Court Upholds Citizen Suit Against “Trump Train” Participants; Federal KKK Statute They Relied Upon Does Not Require Racial Animus
Court Upholds Civil Law Suit Against “Trump Train” Participants
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 2, 2022) – A federal judge has upheld a civil law suit brought by Biden-Harris supporters who claim that a bus and other vehicles in which they were riding were deliberately harassed and physically intimidated by Trump supporters traveling in other vehicles (called the “Trump Train”), notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who encouraged this and other similar law suits, and was one of the first to report its filing.
The suit was brought under a portion of a federal statute, often called the Ku Klux Klan Act [42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)], which imposes liability for conspiracies “to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner” for the election of federal candidates, or for “injur[ing] any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy.”
Although the defendants argued that the statute authorized only law suits where there had been a showing of racial animus or discrimination, the judge disagreed, and held that the suit could proceed, and that monetary damages could be awarded against those who participated – or even helped organize – the disruptive Trump Train.
This is an important victory for anyone concerned about the use of violence and other forms of intimidation in political campaigns, noting that, for a variety of reasons, police often do not prevent it, and prosecutors too often don’t effectively punish it. So, he says, the best remedy is often for private citizens to “Sue The Bastards,” a tactic he has been advocating, counseling about, and winning with for decades.
Here’s what the law professor – who has been called “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” a “King of Class-Action Law Suits,” “The Man Behinds the Ban on Cigarette Commercials,” the “Dean of Public Interest Lawyers,” and an “Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer’s Trial Lawyer” – wrote about and had predicted:
Victims of a criminal political protest – when Trump supporters allegedly harassed and tried to force their campaign bus off the road – have sued several members of the caravan (called the “Trump Train”) in a civil law suit; accusing them of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which bars violent election intimidation, as well as local Texas laws.
As predicted and encouraged by the public interest law professor whose complaints triggered two separate criminal investigations of Donald Trump in Georgia, this is only the latest is a growing number of law suits using civil actions to obtain some redress, and hopefully to also deter future unlawful actions, by those who engage in criminal conduct to advance a political purpose or goal.
Here are few examples where others have followed the route he has suggested.
Victims Are Beginning To Sue
Banzhaf notes that, in New York City, victims are in fact beginning to sue those whose criminal conduct caused injury, with one law suit already filed, one by a civilian broadcaster being weighed, and several more promised.
A New York City police detective has filed a civil tort suit seeking monetary damages against an alleged rioter for physical injuries he alleges he suffered during widespread looting. A broadcaster discussed on his TV program his hopes of suing the criminals who damaged his studio during the New York City rioting.
The president of the New York City Detectives’ Endowment Association, which represents some 19,000 current and former detectives, has vowed to sue any protestor, rioter or looter who attacked its members.
And a civil law suit inspired by Banzhaf against those who unlawfully blocked the George Washington Bridge, effectively imprisoning thousands in their cars, and allegedly leading to a death when an ambulance was delayed, is ongoing.
One journalist has now brought a civil law suit and another has publicly discussed bringing such an action, says Banzhaf, who has been urging adding civil law suits, and especially class actions, to the weapons against those who engage in criminal conduct to make a point. Banzhaf was recently called “a king of class action lawsuits.”
Journalist Andy Ngo has filed a law suit against rioters and others who physically beat him while he was covering a protest which turned into a riot. The law suit, filed in Oregon’s Multnomah County, includes claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and Oregon’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.
More recently, journalist John Tabacco discussed, on his program “Liquid Lunch,” how he is considering bringing a law suit for damages his TV studio suffered as a result of the recent riots. Banzhaf, who was his on-air guest on the program, explained the advantages of a civil law suit, and how Tabacco might go about bringing it.
Banzhaf notes that criminal protest actions have continued to proliferate, despite increased law enforcement presence, curfews, and pious pronouncements, and many of the victims of this criminal conduct are members of minority groups whose places of business – often uninsured – were damaged or even destroyed.
