Jury: Aryans To Pay $6.3M in Suit

Newsday/September 8, 2000
By John K. Wiley

Coer D'Alene, Idaho -- The civil rights lawyer who helped win a $6.3 million judgment against the Aryan Nations hopes the verdict is just the first step to shutting down the white supremacist sect.

In the wake of Thursday's award, Morris Dees said he would now try to take everything from the Aryan Nations, including its 20-acre rural compound and infamous name.

''We intend to take every single asset from the Aryan Nations now and forever,'' Dees said after the jury awarded damages to a woman and her son who were attacked by Aryan Nations guards. ''We intend to even take the name 'Aryan Nations' and ... close that sad chapter in this nation's history.''

The jury found that Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, the group and its corporate entity, Saphire Inc., were negligent in overseeing the security guards who assaulted Victoria and Jason Keenan in 1998.

The Keenans were chased, shot at and attacked after they stopped to search for a lost wallet outside the Aryan Nations headquarters north of Coeur d'Alene.

Jurors deliberated about 10 hours over two days before setting $6 million as a punitive damage award, with $330,000 in compensatory damages to Victoria Keenan, 44, and Jason, 21.

Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., has long used lawsuits to destroy the finances of hate groups. In six such lawsuits, the lawyer has never lost. In 1990, he won $9 million in Portland, Ore., against the White Aryan Resistance in the beating death of a black man by neo-Nazi skinheads.

He said he intends to seize the Aryan Nations copyright and then retire the name that has been synonymous with racial hatred for nearly three decades.

As for the Aryan Nations' fenced property, Dees suggested a different use.

''It's a property I don't think we could find a better use for than as a tolerance center ... to show the tragedies of the Holocaust,'' Dees said. ''I couldn't think of a better use for it than for school children to go to the seat of hatred and learn tolerance.''

Butler, 82, spoke briefly outside the courtroom, comparing himself to some biblical figures and declaring north Idaho a haven for racists.

''You can't stop us,'' Butler told reporters. ''This is nothing. We have planted seeds. Most of north Idaho now is filled with the people who escaped multiculturalism or diversity or whatever you want to call it.''

Edgar Steele, who represents Butler and the Aryan Nations, said he will move for a new trial. If that fails, he plans to appeal and may seek to have the judgment amount reduced.

Butler would have to post a $9 million bond to appeal.

''I consider this area to be one of the last bastions of free speech in America,'' Steele said. ''You can write the epitaph for that now.''

The jury found Butler, the Aryan Nations and Saphire Inc. 90 percent negligent; Butler and the Aryan Nations are liable for $4.8 million of the punitive award. Butler's chief of staff, Michael Teague, was found 10 percent negligent and liable for $600,000.

''We will continue the message of Aryan Nations and the white race as long as we live,'' Teague said after the verdict.

Former guards Jesse Warfield and John Yeager -- who are serving prison terms for the assaults on the Keenans -- were also found liable for punitive damages. Yeager was assessed $100,000 in punitive damages and Warfield $500,000.

Butler presides over the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, which holds that whites are the true children of God, that Jews are the offspring of Satan and that blacks and other minorities are inferior.

His disciples have included some of the white supremacist movement's most notorious figures, such as Robert Mathews and Buford Furrow. Mathews formed a violent offshoot known as The Order and embarked on a nationwide crime spree before he died in a 1984 shootout and fire involving the FBI. Furrow is awaiting trial in Los Angeles on charges of killing an Asian-American postal carrier and shooting up a Jewish day care center last summer.

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