DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. (AP) - 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
Jury selection begins Wednesday 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, said
Deputy Sheriff Dan McCubbin.
The case stems from a 2006 attack on Jordan Gruver that left the
teen with two cracked ribs, a broken left forearm, cuts and
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 Tuesday. A listed number for Watkins
could not be found.
A message left for Meade County Commonwealth Attorney Kenton
Smith was not immediately returned Tuesday.
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 SPLC co-founder
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 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."
Still, 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' 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
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."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)