Democratic lawmaker sues Trump for violating KKK Act over riot

Representative Bennie Thompson is the first to sue Trump for conspiracy to disrupt the US Congress under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.

Bennie Thompson, chair of the United States House Committee on Homeland Security, questions witnesses during a committee hearing on September 17, 2020 [File: Chip Somodevilla/Pool via Reuters]

A federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday morning on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson against former President Donald J Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani alleges they violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act for inciting the January 6 riot at the United States Capitol.

The act, formally known as “An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other Purposes”, passed as the racist KKK was waging a campaign of voter suppression and murder against newly-freed Black citizens of the US.

The 14th Amendment, passed in 1868, gives citizenship to those born in the US, and effectively ended slavery.  The KKK Act includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfered with Congress’s constitutional duties.

The suit, filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), comes three days after Trump was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial that centred on allegations that he incited the riot, in which five people died. That acquittal is likely to open the door to fresh legal scrutiny over Trump’s actions before and during the siege.

Though the impeachment case focused squarely on accusations of incitement, the lawsuit more broadly accuses Trump of conspiring to disrupt the constitutional activities of Congress — namely, the certification of election results establishing new President Joe Biden as the rightful winner — through a monthslong effort to discredit the outcome and to lean on individual states and his own vice president to overturn the contest.

The suit traces the drawn-out effort by Trump and Giuliani to cast doubt on the election results even though courts across the country – and state election officials – repeatedly rejected their baseless allegations of fraud.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the suit says, the men portrayed the election as stolen while Trump “endorsed rather than discouraged” threats of violence from his angry supporters in the weeks leading up to the assault on the Capitol.

“The carefully orchestrated series of events that unfolded at the Save America rally and the storming of the Capitol was no accident or coincidence,” the suit says. “It was the intended and foreseeable culmination of a carefully coordinated campaign to interfere with the legal process required to confirm the tally of votes cast in the Electoral College.”

The lawsuit from Thompson, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, is part of an expected wave of litigation over the January 6 riot and is believed to be the first filed by a member of Congress. It seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

The case also names groups including the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, extremist organisations with members charged by the Justice Department with taking part in the siege.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC [File: Saul Loeb/AFP]

Lawyers for Trump have denied that he incited the riot. A Trump adviser didn’t immediately comment about the lawsuit on Tuesday, and a lawyer for Giuliani did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey are expected to join as plaintiffs in the coming weeks, the NAACP told The New York Times.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies