WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge on Friday awarded more than $1 million to a Black church in downtown Washington, D.C. that sued the far-right Proud Boys for tearing down and burning a Black Lives Matter banner during a 2020 protest.
Superior Court Associated Judge Neal A. Kravitz also barred the extremist group and its leaders from coming near the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church or making threats or defamatory remarks against the church or its pastor for five years.
“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 the Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan AME, in a statement from the church’s counsel on Saturday. “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.”
The ruling was a default judgment issued after the defendants failed to show up in court to fight the case.
Two Black Lives Matter banners were pulled down from Metropolitan AME and another historically Black church and burned during clashes between pro-Donald Trump supporters and counterdemonstrators in December 2020.
The destruction took place after weekend rallies by thousands of people in support of Trump’s baseless claims that he won a second term, which led to dozens of arrests, several stabbings and injuries to police officers.
Metropolitan AME sued the Proud Boys and their leaders, alleging they violated D.C. and federal law by trespassing and destroying religious property in a bias-related conspiracy.
“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, in the church counsel’s statement. “These attacks are meant to intimidate and create fear, and this lawsuit’s aim was to hold those who engage in such action accountable.”
Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, of Miami, publicly acknowledged setting fire to one banner, which prosecutors said was stolen from Asbury United Methodist Church.
In July 2021, Tarrio pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor criminal charges of property destruction and attempted possession of a high-capacity magazine.
He was sentenced to more than five months in jail.
Tarrio and other members of the Proud Boys were separately convicted of seditious conspiracy charges as part of a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a desperate bid to keep Donald Trump in power after the Republican lost the 2020 presidential election.