07/25/2007

SPLC Sues Leading Klan Group over Beating

The Southern Poverty Law Center today filed suit against the nation's second-largest Klan group and five Klansmen, saying two members were on a recruiting mission for the group in July 2006 when they savagely beat a teenage boy at a county fair in Kentucky.

The lawsuit claims that as part of an official recruiting drive organized by the leadership of the Imperial Klans of America (IKA), several members went to the Meade County Fairgrounds in Brandenburg, Ky., to hand out business cards and flyers advertising a "white-only" IKA function.

Unprovoked, two of the Klansmen at the fair began harassing a 16-year-old boy of Panamanian descent, calling him a "spic," according to the lawsuit. The boy, who stands 5-foot-3 and weighs just 150 pounds, was beaten to the ground and kicked by the Klansmen, one of whom is 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. The beating left the boy with two cracked ribs, a broken left forearm, multiple cuts and bruises and jaw injuries requiring extensive dental repair.

"The defendants are members and high-ranking officials of one of the most violent white supremacist groups in America," said SPLC President Richard Cohen. "They promote violence and intimidation and call for the death of racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians and so-called 'race traitors.' They targeted and viciously beat our client solely because he has brown skin."

The SPLC has documented a 40 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000 — an increase fueled by anti-immigration furor aimed largely at Latinos. The boy who was attacked is a U.S. citizen.

The lawsuit says the boy has endured physical and mental pain and suffering from the attack. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Two IKA members at the time of the beating — Jarred R. Hensley, 24, of Cincinnati and Andrew R. Watkins, 26, of Louisville — each are serving three-year prison terms for the beating after pleading guilty to second-degree assault. Hensley was the IKA's Grand Titan in Ohio. Watkins served as the IKA's webmaster.

The center earlier sued Hensley and Watkins for their actions, but Wednesday's filing adds the IKA and three other individuals.

The suit names Ron Edwards, the IKA's founder and highest-ranking member; J. Edward, who as an Exalted Cyclops had "authority over and responsibility for the operations and activities of the IKA in Kentucky"; and Joshua Cowles, another member participating in the recruiting drive.

The IKA's compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., is situated on 15 acres owned by Edwards. It is the site of Nordic Fest, a music festival that brings together Klansmen, skinheads and members of other violent hate groups each year in May.

Over the past 25 years, the SPLC has crippled some of the nation's largest and most violent white supremacist organizations by helping victims of racial violence sue for monetary damages. Its victories include a $7 million verdict against the United Klans in 1987 for the lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Ala.; a $12.4 million verdict against the White Aryan Resistance in 1990 for the brutal murder of an Ethiopian student in Portland; and a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations in 2000 that forced the organization to give up its 20-acre compound in Idaho.