ABOVE: NAACP President/CEO Derrick Johnson
Former President Donald Trump escaped conviction by the US Senate for inciting an insurrection that came close to toppling the government. But the fallout continues.
On Feb. 16, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson and the NAACP filed a lawsuit naming Trump and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, alleging that they violated an 1871 law by conspiring to incite the violent Jan. 6 insurrection that resulted in the deaths of seven people. The purpose of the coup attempt was to thwart certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
“January 6th was one of the most shameful days in our country’s history, and it was instigated by the president himself. 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,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is by the slimmest of luck that the outcome was not deadlier. 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.”
The lawsuit details Trump’s pronouncements and assertions before, during, and after the November election that the vote would be stolen. Such provocative rhetoric – though untrue, animated his base – a mélange of white domestic terror groups and other far-right supporters. He told them to come to the District of Columbia on Jan. 6 to stop Congressional lawmakers from certifying the election. And after a rally on the Ellipse, Trump encouraged the mob to march to the Capital and “stop the steal.”
According to the plaintiffs, the insurrection was a coordinated, months-long attempt to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise millions of ballots that were legally cast by African-American voters.
The lawsuit claims that Trump and Giuliani, worked with right-wing groups like the Proud Boys the Oath Keepers and other far-right domestic terror groups to incite the riot in an attempt to prohibit lawmakers in Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election win. The plaintiffs say their actions violated the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a Reconstruction-era law that protects against violent conspiracies meant to stop Congress from carrying out its Constitutional duties. The law was passed as a counter to widespread Klan intimidation of and violence against Southern members of Congress during and after Reconstruction.
According to House managers, for as long as six hours, rioters battled police. They breached security and overran the building from several entrances, searched for lawmakers, ransacked and desecrated offices, urinated and defecated in and around the building fought with an undermanned police presence using baseball bats, flagpoles, fire extinguishers police shields, metal bars and other objects. More than 140 DC and Capitol Police officers sustained an assortment of injuries and two others committed suicide after the incident. Capital Police leadership is said to have ignored warnings from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the House and Senate might be overrun by pro-Trump supporters.
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. by the NAACP and civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll on behalf of Congressman Thompson. Other members of Congress, including Representatives Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), have indicated that they intend to join the litigation as plaintiffs shortly.
The NAACP is representing Thompson, officials said because “the events on January 6th were just one more attempt by Donald 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.”
“Donald Trump needs to be held accountable for deliberately inciting and colluding with white supremacists to stage a coup, in his continuing efforts to disenfranchise African-American voters,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association of Colored People. “The insurrection was the culmination of a carefully orchestrated, months-long plan to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of African-American voters who cast valid ballots.”
“Since our founding, the NAACP has gone to the courthouse to put an end to actions that discriminate against African- American voters,” Johnson added. “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 Senate voted 57-43 to acquit Trump, who was facing his second impeachment in a little more than a year. Only seven Republicans joined the Democratic majority to vote Trump guilty. It is theorized that Republicans fear the wrath of Trump, his base and the 74 million people who voted for him. The plaintiffs case appears to be strengthened by comments made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately after Trump’s acquittal over the weekend.
“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it,” McConnell said at the time. “… January 6th was a disgrace. American citizens attacked their own government. They use terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of domestic business they did not like. Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the center floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chatted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they’d been fed wild, falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry. He lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceded the riot … (and represent) a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
McConnell said whatever Trump claims he thought might happen a day, whatever right reaction he’s says he meant to produce by that afternoon we know he was watching the same live television as the rest of us: “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name, these criminals who are carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him. It was obvious that only President Trump could end this. He was the only one who could.”
“Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the administration. The president did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored. No, instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election.”
McConnell voted to acquit Trump, saying he believed the Senate did not have the authority to weigh in because Trump is now a private citizen. Yet while Trump was still in office, McConnell is the one who declined to bring the Senate back after the House voted one article of impeachment for inciting a riot. McConnell did however, denounce Trump’s actions and behavior, saying the ex-president could still face civil or criminal lawsuits.
“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,” McConnell said.
Thompson concurs, saying the events of Jan. 6 were instigated by Trump and “put my life, and that of my colleagues, in grave danger.”
Thompson said in his statement: “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.”