Extremist group Patriot Movement AZ agrees to settle federal lawsuit with Valley churches

Jennifer Harrison (left) and Lesa Antone (right) speak to their Facebook followers after following an ICE bus to a church in Phoenix. Screenshot via Facebook

Members of the extremist group Patriot Movement AZ have reached an agreement in a federal lawsuit brought by small Hispanic churches who sued them for disrupting their work of welcoming migrant families.

A Jan. 17 filing in the case record says that the defendants – Russell Jaffe, Lesa Antone, Laura Damasco, Brandi Payne and Patriot Movement AZ – had all settled.

The settlement still has to be approved by the court, but its scope is similar to one reached by AZ Patriots last year.

Members of the group are permanently barred from “trespassing on, standing, sitting, or lying on, or blocking, impeding” any building or property owned or utilized by the churches, and they cannot encourage anyone else to do so. 

They also cannot do the same to any “parking lot, driveway, driveway entrance, or walkway entrance,” which was something the group regularly did when they were following Department of Homeland Security buses to the Valley churches. 

They are also barred from “physically abusing, grabbing, touching, pushing, shoving, crowding, or tortiously harassing persons” entering any property used by the churches or using any amplification device on any of the church’s properties. 

The settlement further stops the group from recording or photographing church properties or encouraging anyone else to do so within 50 feet of the building. 

The decree also bars the group from stating or implying or encouraging others to do the same in any public forum, including social media, that the churches are engaged in human or sex trafficking. 

“For purposes of this paragraph, “stating or implying” includes publishing, republishing, and failing to remove any previously published statement, by either Consenting Defendants or any third party, on any social media account which Consenting Defendants control,” the consent decree states. 

The churches will identify and itemize all past known published statements on social media accounts controlled by the defendants within 30 days of the decree being approved and then the items will have to be removed. 

Patriot Movement AZ will also pay the plaintiff churches $750.

The plaintiffs – including five Christian churches and two other faith-based nonprofits and their leaders – sued the groups and some of their members for defamation, trespassing, invasion of privacy, discriminatory interference with property and conspiracy to violate their civil rights. 

The two groups, which are both pro-Trump and anti-immigrant, claimed the lawsuit is frivolous and an intimidation tactic by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights. SPLC, which also monitors extremist groups and categorizes Patriot Movement AZ as a “hate group,” helped the church leaders file the lawsuit.

The faith organizations asked the court to order the anti-immigrant protesters to stay off church property; “stop illegally intimidating, threatening, harassing or otherwise interfering” with their ability to welcome guests to their buildings; impose punitive damages; and award compensatory relief, according to the complaint

The lawsuit claimed the members of AZ Patriots and Patriot Movement AZ were motivated “at least in part by animus against Central Americans and people of color.”

Patriot Movement AZ had been soliciting donations for legal costs, but has recently taken down fundraising social media posts. 

The group did not respond to requests for comment.