Metropolitan A.M.E. Church v. Proud Boys is one of the first civil rights cases finding a violation of the D.C. Bias Related Crimes Act.
WASHINGTON– Today, a judge ordered the Proud Boys and several of its leaders to pay more than $1 million for a racially-motivated attack on the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in December 2020. The Superior Court for the District of Columbia held that the defendants engaged in an unlawful conspiracy and violated federal and state civil rights laws, including the Ku Klux Klan Act and the D.C. hate crimes statute. During the attack, members of the Proud Boys trespassed onto the 185-year-old Black church and destroyed a large Black Lives Matter sign.
“The attack against Metropolitan A.M.E. was an attempt to silence the congregation’s voice and its support for Black life, dignity, and safety. It represents just the latest chapter in a long history of white supremacist violence targeting Black houses of worship,” said Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “These attacks are meant to intimidate and create fear, and this lawsuit’s aim was to hold those who engage in such action accountable. We also sought to amplify the voices of the Church’s leadership and congregation–the very voices the perpetrators sought to silence–and to ensure that others give no quarter to this type of racist behavior. Today’s judgment marks the realization of those efforts. The Lawyers’ Committee was proud to answer the call in this case and honored to represent this historic Black institution, which sits just blocks from our own office and the area near the White House known as Black Lives Matter Plaza. We will continue to stand up against white supremacy and send the message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated–not here, not anywhere.”
On the night of Dec. 12, 2020, a group led by the Proud Boys rampaged through the streets of Washington, vandalizing four churches, including Metropolitan. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was convicted of burning another church’s Black Lives Matter banner. The Church’s historical expert testified that while attacks on Black churches have a long history, accountability for such attacks is rare. Another expert on white supremacy testified that the Proud Boys frequently use violence as a tool to advance their ideological agenda. As noted in Judge Neal Kravitz’s opinion: “The record is replete with evidence that all of the defendants acted with an evil, discriminatory motive based on race and with deliberate violence and a willful disregard for the rights of the church and its congregants.”
“The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church has a long, esteemed history of standing against bigotry and hate. Our courage and determination to fight back in response to the 2020 attack on our church is a beacon of hope for our community and today’s ruling showed us what our collective vision and voice can achieve,” said Rev William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. “While A.M.E. refused to be silenced in the face of white supremacist violence, that does not mean real trauma and damage did not occur – merely that congregants and the church have and will continue to rise above it. Our church is rooted in the theological vision that humankind is one family. Institutions like ours must continue to lead the way toward a new narrative and white supremacist institutions must be an erased element.”
“The ultimate goal of this lawsuit was not monetary windfall, but to stop the Proud Boys from being able to act with impunity, without fear of consequences for their actions. And that’s exactly what we accomplished,” said Arthur Ago, Director of the Lawyers’ Committee Criminal Justice Project. “Metropolitan A.M.E. Church’s support for Black Lives Matter made it the target of the attack by members of the Proud Boys, who traveled to Washington D.C. that day with the explicit goal of intimidating those who support the struggle for racial equity. We applaud the Court’s ruling as a crucial step forward in the national fight against white supremacy and racially charged attacks against Black and Brown communities.”
“We are thrilled that our client, the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, has received a measure of justice for the Proud Boys’ racist attack against it,” said Daniel J. Kramer, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. “By holding the Proud Boys and its leadership accountable, the court’s judgment should deter others who might consider engaging in racially motivated violence in the future.”
“The Proud Boys’ attack on Metropolitan AME Church is part of a long history of racist violence against people of color,” said Jacqueline Kutnik-Bauder, Deputy Legal Director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Right and Urban Affairs. “Today the court put all groups with violent hate-based agendas on notice – that actions have consequences.”
More information about the case is available here.
Background:Metropolitan A.M.E. Church v. Proud Boys was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, on behalf of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia with the purpose to deter the Proud Boys and their leadership from their campaign of racist violence, which they perpetrate with impunity.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and co-counsel filed the lawsuit on Jan. 4, 2021 against the Proud Boys and several of their leaders for vandalizing the church. The lawsuit alleged violation of the Ku Klux Klan Act, violation of D.C.’s hate crimes law, violation of federal law protecting religious property, conspiracy, trespass, and property destruction.
The Proud Boys and their leaders failed to show up and defend themselves in court and the court entered default judgments against the defendants. In April 2023, Plaintiffs presented evidence from the Church’s pastor, a congregant, and expert witnesses regarding the attack and the harm that it caused.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.
About Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP – Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP is a firm of about 1,000 lawyers with diverse backgrounds, personalities, ideas and interests who provide innovative and effective solutions to our clients’ most complex legal and business challenges. The firm represents many of the world’s largest and most important public and private corporations, asset managers and financial institutions, and clients in need of pro bono assistance.