Defense begins its case in Aryan assault case

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Former security guards accused of attacking two people after they drove past the Aryan Nations headquarters were ''play acting,'' Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler testified Tuesday.

Butler took the stand in his own behalf as his lawyers tried to convince a jury that the white supremacist sect should not be bankrupted because of the actions of three of its former security guards.

In testimony similar to that he gave last week when called by the plaintiffs, the 82-year-old Butler tried to distance himself from the actions of the three guards, whom he called unpaid volunteers.

Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason Keenan, sued Butler, his organization, his chief of staff and the three guards for unspecified compensatory damages. Idaho 1st District Judge Charles Hosack has ruled that the jury could also consider awarding punitive damages.

Hosack said the jury could get the case as early as Wednesday afternoon, or as late as Thursday.

Butler, a former Southern California mechanic and airplane plant worker, denied the Aryan Nations had an organized security force at its headquarters near Hayden Lake, except for an annual three-day ''congress'' held every July. He denied the guards were on duty the night they terrorized Victoria and Jason Keenan.

The Keenans contend they were chased, shot at and assaulted by Aryan Nations guards after stopping to search for a lost wallet near the entrance to the Aryans' compound July 1, 1998.

Two of the former guards, chief of security Jesse Warfield and John Yeager, are representing themselves in court. A third former guard, Shane Wright, remains a fugitive. Warfield and Yeager were convicted of assaulting the Keenans and are serving prison sentences.

Butler acknowledged approving Warfield's appointment as chief of security in March 1998 by chief of staff Michael Teague, but said Warfield was ''play acting'' when not specifically involved in the annual congress.

''Jesse Warfeld was acting chief, in his own mind, yes,'' Butler said.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Richard Cohen asked Butler if he allowed Warfield and Yeager to ''play act'' with guns. Butler said the two were not issued weapons by the church, but would have been allowed to carry their own.

Because jurors will decide if punitive damages are awarded, much of the questioning went to Butler's finances.

Should the jury award punitive damages, the Keenans could go after the Aryan Nations' assets, which consist mainly of a 20-acre property and some buildings that serve as the group's headquarters in a rural area north of Coeur d'Alene.

Butler said his property was assessed at more than $200,000 about six years ago. The Aryan Nations brings in about $80,000 a year through $5 monthly membership fees and other contributions to it and the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, Butler said. The Aryan Nations is the secular and political arm of the Christian Identity church.

Ray Redfeairn, an Aryan Nations leader in Ohio, testified he quit Butler's group earlier this year because he thought Butler wasn't confrontational enough.

During the trial's first week, Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees and other lawyers representing the Keenans called witnesses who disputed Butler's claim that the security guards were unpaid volunteers not directly under Aryan control.

The Keenans also testified, saying they continue to suffer physical and emotional trauma from the assault.

Tom Metzger, whose White Aryan Resistance group was successfully sued by Dees after an Ethiopian man was killed by neo-Nazi skinheads in Portland, Ore., was in the courthouse Tuesday. He and Butler conferred during breaks in a hallway outside the courtroom.


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