American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Leader Jeff Berry Charged with Five Felonies

Jeff Berry, leader of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has been charged with five felonies and, in a civil case stemming from the same incident that was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, ordered to pay $120,000 for allegedly holding two journalists at gunpoint in his Newville, Ind., home.

George Sells and Heidi Thiel, television journalists from Kentucky, had finished taping an interview with Berry in November 1999 when Berry learned that they planned to also interview a defector from his American Knights, which is currently the most active Klan group in the United States.

At that point, according to a federal court ruling in the civil case, Berry became angry, demanded the interview tapes and locked Sells and Thiel in his house. After an armed Klansman pumped a shotgun to intimidate them, the ruling says, they turned over the tapes and were allowed to leave.

In November, almost a year after the civil suit was brought, DeKalb County, Ind., prosecutors filed five criminal charges against Berry including conspiracy to commit criminal confinement with a deadly weapon.

If Berry is convicted of all charges and if, as prosecutors allege, he is ruled a habitual offender, he faces a maximum of 79 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. The trial is scheduled for early October.

In an unrelated incident, Hazard, Ky., prosecutors dropped criminal charges against Berry for allegedly assaulting a black motorist after a Klan rally in August.