During the late 1990s, a former biker working undercover for the FBI infiltrated one of America's most dangerous hate groups and discovered a plot to assassinate SPLC founder Morris Dees.
Among the suspected conspirators was a Klan leader now in the sights of an SPLC lawsuit — Ron Edwards, the founder of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA), a man described by the FBI informant as a potential weapons supplier.
The previously undisclosed plot is recounted in Into the Devil's Den, a new book published by Ballantine Books about the two-and-a-half years that FBI informant Dave Hall spent as a member of the Aryan Nations in Ohio.
Hall's actions likely thwarted an attack in April 1999 as Dees was preparing for trial against the Aryan Nations.
Dees and the SPLC are now preparing for a similar trial against Edwards and the IKA on behalf of a teenage boy beaten by two of the group's members at a county fair in Brandenburg, Ky. The trial is scheduled for November.
"Obviously, my family and I are grateful to Dave Hall and the FBI for uncovering and stopping this plot," Dees said. "If not for Hall's incredible courage, I might not be here today."
Informant gained haters' trust
A tattooed bear of a man at 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds, Hall went undercover in 1996 and quickly rose through the ranks of the violent white supremacist organization.
By the time the SPLC sued the Aryan Nations and its founder, Richard Butler, in 1999, Hall had become one of the group's most trusted members.
Dees was well-known to the group as the crusading civil rights lawyer from Alabama whose innovative suits had put some of the country's most notorious hate groups, including the White Aryan Resistance and the United Klans of America, out of business.
"White supremacist groups throughout the country hated Dees, and privately many expressed the view that the assassination of Dees would be the greatest achievement any white supremacist could accomplish," Hall writes in the book, released in April.
In the Aryan Nations suit, Dees and the SPLC represented a woman and her son who had been fired upon and assaulted by security guards at the group's Idaho compound.
The suit would, as many members feared, ultimately cripple the Aryan Nations. And it would fuel the assassination plot.
Hall sensed that something was afoot. Rants against Dees and the SPLC were as much a part of this world as the hateful ideology they preached, but the peculiar behavior of some members and comments about snipers and bombs suggested more than the usual empty threats and boasts.
When Hall's undercover work took him to Edwards' compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., after the Aryan Nations lawsuit was filed, his suspicions were only heightened.
During a conversation, the Klan leader made his feelings known when the subject turned to Dees.
"I'll be glad when that son of a bitch is dead," Edwards is quoted as saying in the book.
The word "when" concerned Hall.
Prior to that conversation, Hall had taken a trip with Edwards and another man into the countryside to pick up what appeared to be pipe bombs — two three-foot sections of PVC pipe that were capped on both ends. He worried the plot was worse than he imagined, with extremists potentially targeting both Dees and the SPLC headquarters in Montgomery, Ala.
One night while Hall stayed at Edwards' compound, the Klan leader and another man burst into the guard shack where he was sleeping.
"I could see they were both very drunk, and Ron was holding a pump shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other. I wondered if I might be having another nightmare. Here I had an extremely intoxicated lunatic with a loaded shotgun hinting that I was an informant," he writes.
The Klan leader asked Hall what he thought about Judas' betrayal of Jesus. He gave a response that satisfied Edwards, defusing the situation.
Hall's quick thinking probably saved his life several times and helped him win the trust of several dangerous white supremacists, including Ohio Aryan Nations leader Harold Ray Redfeairn, a man who shot a police officer multiple times in 1979.
Hall's trusted position with Redfeairn eventually took him to the Aryan Nations' Idaho compound where he met Richard Butler, the group's founder, and other key figures.
As Hall's mission wore on, he suffered panic attacks and needed Xanax and alcohol to steady his nerves. Yet he felt a duty to fulfill the commitment he made to the FBI. He diligently relayed each piece of information he uncovered to FBI agent Tym Burkey, who co-wrote the book with Hall and writer Katherine Ramsland.
Eventually, Hall produced enough information for authorities to arrest the would-be assassin on the morning of April 14, 1999. The plan was for the Dees' murder to roughly coincide with the April anniversaries of the Oklahoma City bombing, the fiery end of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and Hitler's birthday.
Would-be shooter sent to prison
The would-be shooter, who was convicted and sent to prison on various firearms charges, admitted to Burkey that he planned to kill Dees but refused to discuss a possible bombing plot. Though Hall theorizes that Edwards may have been a weapons supplier to the plot, Edwards was not charged.
In September 2000, after a weeklong trial, Dees and his legal team won a $6.3 million verdict against Butler and the Aryan Nations. The judgment forced the sale of Butler's 20-acre compound, which was eventually donated to a local college.
As for Edwards, he remains defiant and dangerous. He is the "Imperial Wizard" of the IKA, the country's second largest Klan group with 16 chapters in eight states. In a Klan history on the IKA website, Edwards is portrayed as the leader of the Klan's "6th era," following in the footsteps of David Duke and others. Each year, at Edwards' Kentucky compound, the IKA hosts Nordic Fest, a music festival that brings together Klansmen, skinheads and members of other violent hate groups.
In February, when Dees went to Kentucky to take Edwards' deposition for the upcoming November trial, the Klan leader sported a freshly inked tattoo on the side of his shaved head that said, "F--K S.P.L.C."
The plot described in the new book wasn't the only one to target Dees. More than 30 people have been sent to prison for plotting to kill Dees or attack the SPLC.
Shortly after the SPLC sued Edwards and the IKA last year, the center received numerous threats, resulting in heightened security at the Montgomery office. One letter threatened, "If you do not change your stance soon, you will face a wrath of fury that you will never be able to defend yourself against. We have the ability to reach out and touch someone."