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DC goes after extremist groups that led Jan. 6 insurrection

The Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and more than 30 individual members of the groups are named as defendants to the first attempt by a government to hold those who planned the Jan. 6 uprising civilly accountable for the damage they caused.

WASHINGTON (CN) — D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a federal lawsuit against the far-right groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers on Tuesday for the extensive damage they caused to the District of Columbia on Jan. 6. 

The 84-page federal complaint in Washington is the first civil effort by a state or municipal government seeking accountability against the individuals and groups who helped plan and execute the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress and seven Capitol police officers have already sued the two organizations for their roles on Jan. 6. 

"Defendants spread misinformation, fanned the flames of the conspiracy, actively encouraged and participated in the actions that left the Capitol in shambles, threatened a vital component of our democracy, and injured law enforcement," according to the lawsuit, which details how the members of the two far-right groups planned and recruited individuals to storm the U.S. Capitol, supplying tactical gear, weapons and training to boot. 

The complaint seeks to use a modern version of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, which was enacted during the Civil War to protect government officials, to hold dozens of individuals accountable and recover millions of dollars in damages they caused to the district — including the physical and mental injuries caused to Metropolitan police officers. 

In a Tuesday press conference announcing the lawsuit, Racine spoke of D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was dragged down the Capitol steps, shocked with a stun gun, and suffered a traumatic brain injury and mild heart attack. Other law enforcement officers were sprayed in the face with chemical irritants, trampled and beaten — and several have died.

“By seeking justice through this civil lawsuit, we will hit the organizers, planners, and participants in their wallets and purses in order to deter and dismantle their ability to strike again,” said Racine, who likened the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to the terror attacks of 9/11. “But this time, our own citizens were hell bent on destroying the freedoms and ideals on which our country was founded, and continues to aspire to achieve. 

The lawsuit names the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and 31 individual members of the groups — most of whom have already been charged with federal crimes. 

“This case is about consequences and about prevention,” said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of the States United Democracy Center, a nonprofit group that served as pro bono outside counsel to Racine, along with the Anti-Defamation League and two private law firms. “Election lies and conspiracy theories helped fuel the insurrection — and those same lies pose a serious threat to our democracy today. … If we don’t take action this will keep happening.” 

The lawsuit doesn’t specify how much the district is seeking in damages, but Racine said it would seek the “maximum level of financial penalty.” 

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