Nation's second-largest Klan unit on trial in beating case
Teen was attacked at state fair in Ky.
DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. - The 28-acre compound that the nation's second-largest Ku Klux Klan outfit calls home features a high gate with armed guards, a stage for the group's annual gatherings and an open field for burning crosses.
The Southern Poverty Law Center wants to take it all away.
On these tranquil grounds amid western Kentucky's low, rolling hills, the Imperial Klans of America incited members to severely beat a Latino teen at a county fair, the civil rights group contends in a lawsuit. The center hopes its case will bankrupt this Klan group, a tactic the center has used to decimate other racist organizations.
Jury selection begins today in Meade County, about 40 miles south of Louisville and 120 miles from the compound.
"We want to put a stop to this kind of violence," said Richard Cohen, president of the center, which is suing on behalf of the victim. "They issue thinly veiled calls to violence."
The Meade County Sheriff's Office has added patrols and some security at the courthouse but is not expecting trouble, Deputy Sheriff Dan McCubbin said.
The case stems from a 2006 attack on Jordan Gruver that left the teen with two cracked ribs, a broken left forearm, cuts and bruises. The center claims Jarred Hensley of Cincinnati and Andrew Watkins of Louisville were recruiting on behalf of the Klan at the Meade County fair, about two hours east of their headquarters, and attacked Gruver because he is Latino.
"They targeted and viciously beat our client solely because he has brown skin," Cohen said, declining to specify what the Imperial Klans or Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards might have done to trigger the attack.
Requests made through the center to interview the now 18-year-old Gruver, whose family is from Panama, were declined. Calls made to a number for the family were not answered.
Watkins and Hensley served two years in prison for beating Gruver and were recently released. Neither responded to written requests for interviews while in prison. A message left for Hensley was not immediately returned yesterday. A listed number for Watkins could not be found.
A message left for Meade County Commonwealth Attorney Kenton Smith was not immediately returned yesterday.
Edwards, who is also a defendant, made no apologies for his views but denied the center's allegations.
"I'm going to show he's a liar," he said of center cofounder Morris Dees. "This is all Morris Dees' imagination."
Edwards, whose arms and neck are covered in tattoos of crosses, Nazi symbols, references to the "Zionist Occupied Government" and an obscenity referring to the center, said that if he had sent his Klansmen recruiting, they would have been wearing black T-shirts and camouflage pants, they would not have been drinking and they would not have headed out late at night.
"If I felt a bit guilty, I would have said that," Edwards said. "I didn't have anything to do with it."
The Imperial Klans of America has at least 23 chapters in 17 states, most of which are small, Cohen said.
"It's not a great big operation, best I can tell," said Shawn Bean, a Hopkins County Sheriff's investigator. "I don't think people [in town] pay a lot of attention to them."
The Montgomery, Ala.-based center, which tracks hate groups, deems the Imperial Klans the country's second-largest Klan organization, after the Brotherhood of Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Marion, Ohio.
Edwards's son, Steve Edwards, runs a Central City, Ky., group called the Supreme White Alliance, which has ties to two white supremacists charged in a bizarre plot to behead blacks across the country and assassinate Barack Obama while wearing white top hats and tuxes.
The center has taken white supremacist groups to court before. It won a $6.3 million verdict from Aryan Nations in 2000, which forced the group to sell its Idaho compound. The center also won a $7 million verdict from United Klans in 1987 following a lynching in Mobile, Ala.
Whatever happens at this week's trial, Ron Edwards insists he'll keep the Klan going, even if it means declaring bankruptcy, which potentially could keep the property and Klan logos shielded from seizure and away from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"I've picked out some property nearby, just in case," Edwards said. "We'll keep our name and our shield. We're not going away."