But just because government has so far proven ineffective in protecting them, they are not without some remedy, notes Banzhaf, who is known for advocating and using legal action as a tool for fighting wrongdoing and achieving social justice.
For example, he and his law students successfully sued former vice president Spiro Agnew to force his to disgorge – with interest – the money he received in illegal bribes.
A Major Deterrent
Although arrests (with little threat of significant jail time) and small fines have generally be ineffective from discouraging those seeking to draw attention to causes by going far beyond their First Amendment rights to protest, and instead engaging in serious crimes against the public welfare and against completely innocent third parties, a major civil class action law suit for all the damages suffered by the hundreds of people adversely affected is much more likely to deter them from engaging in such crimes in the future, suggests Banzhaf.
The law professor notes that, under the legal doctrine of “joint and several liability,” any one person or business injured or damaged as a result of criminal rioting can sue any one or more of the criminals (called joint tort feasors) actively engaged in criminally destructive and unlawful behavior for the total of all the damages caused, even if it is impossible to identify with specificity which criminal caused each specific instance of damage.
If the threat of arrests and possible fines for rioters who commit serious crimes which endanger or harm others isn’t enough to deter them from engaging in criminal trespass, destruction of property, arson, looting, obstruction of traffic, destructive vandalism, and even physical attacks, perhaps it’s time for a new remedy – civil law suits by one or more victims of such crimes – says Banzhaf.
The idea of using class action law suits to punish criminal activities and deter such illegal wrongdoing is neither new nor strictly academic, notes Banzhaf.
For example, at least one law suit inspired by Banzhaf was brought on behalf of drivers effectively imprisoned (the tort of false imprisonment) by illegal blockages of the George Washington Bridge in New York City. Indeed, now that the Supreme Court vacated the criminal sentences of two major conspirators, this civil action may be the only hope of bringing justice to the victims, and of deterring such unlawful action for the future.
Banzhaf notes that civil law suits against those who commit criminal riots in concert with others – even those actions far less serious and less harmful than burning buildings and assaulting police or even blocking traffic – to try to advance their cause have also been successful in a number of notable instances.
As early as 1988, a federal jury found two white supremacist groups – the Ku Klux Klan and the Southern White Knights – and 11 people responsible for the violent disruption of a 1987 civil rights march in Forsyth County, Ga., and awarded nearly $1 million in damages to the plaintiffs who filed the suit.
When other groups learn that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been forced to pay $2.55 million to Japanese companies for illegally using acid and smoke bombs to disrupt their whaling, they may think twice before blocking traffic or occupying buildings – much less engaging in widespread destruction – to advance their agenda, says Banzhaf, who has promoted the idea – and the very slogan – of “Suing the Bastards” when the law is broken.
In another example, a student who illegally chained himself to some construction equipment because he opposed an oil pipeline was forced to pay out big bucks for his criminal conduct. As NPR reported it, he was apparently ready to accept a relatively painless conviction for trespass, but not to pay the pipeline company $39,000 in restitution.
Similarly, eleven protesters who allegedly engaged in illegal activities at the Mall of American faced restitution claims from the City of Bloomington.
In these and many similar situations, criminal protesters are often willing to accept a small fine for a chance to focus attention on their cause, especially if it means they get to have a criminal trial which can generate even more publicity for them and for their grievance, argues Banzhaf.
In contrast, a civil law suit, in which each and every participant in the criminal riot can be sued for the entire amount of the damages suffered by all victims under the legal principle of “joint and several liability,” might serve as a much more effective deterrent than the minor threat of arrests and possible criminal prosecution, suggests Banzhaf.
While everyone has a constitutional right to protest in public, that right clearly does not extend to engaging in serious crimes to draw attention to a cause or grievance, no matter how important or righteous that cause may seem.
As illegal criminal riots by various groups continue to proliferate, causing serious harm to governmental bodies as well as to innocent third parties, those harmed may no longer be helpless, even when police refuse to take appropriate action and/or prosecutors decline to prosecute, and even when the individuals who actually caused specific harms cannot be conclusively identified, says Banzhaf.