WASHINGTON D.C — Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday accusing Donald J. Trump, Rudy Giuliani, the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers of conspiring to incite a violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election.
The lawsuit alleges that, by preventing Congress from carrying out its official duties, Trump, Giuliani and the hate groups directly violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.
“January 6th was one of the most shameful days in our country’s history, and it was instigated by the President himself,” Thompson said. “His gleeful support of violent White supremacists led to a breach of the Capitol that put my life, and that of my colleagues, in grave danger. It is by the slimmest of luck that the outcome was not deadlier.”
Following Trump’s acquittal by the U.S. Senate in the second impeachment trial, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell openly encouraged litigation against Trump, saying: “We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. by the NAACP and civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
The plaintiffs assert that the insurrection was the result of a carefully orchestrated plan by Trump, Giuliani and extremist groups — such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — to stop the certification of the Electoral College using intimidation, harassment and threats.
After witnessing Capitol police barricading the doors of the House chamber with furniture, Thompson and fellow lawmakers donned gas masks and were rushed into the Longworth House Office Building, where they sheltered with 200-plus other representatives, staffers and family members.
NAACP officials said the nation’s oldest civil rights organization is representing Thompson because the events on January 6th amounted to one more attempt by Trump and his allies to make sure that African-American voters were disenfranchised – this time, by trying to stop members of Congress from doing their job and certifying the election results.
“Since our founding, the NAACP has gone to the courthouse to put an end to actions that discriminate against African-American voters,” said Derrick Johnson, president/CEO of the NAACP. “We are now bringing this case to continue our work to protect our democracy and make sure nothing like what happened on January 6th ever happens again.”
The lawsuit alleges that Trump and Giuliani violated 42 U.S.C. 1985(1), often referred to as the Ku Klux Klan Act. The legislation was passed in 1871 in response to KKK violence and intimidation preventing members of Congress in the South during Reconstruction from carrying out their constitutional duties. The statute was intended specifically to protect against conspiracies.
“The insurrection at the Capitol did not just spontaneously occur — it was the product of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani lies about the election,” said Joe Sellers, partner at Cohen Milstein, chair of the firm’s Executive Committee and chair of the Civil Rights & Employment Practice Group.
“With the Senate failing to hold the President accountable, we must use the full weight of the legal system to do so. The judicial system was an essential bulwark against the President during his time in office, and its role in protecting our democracy against future extremism is more important than ever.”
Thompson said while the majority of Republicans in the Senate “abdicated their responsibility to hold the President accountable, we must hold him accountable for the insurrection that he so blatantly planned. Failure to do so will only invite this type of authoritarianism for the anti-democratic forces on the far right that are so intent on destroying our country.”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) later confirmed that he has joined the lawsuit. The NAACP indicated it expected other members of Congress will also.