Aryan Nations Trial: White Supremacists Face Death by Lawsuit ; Heavy Damages Sought against Thugs Who Beat Mother and Son near Race- Hate Group's Idaho Compound

By Gumbel, Andrew | The Independent (London, England), August 28, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Aryan Nations Trial: White Supremacists Face Death by Lawsuit ; Heavy Damages Sought against Thugs Who Beat Mother and Son near Race- Hate Group's Idaho Compound


Gumbel, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)


THE ARYAN Nations, the white supremacist group notorious for its Nazi-uniform parades and racist rhetoric, risks being sued out of existence in a court case beginning today in which a mother and son beaten outside the group's compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, are demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

The case is being brought by a civil-rights lawyer, Morris Dees, whose track record includes the closure of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Alabama and the dismemberment of a far-right hate group based in Portland, Oregon.

In each case Mr Dees has sought to trace acts of violence to group leaders and hammer them with financial penalties. "Put them out of business, that's what we try to do," Mr Dees said when he filed his suit against the Aryan Nations last year. Today's court hearing in Coeur d'Alene, will re-examine the case of Victoria and Jason Keenan, attacked and hounded by neo-Nazis in 1998 after their car backfired outside the Aryan Nations encampment during a summer drive.

The backfiring was apparently mistaken for a gunshot, and the Keenans found themselves pursued by a truckload of uniformed men brandishing firearms and shooting at them. After their car veered into a ditch, Mrs Keenan was hit with a rifle butt and her son was beaten as he lay cowering under the dashboard.

The two men accused of carrying out the attack are now serving prison sentences for assault following an earlier criminal trial.

The civil suit, brought by Mr Dees on behalf of the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center, lays blame for the violence on the 82- year-old leader of the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, accusing him of recklessness and negligence in supervising his security guards.

Following a preliminary hearing, in which a judge said Mr Dees was entitled to press for punitive damages as well as straightforward compensation, Mr Butler stands to lose not only his personal assets but also the group's property, believed to be worth around $200,000.

The Aryan Nations are clearly spooked, intoning on their website that "the barbarians are at the gate" and urging supporters - including the publishers of white-supremacist skinhead music - to contribute to a legal defence fund.

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