Aryan Nations Civil Trial Begins

ByJohn K. Wiley

C O E U R  D’A L E N E, Idaho, Aug. 29, 2000 -- Opening arguments began today in atrial that could force the white supremacist Aryan Nations to payfor the actions of Aryan security guards accused of shooting at amother and her son.

Victoria Keenan and her son Jason Keenan are seeking damagesfrom Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, his former chief ofstaff and three former security guards. The guards are accused ofshooting at and assaulting the Keenans near the sect’s northern Idahoheadquarters in 1998.

Morris Dees, whose Southern Poverty Law Center is representingthe Keenans, told the jury today that the case is not aboutattacking the beliefs of the Aryan Nations, but about what theguards did and who directed them to do it.

Jurors were seated Monday in the civil trial, which could lastmore than a week. If the jury finds for the Keenans and awardspunitive damages, they could go after the Aryan Nations’ assets,which consist mainly of the compound outside Hayden Lake a fewmiles north of Coeur d’Alene.

Terrorized by GuardsButler, 82, argues that Edward Jesse Warfield, John Yeager andShane Wright acted on their own. But Dees said the evidence willshow Butler himself ordered the attack.

Lawyers representing the Keenans, Butler and his former chief ofstaff, Michael Teague, hinted at their cases in questions asked ofpotential jurors Monday before 1st District Judge Charles W.Hosack.

Dees, who has won multi-million-dollar lawsuits against factionsof the Ku Klux Klan and the White Aryan Resistance, has said hehopes to bankrupt Butler’s Aryan Nations.

The Keenans, who are part white and part American Indian,contend in their lawsuit that they were chased for more than twomiles by Aryan security guards who fired assault rifles, forcedthem into a ditch and roughed them up.

“My client, Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason brought thiscase,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Ken Howard said, asking potential jurorsif they had “any difficulties that people who are shot at —terrorized — shouldn’t bring lawsuits?”

No potential juror said that was a problem.

Acted On Their Own?In court documents, Butler said the three guards acted on theirown, in violation of the white supremacist sect’s policies in theJuly 1, 1998 incident.

The Keenans were driving past the Aryan Nation headquarters nearHayden Lake, returning to their Sandpoint-area home, when their carbackfired. Security guards mistook the backfire for a gunshot and achase began.

Edgar Steele, a Sandpoint lawyer representing Butler, Teague andSaphire Inc. the corporation that controls Aryan assets, said hefeared the Aryans’ beliefs would be scrutinized rather than theevidence.

“Racism shouldn’t be on trial, but I’ve got a hunch it willcome out,” he said. “Pastor Butler is a racist. Michael Teague isa racist. Virtually all of the Aryan Nations are racists.”

Aryan Beliefs Not on TrialSteele asked the potential jurors to set aside personal feelingsabout the Aryans’ white supremacist philosophy to render a fair andimpartial verdict.

Two of the guards, Warfield and Yeager, subsequently wereconvicted of felony assault and are serving prison time. Wright isa fugitive.

Uniformed police ringed the Kootenai County Justice Center onMonday and lined courthouse corridors, where visitors had to passthrough a metal detector.

Irv Rubin, leader of the militant Jewish Defense League and aButler nemesis, waited outside the courtroom while the jury wasbeing selected, but did not participate in any demonstrations.

Vincent Bertollini of the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, aSandpoint anti-Semitic group that mailed fliers condemning Dees tomany Kootenai County households, videotaped the proceedings outsidethe courthouse.

“Butler will never leave this area. If he winds up living in awooden box under a bridge, he will stay here,” Bertollini said.“Should he meet his demise in any way, I guarantee that someonewill step in and take his place.”

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