Historically Black church Metropolitan AME is seeking a massive $22 million punitive judgment against the far-right, street-brawling Proud Boys for destroying the church’s Black Lives Matter sign in 2020.
The racist attack happened on Dec. 12, 2020 during a pro-Trump rally to support the false claim that the presidential election was rigged. Instead of a cross, members of the Proud Boys, a far-right organization, reportedly tore down and set ablaze Black Lives Matter banners outside Asbury United Methodist Church and the Metropolitan AME Church.
“This public act is intended to terrorize and send a message to Black people,” Kristen Clarke, who is now the Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, tweeted at that time.
Proud Boys and other white supremacists burn a Black Lives Matter sign from the Asbury United Methodist Church in D.C. while dousing it with lighter fluid to intensify the flames. This public act is intended to terrorize and send a message to Black people. https://t.co/0YNsTDaVqF
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) December 13, 2020
Weeks later, the Metropolitan AME Church sued the Proud Boys organization, its leader Enrique Tarrio, and several members for vandalizing the church and violating Washington D.C.’s hate crimes law. The church won a default judgment when no one from the group or its lawyers showed up in court.
On March 29, Metropolitan AME asked the D.C. Superior Court for a $22 million punitive judgment against the Proud Boys, justifying the large award as a deterrent to end the organization’s terror campaign, HuffPost reported.
“We wanted to make a statement that we will not shrink in the face of this. 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,” Rev. William Lamar, pastor of Metropolitan AME Church, told the judge, according to HuffPost.
Meanwhile, the Proud Boys’ leader is on trial in another D.C. courtroom for seditious conspiracy for allegedly plotting with his lieutenants to topple the federal government in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
Tarrio previously told DCist/WAMU that he was responsible for the vandalism at a historic Black church on the night of the pro-Trump rally. He later pleaded guilty in 2021 to burning a stolen BLM banner and to a reduced charge of attempting to possess a high-capacity ammunition magazine.
It appears that the church will be hard pressed to collect from Tarrio, who told a judge in a separate case that he’s financially broke. At the same time, the Proud Boys, a Texas-based LLC, filed to dissolve itself after the initial lawsuit, Vice reported.
But attorneys for Metropolitan AME Church argued that the organization should still be held liable for damages it caused before it applied for dissolution.
The pursuit of punitive damages is partly about collecting financial compensation. This phase of the case could shed light on the organization’s financial structure and how it makes money. According to HuffPost, the Proud Boys have pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from online fundraisers as well as unknown sums from membership dues and shady business dealings.