On Dec. 12, as part of a rally in Washington, D.C., hosted by supporters of President Donald Trump, members of the neo-fascist male chauvinist group the Proud Boys stole and then burned Black Lives Matter banners and signs at four churches, including Asbury United Methodist Church and Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, both historically Black churches. On Jan. 5, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced a lawsuit against the Proud Boys and its membership over the event on behalf of Metropolitan AME.
The complaint, filed in the D.C. Superior Court, alleges the attacks were part of “coordinated acts of violence” to “[silence] support for racial justice.” Metropolitan AME is also represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
The D.C. police are considering the incidents as potential hate crimes. Previously, the Lawyers’ Committee had called on the Justice Department to open a federal civil rights investigation into the events.
“Our suit seeks to hold accountable those responsible for vandalizing and terrorizing a historic Black church because of its support for racial justice,” Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, wrote on Twitter. “This attack is a new chapter in a long and despicable history of mob violence targeting Black houses of worship.”
Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the Proud Boys named in the complaint, admitted to his involvement in the stealing and burning of the banners to the Washington Post; he did not admit to committing a hate crime and told the Post that the rioters were unaware that the churches targeted were historically Black.
After issuing a warrant for Tarrio's arrest over the burning of the banner at Asbury United Methodist, D.C. police arrested Tarrio on Jan. 4 after he entered the city. Tarrio was charged with one misdemeanor count of destruction of property and two felony counts of possession of a weapon, found when police searched the vehicle he was discovered in; on Jan. 5, he pleaded not guilty to charges and was released from custody, though a judge banned him from returning to the city.
This news comes as the city prepares for a similar rally planned for Jan. 6, the day of the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote. Trump promoted the “Stop the Steal” rally on his Twitter account this past weekend.
“White supremacists will not dictate the terms of our worship, theology, or our strident commitment to the liberation of humankind from violence, oppression, and exploitation,” Rev. William H. Lamar IV, the church’s pastor, said in a statement.
This story has been updated to include Tarrio's plea and his ban from returning to D.C.