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Former WA AG explains NAACP lawsuit against Trump for role in riot

Pro-Trump protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

On behalf of a member of Congress, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing former President Trump over his role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The lawsuit from the NAACP is based on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, what was once a pretty obscure law.

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“Yes, an act that was passed during Reconstruction to — at the request of President Ulysses Grant — to help him face down and defeat real threats that were emerging in the Deep South, particularly in South Carolina,” former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross.

“It gave him the power to suppress state orders without congressional approval, and to suspend the right of habeas corpus,” McKenna explained. “He used it to, along with the federal forces that he deployed, to dismantle the KKK, which was effectively out of business until the early 20th century.”

Today, the law has “real currency,” McKenna says, because of a key provision that’s codified as Section 1983 of the U.S. Code, Title 42.

“[It’s a] provision we commonly see used when people believe their federal civil rights, like First Amendment rights for example, have been infringed by state actors, state governments, city governments, and so on,” he said.

Dave Ross pointed out that it seems like a judge could dismiss this because it’s based on such an old law, but some of the language almost seems to speak directly to what happened on Jan. 6.

“I think this is why there’s so much emphasis in the lawsuit on the attempt to disrupt the election certification altogether. I mean, literally to take over the Capitol,” McKenna said. “Of course, … back in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the concern was voter suppression in the South. I don’t know if anyone ever envisioned the KKK coming to the U.S. Capitol. Even they would have thought that would be preposterous.”

“But the lawsuit names the Proud Boys, for example, and white supremacist groups that came to town, apparently with the intention of stopping President Biden’s election from being certified,” he added.

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McKenna also notes that it’s important to remember that the case against Trump isn’t based solely on the one speech made on Jan. 6.

“It’s based on months, if not years, of activities that he was engaged in, speeches that he made, claims that he made, lies that he told, designed to undermine the credibility of the election, of the vote — the endless claims of rigged elections, and fraud, and ‘we won by a landslide,'” he explained. “I think that the court’s going to look at the entire picture, not just that single speech.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here

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