A judge in Washington, D.C., on Friday ordered members of the Proud Boys to pay over $1 million to a historic Black church after it sued the far-right group for destruction of property in a December 2020 episode in which the group’s members tore down the church’s large Black Lives Matter sign.
The lawsuit, filed by Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church against the Proud Boys’ leadership and limited liability company, said several of the group’s members climbed over a fence surrounding the church to destroy the sign during a violent clash between supporters and opponents of President Donald J. Trump near the White House. The church sought compensatory damages for tens of thousands of dollars to replace the sign and to cover the cost of increased security.
The ruling by Judge Neal E. Kravitz of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia was a default judgment issued after the defendants, which included Enrique Tarrio, Joseph R. Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Jeremy Bertino, John Turano and over a dozen unknown parties, failed to appear in court.
The additional $1 million awarded in punitive damages “represents an amount that the court saw appropriate to both punish the Proud Boys for what they did and also deter them from ever doing it again,” said Arthur Ago of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a phone interview on Saturday. The committee represented the church.
Mr. Ago added that the court recognized “the white supremacist orientation” of the Proud Boys and that their actions were “motivated by that orientation.”
Members of the Proud Boys engaged in “acts of terror and vandalizing church property in an effort to intimidate the church and silence its support for racial justice,” the lawsuit said. They also stole and set fire to Black Lives Matter signs from a nearby church, it said.
In his ruling, Judge Kravitz called their conduct “hateful and overtly racist.”
The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, the church’s pastor, said that its leadership unanimously supported taking legal action after the incident. Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is only blocks from the White House and is part of the first independent Protestant denomination founded by Black people.
Mr. Tarrio, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Mr. Biggs and Mr. Nordean were also among the members convicted of seditious conspiracy in May for plotting to keep Mr. Trump in power after the 2020 election by leading a violent mob in attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, weeks after the attack on the church. They have all been in custody since their arrests.
In December 2020, the members “broke the zip ties that held the sign in place, tore down the sign, threw it to the ground and stomped on it while loudly celebrating,” Judge Kravitz wrote in the order.
He added that the group has “incited and committed acts of violence against members of Black and African American communities” and has “victimized women, Muslims, Jews, immigrants and other historically marginalized people.”
Judge Kravitz barred the defendants from coming within 100 yards of the church for five years and from making threats or defamatory remarks against it or its pastor.
Lawyers for most of the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment or declined to do so.
“I doubt the church will see a dime,” Norm Pattis, counsel for Mr. Biggs, said in an email. “None of the defendants appeared to contest the case,” he added. “I don’t think anyone is losing any sleep over this.”
Lawyers for the plaintiff said they intend to investigate the defendants’ finances to ensure they comply with the order.
In 2021, Mr. Tarrio was sentenced to more than five months in jail for setting fire to the Black Lives Matter banner taken from Asbury United Methodist Church, near Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. At the time, he apologized for his actions in court and called them a “grave mistake.”
Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church replaced its sign after it was destroyed, Mr. Lamar said. It will celebrate its 185th year on Sunday.
“We refuse to live in a nation where that kind of violence has the last word,” he said in a phone interview on Saturday. “We will never be silent.”