Over the course of their violent, seven-year history, the Proud Boys have faced plenty of consequences: They’ve been slapped with criminal charges throughout their ranks, admonished by Congress, labeled as domestic terrorists in two countries, and publicly scorned. Yet they continue to mobilize, committing acts of bigoted political violence and leading a surge of extremist activity across the country.
Now, a historic Black church community in Washington, D.C., is hoping its $22 million lawsuit against the far-right street gang will finally bring an end to their campaign of terror.
The lawsuit was filed against the Proud Boys organization and five of its leaders and allies, including the group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio. The suit stems from a “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. on Dec. 12, 2020, when a throng of Proud Boys vandalized several historic Black churches, tearing down their Black Lives Matter banners and destroying them in the street.
On Wednesday, more than two years after they filed suit, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal community finally got its day in court against the gang. Parishioners and congregants testified in D.C. Superior Court that they’re suing in part to deter the Proud Boys from future attacks.
“We wanted to make a statement, that we will not shrink in the face of this,” Rev. William Lamar told Judge Neal Kravitz. “We know that this [Proud Boys] activity continues — and we have an opportunity to be clear that this is unacceptable, it is illegal, and it cannot continue.”
For Lamar, the Proud Boys attack was no act of petty vandalism, but a continuation of the kind of white supremacist violence and anti-Black intimidation that the Metropolitan AME community has been fighting for more than 200 years. The scene on Dec. 12 ― a racist gang of mostly white men desecrating symbols of Black solidarity outside churches — was familiar to this congregation.
“It’s more than doing violence to a sign — they seek to continue the violence their ancestors visited upon our ancestors,” Lamar said on a conference call with congregants the day after the attack. A video of the call was played in court Wednesday. “They don’t want to just ruin signs. They want to destroy lives. They want to destroy hope. They want to erase history. We won’t let them do that.”
It appears unlikely that Kravitz will award Metropolitan AME the full $22 million in damages, but bankrupting the Proud Boys is only one part of the battle. The legal team for the Metropolitan AME community at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law hopes the case will also shed light on the Proud Boys’ assets and finances, which remain largely murky and secretive.
Tarrio has long maintained that the Proud Boys organization is broke, and that he personally carries few assets. But multiple journalistic investigations over the years suggest the gang is pulling in substantial sums of cash from various sources. They’ve collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from online fundraisers set up to support their ongoing rallies and criminal cases (including $375,000 from 11 GiveSendGo campaigns in the wake of the 2021 Capitol attack), they collect dues and travel fees from their membership through Venmo payments, they maintain a number of shady LLCs, and they continue to mobilize large groups of people and considerable amounts of equipment across the country for their bloody rallies.
Painting a clear picture of the gang’s financial structure is one of the chief goals for the Lawyers’ Committee.
“The ultimate goal of this is not a monetary windfall. It’s to stop the Proud Boys from being able to do what they do,” Arthur Ago, director of the criminal justice project at the Lawyers’ Committee, told HuffPost. “They continue to raise money ... and that money’s being used to do the things we saw on Dec. 12, Jan. 6, and now at drag queen story hours in Ohio and New York and Maryland. That’s what we want to stop.”
The case appears likely to move in favor of Metropolitan AME. The Proud Boys have failed to respond in any significant way to the litigation, and didn’t appear to defend themselves in court on Wednesday.
The church has already won default judgments against Proud Boys International, LLC, and the rest of the individual defendants, including Tarrio. Members and affiliates of the gang will have opportunities to defend themselves when court resumes on April 7, and the defense team will have a chance to cross-examine witnesses. But overall, the Proud Boys’ opportunities to advocate for themselves in this case are dwindling.