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Black musician sues white supremacist group for ‘coordinated, brutal, and racially motivated attack’ that left him injured, traumatized


Members in a group bearing insignias of the white supremacist Patriot Front appear to shove Charles Murrell with metal shields during a march through Boston on Saturday, July 2, 2022. Inset: Charles Murrell, raising an injured hand, speaks at a press conference in Boston just a few days after he was allegedly attacked by members of the white nationalist group, Patriot Front, in July 2022. (Photos provided in court records by plaintiff)

Charles Murrell just wanted to play his saxophone. But members of the white nationalist extremist group Patriot Front brutally beat him with their shields in a “racially motivated attack” that unfolded on the streets of Boston last summer, the Black musician and teacher alleges in a lawsuit against the group and its founder.

In a 46-page civil complaint filed in the United States District Court District of Massachusetts by Murrell’s attorneys Anthony Mirenda and Allen Thigpen on Tuesday, Murrell contends the attack on him last year was neither spontaneous nor provoked on his part. Instead, Murrell, who is also a civil rights activist, alleges the assault on him was part and parcel of what Patriot Front members prepare do to people when they take to the streets to promote their belief “that the United States of America should be an exclusively white nation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Patriot Front as a white nationalist hate group that evolved from another grim entity, Vanguard America, following the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead, and 35 people injured.

“The tactics deployed by Patriot Front against Mr. Murrell on [July 2] — including using their shields to beat Mr. Murrell after Patriot Front identified him as someone who disagreed with their message of white supremacy — were only the latest instance of Patriot Front’s systematic and coordinated efforts to commit acts of violence against individuals because of their race, all in furtherance of their stated goal of advancing their white supremacist agenda in the United States,” the complaint states.

Murrell said when he encountered the group — who he did not realize were in the area — he was walking toward the Boston Public Library to perform Bach on his saxophone.

“But when he saw throngs of masked individuals traveling toward him and carrying shields, signs and flags, he reached for his phone to record the scene,” the complaint states.

Murrell alleges before he even had a chance to press “record,” someone in the group began making derogatory remarks to him, using the word “tar” to reference him before surrounding him and yelling in unison not to “break our ranks.”

Using commands to one another to encircle the Black man, the Patriot Front members began to push and shove him onto the sidewalk, the complaint said. They called out more orders to flank him while ignoring his pleas for them to stop and move along. Murrell alleges he quickly found himself surrounded by more masked men before he was finally forcefully pushed up against a light post where he was kicked and punched continuously for several minutes.

A photograph depicts Charles Murrell, a Black musician, teacher and civil rights activist being pushed against a light pole by members of the extremist Patriot Front Group while he attempts to cover himself. Other Patriot Front members look on and also appear to be attacking him. ((Plaintiff court filing Murrell v. Patriot Front, Rousseau et al.)

(Plaintiff court filing Murrell v. Patriot Front, Rousseau et al.)

The assault was broken up by police but not before Murrell sustained injuries to his face, head and hands. Today, Murrell says he is still plagued by severe anxiety and a persistent distress that causes him to lose sleep. The recurring nightmares and flashbacks don’t help either. Then there are the physical reminders.

“For example, every time Mr. Murrell goes to open his music composition book, which was on his person on July 2, 2022, he sees residue of his own blood spattered on the cover — a gruesome reminder of the attack,” the complaint notes.

In addition to suing Patriot Front as an entity as well as the group’s leader Thomas Rousseau of Texas, Murrell also added “0 to 99 John Does” as defendants, people who he says participated in the group’s activities last July. Murrell noted that members of Patriot Front who accosted him in Boston did so while there  for one of its highly organized but deceptively named “flash demonstrations” — just like they had done before in cities like Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., Murrell noted.

While in Boston last summer, Patriot Front members carried a “Reclaim America” banner and other “flags depicting fascist imagery,” Murrell said. Carrying those banners, Patriot Front members stalked up Boston’s historic Freedom Trail before stopping at the Old State House and the Boston Public Library. Rousseau gave a speech that day outside of the library before the encounter with Murrell.

The speech, the complaint notes, featured Rousseau’s extremist insistence that America could be neither safe nor retain its liberty without enforcing the views his group espouses.

Members of Patriot Front march down a trail carrying a large banner that states "Reclaim America." They are masked and wear similar clothing, including dark colored shirts and khaki pants. Their faces are obscured with sunglasses, gaiters and masks.

Members of Patriot Front walk through Boston on July 2, 2020 carrying a banner promoting their white supremacist ideology. Photo courtesy of plaintiff’s court records.

A month before Murrell was attacked in Boston, 31 members of Patriot Front, including founder Rousseau, were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for planning to riot during a pride event. The men wore masks and carried shields then, too. And like in Boston, members of the group sported their ubiquitous uniform: khaki pants and similarly colored dark-colored or blue polo-style tops with patches of their logos on their hats or shirts. Mask and sunglasses also covered their faces. Those who were arrested in Idaho last June hailed from all over the U.S. including Virginia, Utah, Illinois, Wyoming and elsewhere. Several members of the group were found guilty on riot charges by a jury last year.

The group was also sued by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law last year for defacing a mural of Black tennis legend Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Virginia. Yahoo! News reported Wednesday that the group had not responded to the lawsuit and a default judgment leading to liability for potential damages may be imminent.

Violence is a feature, not a bug, for Patriot Front, Murrell argues, pointing to a number of video montages the group has shared online featuring violent clashes with the public and police alike.

No one has been charged in the attack on Murrell and an investigation by police remains open. Murrell says he has not been able to find the will to write or perform music since the attack and has lost a number of composition contracts. No specific damages are requested but Human Rights First, an organization backing Murrell’s lawsuit, told ABC News that the goal of the lawsuit is to bring accountability and justice and, ideally, to bankrupt Patriot Front.

Patriot Front insists its messaging is protected under the First Amendment. The group’s attorney in previous matters, but not this one, told ABC News that Murrell was lying and that he was the “aggressor,” not Patriot Front.

Read Murrell’s complaint against Patriot Front below.

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