A group of seven Capitol Police officers filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing former president Donald Trump and nearly 20 members of far-right extremist groups and political organizations of a plot to disrupt the peaceful transition of power during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
The suit, which implicated members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia, and Trump associates like Roger Stone, was arguably the most expansive civil effort to date seeking to hold Trump and his allies legally accountable for the storming of the Capitol.
While three other similar lawsuits were filed in recent months, the suit Thursday was the first to allege that Trump worked in concert with both far-right extremists and political organizers promoting his baseless lies that the presidential election was marred by fraud.
“This is probably the most comprehensive account of Jan. 6 in terms of civil cases,” said Edward Caspar, a lawyer who is leading the suit for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “It spans from the former president to militants around him to his campaign supporters.”
Several police officers who served during the Capitol riot have come forward with stories of the insults and injuries they faced that day, most prominently at a congressional hearing in July. But the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in the District of Columbia, was the first time that the seven plaintiffs, five of whom are Black, offered details of their ordeals.
One of the officers, Governor Latson, was helping to secure the Senate chamber when a mob of rioters broke in and shoved him, beat him, and hurled racial slurs at him, the lawsuit says. Another, Jason DeRoche, was caught in a melee on the west front steps of the Capitol, where, according to the suit, rioters pelted him with batteries and doused him with mace and bear spray, causing his eyes to swell shut.
The suit contends that Trump and his codefendants violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, an 1871 statute that includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfere with Congress’ constitutional duties. It also accuses the defendants of committing “bias-motivated acts of terrorism” in violation of District of Columbia law.
The use of civil litigation to hold Trump — and many in his orbit — accountable for the events of Jan. 6 has taken place even as the Justice Department has undertaken the largest criminal investigation in its history into the Capitol attack and a select committee of Congress has opened its own inquiry into the riot. On Wednesday, members of the committee made far-reaching requests to federal agencies for detailed records of Trump’s movements and meetings on the day of the attack.
The first of the lawsuits was filed in February by the NAACP on behalf of Democratic lawmakers who accused Trump, his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers of conspiring to prevent certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6.
In March, Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, filed a similar complaint against Trump, Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Trump ally. That same month, two Capitol Police officers filed a suit against Trump.
In each of those cases, Trump has sought to have charges dismissed by arguing that he was acting in his official capacity as president on Jan. 6 and therefore cannot face civil litigation. Other defendants, like Giuliani, have claimed that they were exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech when they spoke at rallies before the storming of the Capitol.
While the new lawsuit appears to largely rely on news reports and details gleaned from criminal cases filed by the Justice Department, it takes a broad view of the origins of the attack. It argues that the conspiracy to disrupt the election started as early as May 2020, when Trump began complaining on social media that mail-in voting could “lead to massive fraud.”
The suit accuses Stone, Trump’s longtime aide and ally, of echoing those and other claims, sometimes on right-wing news outlets like Infowars. Stone, who faced scrutiny early in the Justice Department’s investigation, has long denied any role in the riot.
At a presidential debate in September, the lawsuit notes, Trump appeared to summon members of the Proud Boys by telling them to “stand back and stand by.” The following month, according to the suit, Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, appeared on Infowars, predicting an impending civil war and vowing to post armed members of his group outside Washington in order to “save the White House.”
Rhodes is also under investigation in connection with the riot and recently acknowledged that he answered questions from the FBI, against the advice of his attorney.
As for Jan. 6, the suit paints a picture of Stop the Steal activists riling up the mob of Trump supporters gathered in Washington with lies about the election, which the president then echoed in a speech near the White House. Members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenter movement, it claims, led the mob on the ground in the Capitol assault.
Trump, the lawsuit says, knew that “the situation at the Capitol was dire” but did not condemn the rioters. Instead, it says, he released a video two hours after the initial breach repeating his lie that the election and been stolen and telling the attackers that he loved them.