05/07/2008

Morris Dees Discusses New Lawsuit Against Klan

The Southern Poverty Law Center's case against the Imperial Klans of America (IKA) is scheduled for trial in November in Meade County, Kentucky. The SPLC sued the IKA and two of its officials on behalf of teenager Jordan Gruver, who was brutally beaten by IKA members at a county fair. Over the past couple of months, the trial team, led by Morris Dees, has been in Kentucky preparing for the case. Dees answers questions about the case:

Please provide a brief summary of the case and its status today.
On July 30, 2006, two IKA officials, Jarred R. Hensley, 24, of Cincinnati and Andrew R. Watkins, 26, of Louisville, attacked 16-year-old Jordan Gruver while he was enjoying the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg, Ky. Gruver was beaten to the ground and kicked with steel-toed boots. One of his attackers is 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds. Gruver weighed 150. He never had a chance. They cracked his ribs, broke his arm and busted his jaw.

Hensley and Watkins are serving three-year prison terms for the beating. The SPLC filed a lawsuit against the IKA in July 2007, naming Ron Edwards, the IKA's founder, and several highest-ranking members as defendants. Edwards and several others have been deposed, and the SPLC's legal team is preparing for trial.

How is the Imperial Klans of America different from the KKK groups the SPLC has sued in the past?
As odd as it sounds, historically most Klans would allow only "Christians" to be members. This had little appeal to violence-prone young skinheads. The IKA changed its membership rules in late 2005 to allow "Odinists, National Socialists, skinheads, Nazis, Defenders, Confederates and other white racialists" into full IKA membership. This, in conjunction with its heavy-metal, hate music Nordic Fest, attracted hundreds of skinhead members. Now the IKA is one of the nation's largest Klan groups, with 16 chapters in eight states. And, because of its skinhead components, it is one of the most dangerous.

What groups does the IKA target for violence?
When I deposed the IKA imperial wizard, I asked him if "the IKA hates Muds, spics, kikes and niggers," as stated in its official secret handbook. "Yes," he said, "and I also hate you." It is obvious that he also hates the Southern Poverty Law Center because his large bald head sported a large freshly inked tattoo that read: "F--K THE S.P.L.C." Imagine the hate in this man's heart to put something this disgusting on his body.

Do the IKA's joint activities with neo-Nazi skinheads pose a serious threat to minorities?
Yes, especially Latino immigrants. When the police arrested the two men who beat Jordan, one of them called the youth "an illegal SPIC," even as he lay bleeding on the ground. The IKA hosts an annual Nordic Fest each Memorial Day at its compound near Dawson Springs, Ky. They attacked Jordan because he is small and slightly dark-skinned. He is a U.S. citizen, as are his parents. Crimes against Latinos have risen as much as 40 percent in some states, driven by the heated debate about immigration. Hate groups are leading many of these assaults.

What part does hate music play in IKA's effort to attract violence-prone skinheads to its movement?
It is very appealing to these skinheads. The lyrics of these songs express deeply held beliefs that capture their imagination and openly call for violence against minorities. One song, "No Mercy," was listened to by the two IKA members less than two months before they assaulted Jordan. It goes like this: "What about the Jews? No mercy! What about the spics? No mercy! What about the niggers? No mercy! What about the faggots? No mercy!" Edwards' son, Steven, manages one of those bands, the Totenkopf Saints. Watkins, one of Jordan's assailants, was a member of the band. Its emblem is the skull head of the Nazi SS, and its members worship Adolf Hitler.

Where does the IKA base its operations, and what part does the Internet play in its effort to reach young people?
The IKA headquarters is a 15-acre compound. Its main recruitment tool is its website, where upcoming music events and rallies are promoted. The IKA has a forum for members to exchange views and an e-mail-based information network called, appropriately, the Komment Korner. Edwards claims an e-mail list of over 10,000 names that he uses regularly to exchange information and condemn those the IKA targets.

What do you expect this case to accomplish?
Our first goal is to obtain justice for young Jordan Gruver. He has been scarred for life by this trauma. We also would like to obtain a crushing verdict that would put the Imperial Klans of America out of business. Already the suit has caused some skinhead factions who had affiliated with the IKA to disaffiliate. I do not think they want to be drawn into IKA's legal fight. The much larger object of this litigation is to shine the light of public opinion on politicians and media pundits who promote bias against Latinos and show the danger of such hate getting out of hand. There are now 888 hate groups in our country, a 48 percent rise since 2000 that has been fueled by this anti-immigrant sentiment.