Jury finds Butler, Aryan Nations negligent; awards $6.3 million in assault

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - A jury on Thursday awarded $6.3 million to a woman and her son who were attacked by Aryan Nations guards outside the white supremacist group's north Idaho headquarters.

The jury found that Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler, the group and its corporate entity, Saphire, Inc., were negligent in the selection, training and supervision of the security guards who assaulted Victoria and Jason Keenan two years ago.

The Keenans' attorney, Morris Dees, had asked the 1st District Court jury to award more than $11 million in punitive damages. Dees, of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, has said he sought a penalty sufficient to bankrupt the Aryan Nations.

The 82-year-old Butler spoke briefly outside the courtroom, comparing himself to some biblical figures and also declaring north Idaho a haven for racists.

''You can't stop us,'' Butler told reporters. ''This is nothing. We have planted seeds. Most of north Idaho now is filled with the people who escaped multiculturalism or diversity or whatever you want to call it.''

Jurors set $6 million as a punitive damage award, with $330,000 in compensatory damages to the Keenans, who were chased, shot at and assaulted after they stopped to search for a dropped wallet near the entrance to the Aryan Nations' compound.

Dees said he doesn't intend to allow the Aryans to begin disposing of their assets.

''We intend to enforce this verdict. We intend to take every single asset from the Aryan Nations now and forever. We intend to even take the name 'Aryan Nations' and hopefully, through the judicial process, close that sad chapter in this nation's history,'' Dees told a news conference.

''For too long, the Aryan Nations compound in this county has been a haven for violent racists,'' Dees added. ''I hope this jury verdict will put an end to that.''

Victoria Keenan, 44, spoke briefly, thanking the jury, her lawyers and her family. ''Without them, I don't think I could have done all this,'' she said.

Her son, Jason, 21, called the Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers who took the case pro bono ''my heroes.''

Edgar Steele, who represents Butler and the Aryan Nations, said he will move for a new trial. If that fails, he may appeal and may also seek to have the judgment reduced. Butler would have to post a $9 million bond to appeal.

''I consider this area to be one of the last bastions of free speech in America,'' Steele said. ''You can write the epitaph for that now.''

The jury found Butler, the Aryan Nations and Saphire Inc. 90 percent negligent; Butler and the Aryan Nations are liable for $4.8 million of the punitive award. Butler's chief of staff, Michael Teague, was found 10 percent negligent and liable for $600,000.

''We will continue the message of Aryan Nations and the white race as long as we live,'' Teague said after the verdict.

Former guards Jesse Warfield and John Yeager - who are serving prison terms for the assaults on the Keenans - were also found liable for punitive damages. Yeager was assessed $100,000 in punitive damages and Warfield $500,000.

The jury awarded Victoria Keenan $250,000 and Jason Keenan $80,000 in compensatory damages.

Butler tried to distance himself from the actions of Warfield, Yeager and a third former guard, whom he called unpaid volunteers. The third guard remains a fugitive.

Warfield and Yeager, who represented themselves, took responsibility for the attack, saying they mistook a car backfire as gunfire from the Keenans and perceived a threat.

Butler's sect holds that whites are the true children of God, that Jews are the offspring of Satan and that blacks and other minorities are inferior.

His disciples have included some of the most notorious figures in the white supremacist movement, such as Robert Mathews and Buford Furrow. Mathews formed a violent offshoot known as The Order and embarked on a nationwide crime spree before he died in a 1984 shootout and fire involving the FBI. Furrow is awaiting trial in Los Angeles on charges of killing an Asian-American postal carrier and shooting up a Jewish day care center last summer.

In 1987, Dees won a $7 million verdict against a Ku Klux Klan organization over the slaying of a 19-year-old black man in Mobile, Ala., forcing the group to turn over its headquarters building. In 1990, he won $9 million in Portland, Ore., against the White Aryan Resistance in the beating death of a black man by neo-Nazi skinheads.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment