Suing the KKK: Klan Under Fire

They didn't need their white sheets or pointed hats this time.

Their steel-toed black boots with red laces were enough to crack the teenage boy's ribs, break his arm, hurt his jaw and inflict enough emotional damage to last a lifetime.

For Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins, two members of the nation's second-largest Ku Klux Klan group, the mistaken belief that Jordan Gruver was Hispanic was apparently reason enough for them to beat the 16-year-old to the ground after showering him with racial slurs, spit and whiskey at a Kentucky county fair in July, according to court papers.

The year was not 1865. It was 2006.

The two Klan members are locked up in a Kentucky state prison for the next three years while, until this week, their white supremacist organization continues to operate undeterred.

But Wednesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group known for taking on some of the country's largest hate groups, added the entire Imperial Klans of America organization and three of its high-ranking officials to a civil lawsuit the organization filed against Hensley and Watkins in February. The consolidated suit seeks an unspecified amount of money for both punitive and compensatory damages.

The IKA, whose headquarters are in Dawson Springs, Ky., "promotes violence and intimidation and calls for the death of racial and ethnic minorities, homosexuals and so-called 'race traitors,'" said SPLC president Richard Cohen in a statement.

There has been a 40 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000 as documented by the SPLC — an increase experts say has been fueled by anti-immigration rage aimed largely at Hispanics. The SPLC says legal action has proved to be one, if not the only effective way to put these groups out of business.

The Fateful Evening

On July 30, 2006, a group of IKA members went to the Meade County Fairgrounds in Kentucky to hand out ads for a "white-only" Klan function as part of their official recruiting drive, according to court documents.

Shortly after midnight, the lawsuit says, Hensley, the second-highest-ranking Klan official in Ohio, and Watkins, IKA's webmaster, approached Gruver, a teenager of Panamanian-Indian descent, and "without provocation" began calling him racial slurs such as "f--ing spic."

They surrounded him, knocked him to the ground and kicked and hit him repeatedly, "solely because he has brown skin," Gruver's lawyers said in a news release. During the attack, the defendants also spit on Gruver and poured alcohol on him.

Two other Klan members, including Kentucky's highest-ranking Klan member, referred to in court documents as "J. Edward," allegedly watched the beating with encouragement and made no attempts to stop it, according to the complaint. Edward is one of the three officials named in the SPLC's suit Wednesday.

The 5-foot-3-inch, 150-pound Gruver sustained injuries all over his body from the beating; one of his attackers stood a foot taller than Gruver and was double his weight.

According to a letter from Gruver's attorneys, Hensley and Watkins "showed no remorse for their crime," smirking and gesturing at the victim during their criminal sentencing.

Hensley, 24, the Grand Titan of the group, has appeared on CNN to discuss the Klan and has created a Yahoo screen name (ohioss88) and MySpace account name (violence) to reflect his supremacist mission, according to court papers. Watkins, 26, was a member of the IKA music group known as the Totenkof Saints — German for "death's head" — and performed songs like "No Mercy," which called for the murder of nonwhites, including "spics."

Payback Time

A Meade County grand jury in September indicted the two men on second-degree assault charges for a hate crime, alcohol intoxication in a public place and disorderly conduct.

In February, Hensley and Watkins were sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree assault. On the same day, Gruver filed a civil lawsuit for damages against the defendants with the help of the SPLC, saying that he had endured physical pain and emotional distress and feared future attacks by IKA members, according to the complaint.

SPLC's additional filing this week alleges that the IKA is also responsible for the beating because it knew or should have known that there would be racial and ethnic minorities at the county fair, and that it was "reasonably likely" that its members would act against these individuals.

A phone message to the Imperial Klans of America was not immediately returned. Attorneys for Hensley and Watkins could not be reached for comment and have not yet replied to the lawsuit.

'No Mercy' for the Klan

The SPLC has brought down about 10 of the nations' largest and most violent white supremacist organizations over the last 25 years by helping victims of racial violence sue for monetary damages.

Its recent court victories include a $9 million dollar verdict against four white Texan men who beat a mentally challenged black man, causing him permanent brain damage, and a $37.8 million verdict (later reduced to $21.5 million) against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (the largest verdict ever against a hate group.)

It wrote that its courtroom costs are funded entirely by its supporters and that it takes no legal fees from clients.