the property and asked other members to “pass me the lighter,” which the church says is a clear signal that he intends to commit more violence.

Judge Pasichow on Friday granted Tarrio additional time to obtain legal representation and respond to the church’s suit against him.

Tarrio was arrested ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on destruction of property charges stemming from the burning of Black Lives Matter flags at the church, but additional charges for extended magazine possession were added after he admitted to bringing the devices, illegal in the District, as part of a private sale.

Tarrio was released from custody and ordered to stay out of the city on the day of the insurrection attempt, but the FBI has since said his arrest was an effort to prevent an outbreak of violence.

Last month, four men described as leaders of the group were charged in connection with the Capitol riot, as an indictment ordered unsealed presents fresh evidence of how federal officials believe members planned and carried out a coordinated attack to stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s electoral victory.

The latest indictment suggests the Proud Boys deployed a much larger contingent in Washington, with over 60 users “participating in” an encrypted messaging channel for group members that was created a day before the riot. The group abandoned an earlier channel and created the new “Boots on the Ground” channel after Tarrio was arrested for the December incident.

Tarrio has not been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot, but the latest indictment refers to him by his title as Proud Boys’ chairman.

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