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Jordan Gruver v. Imperial Klans of America

Case Number

Civil Action No. 07-CI-00082

On a hot July night in 2006, four members of the Imperial Klans of America prowled the brightly lit midway of the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg, Ky., on a recruiting mission. But after handing out information to prospective recruits, they turned their sights on 16-year-old Jordan Gruver, a U.S. citizen of Panamanian-Indian descent.

Unprovoked, the Klansmen started harassing Gruver. They threw whisky in his face, called him an "illegal s---" and beat him to the ground, kicking him with steel-toe boots as he curled into a fetal position and prayed for his survival. One of the Klansmen stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 300 pounds – towering over Gruver, who only stood 5-foot-3 and weighed 150 pounds.

Gruver suffered injuries that included a broken jaw, broken teeth and permanent nerve damage. Doctors also diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that plagued the teen with nightmares and flashbacks.

The SPLC filed suit against the IKA and four Klansmen, contending that the IKA leadership should have known that its members, given their intense hatred of racial and ethnic minorities, would likely spark a violent confrontation at the fair. SPLC founder and chief trial counsel Morris Dees argued at the trial that IKA Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards added fuel to the fire by preaching hatred and encouraging violence.

"They were bombarded by images of hate," Dees told the jury during the 2008 trial.

Dees showed photos and video footage of Nordic Fest, an annual music festival that brought together Klansmen, skinheads, neo-Nazis and members of other violent hate groups at the IKA's 15-acre compound in Dawson Springs, Ky. Along with performances by hate rock bands, speakers at the gathering called for the deaths of Latinos and Jews.

Edwards claimed he always told his Klansmen to obey the law, but his defense was undermined by explosive testimony from former white supremacist Kale Kelly. Kelly testified that Edwards instructed him to kill Dees in 1999. (According to the testimony, Edwards wanted Dees dead because of an earlier SPLC lawsuit that forced the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations to give up its 20-acre compound in Idaho. The assassination plot was thwarted by an FBI undercover informant, and though Edwards was never charged, Kelly went to prison on weapons charges.)

The three-day trial in Kentucky ended with a victory for Gruver and the SPLC.  The jury found Edwards and Klansman Jarred Hensley at fault for Gruver's injuries and awarded $2.5 million to the teen.

The jury also determined Klansman Andrew Watkins was at fault. Watkins reached a settlement before the trial and was not responsible for paying a portion of the $2.5 million award to Gruver. Watkins and Hensley served two years in prison for criminal charges stemming from the attack.

Joshua Cowles, the head of the IKA's national recruitment effort at the time, also settled before the case went to trial. Cowles testified at the trial that Edwards encouraged him to use violence.

The verdict decimated the IKA, which once claimed 16 chapters in eight states. Edwards resigned from his leadership position a week after the verdict, and the SPLC moved to seize Edwards' interest in the IKA headquarters to satisfy the judgment.