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A new lawsuit targets Trump and the Proud Boys under a law enacted to stop the KKK

They are accused of conspiring to incite the Capitol attack.

Protesters who claim to be a members of the Proud Boys gather with other Trump supporters outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Though the Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of inciting the Capitol insurrection on Saturday, some Democrats are still seeking to ensure that he and his associates, as well as the far-right hate groups that participated in the attack, are held accountable.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, sued Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two far-right groups, the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers, on Tuesday, claiming that they conspired to interfere with Congress’s certification of the 2020 election results.

The complaint — which was filed in collaboration with the NAACP in Washington, DC, federal court and seeks financial damages — argues that the groups pursued a “common plan” that culminated in the “Save America” rally on January 6 and the subsequent storming of the Capitol.

“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the complaint states. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

Thompson also asserts that they violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era law that was designed to protect Black Americans against white supremacist violence. The law imposes criminal penalties on people who conspire to use “force, intimidation, or threat” in order to prevent public office holders from performing their duties.

The lawsuit is one of many measures that members of Congress are taking to hold those behind the Capitol insurrection accountable.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that Congress would establish a commission, modeled after the commission that examined the 9/11 attacks, to investigate the insurrection. And the Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing next week examining the security failures that allowed rioters to breach the Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted to acquit Trump, also said that Trump could face criminal and civil litigation for his role in the Capitol attack. Trump is already under criminal investigation in Georgia for attempting to influence the 2020 election results and asking officials to “find” votes.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office,” he said. “Didn’t get away with anything yet.”

Some Proud Boys and Oathkeepers have begun facing legal consequences

Members of the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers are being prosecuted for their role in the events leading up to and including the Capitol insurrection.

The Proud Boys’ leader, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, was arrested two days before the insurrection for allegedly burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was stolen from a church in northwest Washington, DC, following a “Stop the Steal” rally in December. When he was arrested, police found him in possession of two high-capacity firearm magazines. He was consequently charged with destruction of property and possession of a high-capacity feeding device.

Two additional members — Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, both of New York — were charged with conspiracy for storming the Capitol building. Federal prosecutors said that they “engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct, influence, impede, and interfere with law enforcement officers engaged in their official duties in protecting the U.S. Capitol and its grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.”

Three members of the Oathkeepers — Thomas Edward Caldwell, who held a leadership role in the group, and two associates from Ohio, Donovan Crowl and Jessica Watkins — have also been charged with conspiracy for planning to bring “heavy weapons” and train in “urban warfare” ahead of the attack.

Other apparent members of the Oathkeepers, including retired Air Force officer Larry Brock and heavy metal guitarist Jon Ryan Schaffer, have been arrested for their involvement in the attack.

The Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers have vocally supported Trump and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, making appearances at various “Stop the Steal” rallies nationwide.

Trump infamously refused to denounce them and other white supremacist organizations during a presidential debate with Joe Biden in October, instructing them to instead “stand back and stand by.” Trump later downplayed the statement, but many in the group seemd to take it as a command, embracing it as a rallying cry and put it on their official merchandise.