During the 1980’s, it took Alabama four tries to convict Josephus Anderson, a black man accused of murdering a white cop while conducting an armed robbery. In 1981, after the second attempt resulted in a hung jury, members of the Mobile-based Unit 900 of the United Klans of America (UKA) decided to murder a random black person in retaliation. The victim was 19 year-old Michael Donald, a student at a technical college and employee of the Mobile Press Register, Donald was forced into a car, driven to a neighboring county, and lynched.
In 1987, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued the United Klans of America for Donald’s death and won a judgment of $7 million. When the UKA couldn’t pay, it was forced into bankruptcy and Donald’s mother was awarded its headquarters, which she then sold. The UKA membership is estimated to have been around 30,000 in the mid-1960’s when they were responsible for the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. After their bankruptcy, estimates are that membership dwindled to under a thousand nationwide.
On Dec. 12, 2020, members of the Proud Boys descended on Washington DC to protest the coming certification of the Electoral College victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Rampaging through the city, they burned Black Lives Matter signs at two black churches, including the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church at 15th and M Streets. The Criminal Justice Project sued for damages on behalf of the church and won a verdict of $1.03 million. D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz wrote that the vandalism “resulted from a highly orchestrated set of events focused on the Proud Boys’s guiding principles: white supremacy and violence.”
The judge said that replacing the sign and protecting the church cost only $36,626.78. “But compensatory damages alone will not address the defendants’ reprehensible conduct or the extraordinary emotional trauma suffered by the church and its congregants,” he wrote. “To the members of the church, the burning of the Black Lives Matter sign represented a complete negation of their right to worship as they please and, more fundamentally, to participate fully in the life of the community — and forced them to harken back to the long and painful history of white supremacists committing wanton acts of violence against Black churches.”
The Washington Post reports that “the Proud Boys is registered in Texas as a limited liability company with more than 22,000 members as of 2020.” It’s not clear if they can afford to pay $1.03 to the church or will have to file for bankruptcy.
The leader of the group that lynched Michael Donald in 1981 died in the electric chair in 1997. Leaders of the Proud Boys, including Enrique Tarrio who set fire to the Black Lives Matter sign at the Asbury United Methodist Church on Dec. 12, 2020, have been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6, 2021 riot and coup attempt at the Capitol.
Hopefully, the Proud Boys will suffer a collapse in membership reminiscent of what happened to the UKA in the late-1980’s.