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Jury finds against Aryan Nations for $6.3 million

September 7, 2000
Web posted at: 10:47 p.m. EDT (0247 GMT)

From staff and wire reports

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho --A jury in Idaho found
the leader of a white supremacist group, his chief of
staff and two security guards liable for $6.3 million
in damages for a 1998 attack on a woman and her
son outside the Aryan Nations headquarters. 

The jury found that Aryan Nations leader Richard
Butler, the group and its corporate entity, Saphire,
Inc., were negligent in the selection, training and
supervision of the security guards
who assaulted Victoria and Jason Keenan two years ago.
Butler spoke briefly
outside the courtroom, comparing himself to some
biblical figures and also declaring
northern Idaho a haven for racists, according to
KREM-TV of Spokane. 

"You can't stop us," the station quoted Butler as saying. 

"This is nothing," Butler told KOMO-TV of Seattle. "We
have planted seeds. Most
of north Idaho now is filled with the people who
escaped multiculturalism or
diversity or whatever you want to call it." 

The Keenans hugged each other tearfully after the verdict. 

The jury found Butler, the Aryan Nations and Saphire
Inc. 90 percent negligent;
Butler and the Aryan Nations are liable for $4.8
million of the award. Butler's chief
of staff, Michael Teague, was found 10 percent
negligent and liable for $600,000. 

The former guards Jesse Warfield and John Yeager --
who are serving prison terms
for the assaults on the Keenans -- were also found
liable for punitive damages.
Yeager was assessed $100,000 in punitive damages and
Warfield $500,000 in punitive damages. 

The jury also awarded Victoria Keenan $250,000 and
Jason Keenan $80,000 in compensatory damages. 

Victoria Keenan and her son Jason said they were attacked
by the guards after their car backfired outside the group's
compound near Coeur d'Alene. They said the men chased
them in a truck, shot at them and forced them into a ditch.
The Keenans were then beaten with rifle butts. 

Two of the guards are serving prison terms for the attack,
and a third is still a fugitive. 

Plaintiffs' attorney Morris Dees argued that Butler and
Teague were reckless and negligent in overseeing the group's
security staff. 

In closing arguments, he urged the jury to award the
Keenans $1.26 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive
damages to send a message to hate groups across the United States. 

Edgar Steele, who represents Butler, Teague and the Aryan Nations, said the men
acted on their own. He said former guards Jesse Warfield and John Yeager had
disobeyed the group's regulations and gotten drunk before the attack on the
Keenans. 

Warfield and Yeager testified that they did attack the
Keenans but refused to implicate Butler. 

Steele suggested that the jury award the Keenans
between $4,000 and $10,000 for their distress. 

Dees, a founder of the Montgomery, Alabama, based Southern Poverty Law
Center, had said he hoped to bankrupt the white supremacist group. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Aryan Nations as a highly
organized and dangerous group, with chapters in more
than a dozen U.S. states and ties to organizations in Europe. 

Dees has been successful in taking on white
supremacist groups. In 1987, the Southern Poverty
Law Center won a $7 million verdict against the
United Klans after the killing of a black man in
Alabama, forcing the group to give its headquarters
to the victim's mother. 

It also convinced a Portland, Oregon, jury to award
$12.5 million to to the family of a Somalian
immigrant who was beaten to death with a baseball
bat by skinheads from a group called White Aryan Resistance. 

Steele urged the jury to look past Butler and the
Aryan Nations' racist anti-Semetic views. 

"He may not be, in your eyes, an attractive man, and
you may not like what he says
or thinks ... but he's got a right to believe what he
wants as long as it doesn't hurt people," Steele said. 

       The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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