Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Proud Boys members faced off against counterprotesters during a December 12, 2020 rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopidis/Getty Images)

Members of the Proud Boys took to the streets of the nation's capital during a December 12, 2020 rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Tasos Katopidis/Getty Images)

Proud Boys Sued by Historic Black Church After Leader Admits to Burning Black Lives Matter Sign During DC Rally

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said the December 12 "hate crime" was meant to "terrorize Black people." 

Brett Wilkins

An historic Black church in Washington, D.C. on Monday sued the Proud Boys, the right-wing hate group whose leader acknowledged burning a Black Lives Matter sign at the house of worship during a violent December 2020 rally in support of President Donald Trump.

The lawsuit (pdf), filed by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs; and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP on behalf of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church against Proud Boys Interntational, LLC, accuses members of the group of "engaging in acts of terror and vandalizing church property in an effort to intimidate the church and silence its support for racial justice."

On December 12, 2020, hundreds of Proud Boys from across the country descended on the nation's capital, where they confronted and attacked counterprotesters in the streets. At least four people were stabbed during the clashes, which some critics linked to Trump's September presidential debate directive to the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."

According to the lawsuit, members of the Proud Boys had prepared for violence ahead of the December gathering, exhorting each other to "buy ammo [and] clean your guns." One Proud Boy wrote that "tonight we keep our enemies awake, tonight we become nightmares."

Designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the all-male Proud Boys are known for their white nationalist, Islamophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric, as well as their presence at the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Speaking against the advice of his attorney, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio repeatedly claimed to have burned Metropolitan AME's Black Lives Matter sign during the December demonstration. 

"Let me make this simple," Tarrio told the Washington Post last month. "I did it." 

"I have nothing to hide," he said, explaining that he believes Black Lives Matter—the nonviolent movement for racial justice—"has terrorized the citizens of this country." 

"In the burning of the BLM sign, I was the one that lit it on fire," Tarrio said on a far-right podcast last month, according to The Independent. "I was the person that went ahead and put the lighter to it and engulfed it in flames, and I am damn proud that I did."

Washington, D.C. police and the FBI are investigating the buring of Black Lives Matter banners at Metropolitan AME and Asbury United Methodist Church—also on December 12—as possible hate crimes, although Tarrio claims he was unaware the churches are predominantly Black.

Karl Racine, the D.C. attorney general, said in a letter to U.S. Attorney for the Disrict of Columbia Michael Sherwin that the Proud Boys' actions on December 12 were meant to "terrorize Black people," and that they "violated D.C. law and were hate crimes."

"They harmed people of color, and every person who lives and works in our city who believes in fairness, justice, and racial equity," asserted Racine.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement that "white supremacists like the Proud Boys would rather see the country burn than to see it united together under justice and freedom for all."

"Black churches and other religious institutions have a long and ugly history of being targeted by white supremacists in racist and violent attacks meant to intimidate and create fear," added Clarke. "Our lawsuit aims to hold those who engage in such action accountable. We are proud to represent Metropolitan AME, which has a long history of standing against bigotry and hate and whose courage and determination to fight back is a beacon of hope for the community."

In a Washington Post op-ed following the vandalism, Metropolitan AME pastor Rev. William H. Lamar IV said he was "deeply disturbed" by the incident. 

"But I am more disturbed by the continued mythology of imperial America," he wrote. "This mythology supports those who commit violence against human beings for political ends, deny citizens their right to vote, denigrate sacred spaces, and claim as their own whatever they survey."

"It mattered not that the land was ours," added Lamar. "It mattered not that the sign was ours. The mythology that motivated the perpetrators... was the underbelly of the American narrative—that white men can employ violence to take what they want and do what they want and call that criminality justice, freedom, and liberty."

The lawsuit states that Metropolitan AME is seeking "compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages," as well as "injunctive relief."

The suit states that the Proud Boys are planning to return to Washington, D.C. for rallies on January 6 and January 20 "to continue their conspiracy to engage in violent and destructive acts against their 'enemies,' including racial justice activists and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement."  

The lawsuit further states that Tarrio said Proud Boys members would dress "incognito" instead of in the black and yellow attire mandated by the group's bylaws,  that they would "spread across downtown D.C. in smaller teams" to "conceal intentions" and "pose as a friend" in order to "stir up waters to catch fish" and "keep others in suspended terror."

However, Tarrio's attendance at Wednesday's rally was thrown into question following his arrest Monday evening upon arrival in the capital. According to D.C. police, Tarrio—who lives in Miami—faces misdemeanor property destruction and firearms charges for burning the church banner and for having banned high-capacity gun magazines in his possession when he was apprehended. 

(Note: This article has been updated to include news of Enrique Tarrio's arrest.)

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·

Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·

'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·

'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·

80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo