Americans United noted yesterday that Black churches and other institutions in Washington, D.C., are on high alert today because of an invasion of violent white supremacists known as Proud Boys. They’re coming to the nation’s capital to support President Donald Trump’s latest (and doomed) effort to subvert democracy and steal an election that he plainly lost.
As AU’s Sarah Gillooly wrote recently, “True religious freedom includes the right to worship without the threat of violence and terror. But for Black and brown Americans, the promise of religious freedom has long been rife with hypocrisy.”
And make no mistake, violence and terror are what the Proud Boys are all about.
When these thugs were in town last month, they attacked several Black churches. In one case, they ripped a Black Lives Matter banner from Asbury United Methodist, a historic Black church in D.C., and set the sign on fire. Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio later admitted to The Washington Post that he was involved in the vandalism and boasted that he would gladly return to Washington if charges are filed against him.
“I’ll fly there on my own dime,” Tarrio told The Post. “I have nothing to hide. So let me make this simple: I did it.” Two days ago, Tarrio, who lives in Miami, flew to Washington in advance of today’s march and was promptly arrested by D.C. police under a warrant that had been issued after the December incident. At the time of his arrest, Tarrio was found to be in possession of two high-capacity firearms magazines, which are illegal in D.C. He will likely face weapons charges as well and has been ordered to stay out of Washington until a June court appearance.
Tarrio’s arrest is a welcome development, but it’s not the only way to shut down the violent antics of his gang. Two days ago, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced that it is suing Tarrio and the Proud Boys, citing a D.C. law that bans bias-related crimes and a federal law that makes it illegal to intentionally damage or destroy “the property of a place of religious worship.”
“White supremacists like the Proud Boys, would rather see the country burn than to see it united together under justice and freedom for all,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, in a press release. “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. Our lawsuit aims to hold those who engage in such action accountable.”
To be clear, any group has the right to come to Washington and peacefully demonstrate, even organizations that hold ugly views. But the extremist Proud Boys don’t do that. Their standard operating procedure is to roam cities, engaging in street brawls and committing acts of vandalism. (Despite their love of violence, the Proud Boys have the support of Trump, who has refused to denounce them. During a Sept. 29 presidential debate, Trump told members of the group to “stand back and stand by.”)
Counter-protestors have been advised to stay out of D.C. today. The police have promised to provide enhanced protection for houses of worship, and the National Guard has been mobilized. But that doesn’t mean decent people are rolling over. Religious leaders in D.C. are encouraging non-violent forms of protest and have asked other congregations to place candles in their windows as a show of solidarity.
It’s tempting to want to stand up to the kind of hate peddled by the Proud Boys face to face on the streets, but in this case, that’s a recipe for more violence. The Lawyers’ Committee and D.C. clergy are showing us that there’s a better way: meet and defeat the forces of hate in courts of law and in the marketplace of ideas.