Philadelphia Proud Boys president Zach Rehl’s legal problems just got worse.
Jailed since March on charges that he and other leaders of the militant right-wing organization helped foment the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, Rehl was named Thursday as a defendant in a new lawsuit brought by seven Capitol Police officers who blame him, former President Donald Trump, and other extremist groups for injuries they sustained repelling the riot.
The suit, the most comprehensive civil effort to date to hold Trump and his allies responsible for the Capitol riot, contends the former president conspired with the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers militia, and other luminaries of the far right to commit “bias-motivated acts of terrorism.”
Filed in federal court in Washington, it seeks damages for injuries sustained by the officers that they said they continue to grapple with seven months after the insurrection.
Here’s what you need to know:
Who is Zach Rehl?
A Marine veteran and the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers, Rehl, 33, is one of the Proud Boys’ most visible representatives on the East Coast. He was one of the organizers behind the 2018 pro-Trump “We the People” rally outside Independence Hall that saw clashes between demonstrators and counterprotesters.
And when Proud Boys were spotted mingling with officers at the Philadelphia police union hall last summer after a visit from then-Vice President Mike Pence, he was spotted in the parking lot, drinking beer, and chatting openly with others who were carrying the Proud Boys flag.
Federal prosecutors accused Rehl in March of helping to foment the Capitol riot after uncovering encrypted text-message exchanges between him and other leaders of the organization in which they discussed plans to “rile up the normies” that had gathered for a pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6.
Afterward, Rehl posted on social media that he was “proud as f— [for] what we accomplished yesterday.”
Who are the other defendants?
In addition to Rehl and Trump, the suit names as defendants other far-right figures and leaders of extremist organizations such as Proud Boys national president Enrique Tarrio, who was not in Washington the day of the riot. Rehl’s codefendants in his criminal case — fellow regional leaders of the organization Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Wash.; Joseph Biggs of Ormond, Fla.; and Charles Donohoe, of North Carolina — are also named.
Among others, the suit targets right-wing provocateur Roger Stone and seven leaders of the Oath Keepers militia, who have also been charged in a separate criminal case with conspiring to foment the riot.
Who are the plaintiffs?
The seven officers who brought the suit, five of whom are Black, have a combined 150 years of experience on the Capitol Police force. For many, the suit is the first time they have shared their experiences of that day.
One of the officers, Jason DeRoche, said he was pelted with batteries and doused with bear spray and mace while caught in a melee. Another, Governor Latson, detailed beatings and racial slurs he endured while trying to secure the Senate chamber from a mob of rioters.
“On Jan. 6 we tried to stop people from breaking the law and destroying our democracy,” the seven plaintiffs said in a joint statement issued along with their suit. “Since then, our jobs and those of our colleagues have become infinitely more dangerous. We want to do what we can to make sure the people who did this are held accountable and that no one can do this again.”
What is their argument?
Relying largely on widely circulated news reports and the details of the more than 580 criminal cases brought against accused rioters over the last seven months, the suit contends that statements by Trump and his allies purposefully riled up white supremacist and extremist groups, leading to the violent siege of Jan. 6.
It accuses them of violating local D.C. antibias laws as well as the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, a law passed after the Civil War to protect Americans from acts of violent political intimidation.
“The lies of this conspiracy intentionally energized white supremacists and violent extremist groups and actively encouraged them to coordinate the violent attack on the Capitol,” Damon Hewitt, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing the seven Capitol officers. “These actions put our clients in harm’s way to defend the votes and voices the conspiracy was intended to silence.”
The argument mirrors those made by similar suits filed in recent months by smaller groups of officers. But Thursday’s suit was the first to attempt to link Trump, right wing media figures, and the leaders of far-right extremist groups in an overarching conspiracy — all with culpability for the riot.
What do Rehl and the other defendants have to say in response?
Rehl’s attorney, Shaka Mzee Johnson, did not immediately return requests for comment on the suit Thursday. But he has previously denied the criminal charges against his client, on which Thursday’s civil claims were based, and defended Rehl’s character as a veteran, longtime Philadelphia resident, and father of a child who was born since his arrest.
“He’s a stand-up person,” Johnson said in a March interview. “He has given of himself to this country. There are allegations that have been made. He rebuffs them.”
Where does the criminal case against Rehl stand?
The federal judge presiding over Rehl’s criminal case deemed him to be an ongoing danger to the community and in June ordered him held until trial.
Since then, he has remained at the Federal Detention Center in Center City. But prosecutors on Monday filed a motion seeking to have him moved to a detention facility in D.C.
Rehl’s attorney has not yet responded to that request.
The judge has not set a date for his trial.
Read the lawsuit: