A Black teacher and musician who says members of a white nationalist hate group punched, kicked and beat him with metal shields during a march through Boston last year sued the organization on Tuesday.
Charles Murrell III, of Boston, was in the area of the Boston Public Library to play his saxophone on July 2, 2022, when he was surrounded by members of the Patriot Front and assaulted in a “coordinated, brutal, and racially motivated attack," according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Boston.
Murrell was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment of lacerations, some of which required stitches, the suit says.
“As a result of this beating, Mr. Murrell sustained physical injuries to his face, head, and hand, all of which required medical attention. Mr. Murrell also continues to suffer significant emotional distress to this day as a result of the incident," the suit says. “Among other harms, those physical and emotional injuries have adversely affected Mr. Murrell’s ability to earn a living as a musician."
He has “been plagued by severe anxiety, mental anguish, invasive thoughts, and emotional distress, including, but not limited to, persistent concern for his physical safety and loss of sleep," and “routinely has nightmares and flashbacks," according to the suit.
The defendants are Patriot Front, its founder Thomas Rousseau and multiple John Does. Emails seeking comment have been sent to attorneys who have either represented Patriot Front in the past or represent the group in pending litigation.
Murrell, who has a background teaching special education, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday that the lawsuit is about holding Patriot Front accountable, helping his own healing process and preventing anything similar from happening to children of color, like those he teaches.
“Because I am a teacher, because I come from special education, I am filing this suit so that even if one of them has a safer sidewalk to walk on, the work that I am doing will have been very much worth it,” Murrell said.
The march in Boston by about 100 members of the Texas-based Patriot Front was one of its so-called flash demonstrations that it holds around the country. In addition to shields, the group carried a banner that said “Reclaim America” as they marched along the Freedom Trail and past some of the city's most famous landmarks.
They were largely dressed alike in khaki pants, dark shirts, hats, sunglasses and face coverings.
Murrell said he had never heard of the group before the confrontation, but believes he was targeted because of the tone of their voices and the slurs they used when he encountered them.
Patriot Front trains members to commit acts of violence, according to the suit.
“What happened to Mr. Murrell was no accident," the suit says. “For years, Patriot Front ... has publicly and privately advocated for the use of violence against those who disagree with its express goal of creating an entirely ‘white' United States.”
The goal of the lawsuit is not just justice and accountability, said Licha Nyiendo, the chief legal officer at Human Rights First, which is backing Murrell in the lawsuit, but to bankrupt Patriot Front.
“Our goal is to decimate this extremist group," she said, “and bring a national spotlight to the dangers of their extremist ideology."
It's a similar tactic used against multiple white supremacist groups involved at the deadly “Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which resulted in a $26 million verdict.
“That bankrupted and marginalized the leading hate groups that were involved in Charlottesville and really pulled back the curtain, through the discovery process, on how these groups operate," said Amy Spitalnick, the senior adviser on extremism for Human Rights First.
No one has been charged in connection with the attack on Murrell, 36, and the investigation remains open, according to a spokesperson for the Suffolk district attorney's office.
The suit, which alleges among other things civil rights violations, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.
Founded after the “Unite the Right” rally, Patriot Front’s manifesto calls for the formation of a white ethnostate in the United States, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website.
It’s members post flyers and stickers, put banners on buildings or overpasses and even perform acts of public service, designed to maximize propaganda value, the SPLC said.
Also active online, the Patriot Front is one of the nation's most visible white supremacist groups “whose members maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it to them, and no one else,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Five members of the group were sentenced to several days in jail for conspiring to riot at a Pride event in Idaho last year. A jury found them guilty of the riot charge after after they were accused of planning to riot at the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, LGBTQ+ Pride event.
A total of 31 Patriot Front members, including one identified as its founder, were arrested June 11, 2022, after someone reported seeing people loading into a U-Haul van like “a little army” at a hotel parking lot in Coeur d’Alene, police said at the time. Police said they found riot gear, a smoke grenade, shin guards and shields in the van.