AUSTIN (Texas Tribune) — A group of people traveling on a President Joe Biden campaign bus on a Texas highway last fall when it was surrounded and followed by former President Donald Trump’s supporters have filed a lawsuit against at least seven people who allegedly were following the bus, claiming the group violated the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and Texas law by organizing a “politically-motivated conspiracy to disrupt the campaign and intimidate its supporters.”
The Klan Act prevents groups from joining together to obstruct free and fair federal elections by intimidating and injuring voters, or denying them the ability to engage in political speech.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, claims the defendants violated that law when they followed the bus, yelling death threats and streaming their activities on social media.
The plaintiffs include former state Sen. Wendy Davis, David Gins, a then-campaign staffer who now serves as deputy director for operations for Vice President Kamala Harris, Eric Cervini, another campaign volunteer, and the bus driver, Timothy Holloway. The lawsuit also states that the plaintiffs continue to suffer psychological and emotional injury from the event. The bus driver, Holloway, has been unable to drive a bus following the experience. They are asking for compensatory and punitive damages and for legal fees to be covered.
“What Defendants cannot do under the law is use force, intimidation, or threats against those with whom they disagree politically. Yet that is precisely what Defendants did by conspiring to use their vehicles as weapons to interfere with the constitutional rights of those who supported the Biden-Harris Campaign,” the lawsuit reads. “The Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, association, and assembly is empty if those rights cannot be freely exercised. And where groups are permitted to terrorize those with whom they disagree into forgoing their constitutional rights, the functioning of our democracy demands accountability.”
The individuals named in the lawsuit could not immediately be reached for comment.
The confrontation, captured on video in late October, made national news in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. It featured at least one minor collision and led to Texas Democrats canceling three scheduled campaign events in Central Texas, citing “safety concerns.” The plaintiffs argue the forced cancellation due to these intimidation tactics also infringed on their First Amendment rights. The FBI continues to investigate the incident, according to a spokesperson.
A group of Trump supporters, who documented their progress on social media, had followed the group throughout the Texas campaign. On Oct. 30, a social media user using the hashtag #TrumpTrainTexas posted on Twitter, “Trolling is FUN.” The user called for other Trump supporters to “escort the Biden [bus] coming through San Antonio.”
Once they left San Antonio, dozens of trucks with Trump and American flags surrounded the bus, shouting and honking at it, and tried to slow it down. The campaign canceled an event in San Marcos and continued on to an event in Austin. But plaintiffs said they struggled to get police to respond as they continued north on Interstate 35.
In an exclusive interview with the Tribune in January, Davis said she didn’t think law enforcement had taken the situation seriously enough. She said in San Antonio, police responded to a request for assistance, pushing the trucks with Trump flags back. But once they left San Antonio, the caravan once again surrounded the bus. Davis said they called 911 again in San Marcos but they could not get an officer to respond.
“They just kept saying, ‘Where are you now? Where are you now,’” Davis said in January. “We kept giving them landmark after landmark, mile marker after mile marker. … Never were we able to get anyone to come out. It was unbelievable.”
A San Marcos spokesperson said in October that police received a call from the Biden campaign bus requesting a police escort but due to traffic weren’t able to catch up to the bus before it exited the city.
Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler previously told the Tribune that the Biden campaign did not notify his office that it would be passing through the county to allow law enforcement to prepare for any possible confrontations. “The planning of this was questionable,” said Cutler.
The incident garnered praise from Republican lawmakers at the time. Trump tweeted a video of the Trump supporters following the Biden bus saying, “I LOVE TEXAS!” and claimed inaccurately that the supporters were “protecting” the bus.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.