WASHINGTON (CN) — The far-right group the Proud Boys was dragged to court Monday by a church in the nation’s capital that claims it was terrorized last month when members of the group vandalized Black Lives Matter signs in an attempt to silence supporters of racial justice.
“The conduct of the Proud Boys in Washington, D.C. on December 12, 2020 amounted to a new and dangerous chapter in the long and terrible history of white supremacist mob violence targeting Black houses of worship,” according to the 34-page complaint brought by the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in District of Columbia Superior Court.
The Proud Boys is tied to white nationalism and has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League describes the group as “an extremist gang that has engaged in multiple acts of brutal violence and intimidation,” the lawsuit states.
At issue are events that transpired as the sun set in Washington just over three weeks ago, after hordes of President Donald Trump’s supporters descended on the streets for a “Stop the Steal” rally protesting the Electoral College victory of President-elect Joe Biden.
As demonstrations on the National Mall waned, factions of Proud Boys protesters marched downtown, removing and burning Black Lives Matter signs from multiple historically Black churches they passed.
One church, Asbury United Methodist Church, which is not a plaintiff in Monday’s suit, condemned the group’s rampage of vandalism in a statement the next morning.
“Sadly, we must point out that if this was a marauding group of men of color going through the city, and destroying property, they would have been followed and arrested,” the church said. “We are especially alarmed that this violence is not being denounced at the highest levels of our nation and instead the leaders of this movement are being invited to the White House.”
The Metropolitan AME Church, founded in Washington in 1838, is represented in the lawsuit by attorneys with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the firm Paul Weiss.
The church alleges 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 congregation was outraged by the attack,” the complaint states. “During a time of year that is meant to be joyous and restful, the congregants, staff and church leadership instead had to endure and respond to a hate crime. While the congregation remains determined to continue Metropolitan AME’s legacy of fighting for racial justice, the attack has created a sense of heightened awareness of how dangerous it can be for Black people to speak out against white supremacy.”
Metropolitan AME Church sued for conspiracy, defacement of private property, trespass, and destruction of religious property. A representative for the Proud Boys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
In addition to Proud Boys International LLC, the complaint also names as a defendant the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio. The church claims 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.
“Tarrio has made abundantly clear that he views the destruction of Black Lives Matter signs as integral to the Proud Boys’ goal of intimidating and threatening supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement,” the complaint states. “Accordingly, Tarrio and the Proud Boys members who follow him will likely undertake such actions when they reconvene to protest on January 6 and January 20, 2021.”
Those dates refer to Congress’ certification of Biden’s win on Wednesday and his inauguration later this month.
Metropolitan Police arrested Tarrio Monday evening after stopping a vehicle he was in shortly after he arrived at Dulles International Airport.