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Washington, D.C., attorney general files 1st civil suit over Jan. 6 Capitol attack

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The District of Columbia filed suit today against two far-right extremist groups for their role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine announced the lawsuit earlier today.

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KARL RACINE: While some desperately want to rewrite history and sweep the events of January 6 under the rug, the District of Columbia and its residents have chosen to speak truth through this filing, through this complaint, through this case.

KELLY: The case reads like a play-by-play of text messages and social media posts reconstructing the group members' actions leading up to January 6. And it marks the first effort by a government agency to hold someone civilly responsible to seek damages for the insurrection. Attorney General Racine, a Democrat, is here with us now to discuss.

Welcome.

RACINE: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So your suit alleges that members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers coordinated a plan for violent action, that the groups were, quote, "conspiring to terrorize the district." May I ask, what's the strongest evidence you have that, A, they did this and, B, they were working together?

RACINE: Sure. The strongest evidence we have, as you indicated in describing the complaint, is replete in the communications between the two groups, the communications between the members of each independent group and, of course, the follow-on action that was consistent with the communication in the plan. Let me say something, Mary Louise, because we've heard information out there about the government not being aware of this particular action coming and that somehow, some way there was a lapse in a surprise attack. To the contrary - the red flags and the red sirens were screaming. The chatter on the internet was off the hook. Every single entity that studies hate groups was calling the government and urging the government to protect itself. And we know...

KELLY: And I was looking through, and some of these messages that you're citing, these were on Facebook and other public spaces. These were not chat rooms that were hard to find.

RACINE: That's right. And it was very specific. It was specific as to the kinds of arms to bring, what not to bring, bear spray to bring, chemical spray to bring. And don't forget - there were bombs planted at the DNC and RNC. This was a coordinated, planned attack.

KELLY: Now, all but one or two of the named defendants in your suit are already facing criminal charges. Those are in federal court. At least two have already pleaded guilty. What is your goal in a sentence or two with a civil case?

RACINE: We're going to hit them where it counts - in the pocketbook and in the wallet. Because the history shows that when you go after these hate groups, hate groups that would take away our freedom and way of life in America, and you sue them, guess what happens? They go away. They hide. They run. They scatter. And they frankly become less dangerous. And so that's what we're going to do. We're going to also, in this suit, try to find out where the source of the money is - really significant question because the kind of planning and execution that occurred, that actually injured law enforcement officers, including brave metropolitan D.C. police officers, was absolutely well-financed. Remember...

KELLY: What are you hoping to learn there as you follow the money?

RACINE: I think the trail for the money is going to tell us which individuals and entities are behind and supportive of destructive attacks to take away the very freedom and center core of our government democracy.

KELLY: How do you put a price tag on something like January 6? How much do you think the city of Washington is owed?

RACINE: That's an extraordinary question. And I think it's a hard one to calculate, but we're going to try as best we can. Let me just remind...

KELLY: Can you give me a ballpark figure for damages received?

RACINE: I think we're talking - well, I really can't precisely because the discovery will tell us that. But there is no cost, as you know, for lives lost. Three Metropolitan Police officers committed suicide because of the trauma that they suffered. And of course, there were physical injuries galore. So no matter what we establish, it's not enough. When you hurt people and when you try to strike at the core of what this country stands for, any penalty is insufficient. But we're going to get as much as we can.

KELLY: And in a sentence or two - you talked about accountability - what about deterrence?

RACINE: Look, deterrence and accountability and recompense - those are American values. When someone does someone wrong in America, you pay the price. And that's what we're doing here. We're going to hold the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the 30-plus individuals who were conspired accountable.

KELLY: All right. And we will continue tracking the developments here. D.C.

Attorney General Karl Racine, a Democrat, thank you for your time, sir.

RACINE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.