A jury ordered a former Ku Klux Klan leader to pay millions to the family of a black man murdered by "skinheads" he allegedly incited to racial violence, bringing a veiled threat from the white supremacist.
The jury found Monday that Tom Metzger, his son John and their Southern California group, White Aryan Resistance, incited the murder of an Ethiopian student who was beaten to death with a baseball bat and kicked in the head with steel-toed jackboots outside his Portland apartment in 1988.The jury awarded a total of $12.5 million in damages against WAR and the Metzgers and against two of the attackers - Oregon skinheads Kenneth Mieske and Kyle Brewster. The attackers all have pleaded guilty to either murder or manslaughter charges.
Metzger, a former California KKK grand dragon who had called the trial "a Salem witch hunt," told reporters the verdict was a victory because it will make him a martyr to the white separatist movement.
"Persecution sometimes opens the door," he said. "We are telling the white underclass that is growing out there that this kind of thing is coming to their door next. Everything is heating up."
Metzger, 52, a TV repairman whose organization is based in Fallbrook, Calif., said he did not have enough money to pay the award, and he planned to appeal. He also vowed the white supremacy movement would continue unabated.
"The white separatist movement will not be stopped in the puny town of Portland," Metzgersaid.
Metzger, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1980, also said he would now become even more militant, but he refused to say if he will openly advocate violence.
"Now I won't be restricted any longer," said Metzger, who had argued he had not specifically ordered any of his followers to commit violence. "I will not restrain anyone anymore."
After several days of testimony in a civil suit filed by civil rights attorney Morris Dees on behalf of the family of the murdered student, Mulugeta Seraw, the jury concluded the Metzgers had conspired to send agents to Portland to seek recruits and encourage attacks on blacks.
One of those agents was Dave Mazzella, a former vice president of the Aryan Youth Movement, who testified he was sent by the Metzgers to incite Portland skinheads to violence.
The jury of 10 whites, a Hawaiian and a Japanese-American deliberated about five hours before returning the 11-1 verdict, which awarded $10 million in punitive damages and $2.5 million in compensatory damages. At least nine jurors had to agree on the verdict.
Tom Metzger was ordered to pay $5 million in punitive damages, his White Aryan Resistance $3 million, John Metzger $1 million and Mieske and Brewster $500,000 each. The compensatory damages were assessed against all the defendants.
Dees, who shut down an Alabama Ku Klux Klan group in 1981 by getting a $7 million judgment against the KKK in the lynching of a black youth, said the decision signaled a "new season for justice."
"This jury has spoken loud and clear that in this country the First Amendment gives you the right to hate people and say what you want in that respect but not to hurt people," said Dees, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"We're going to collect every asset he has," Dees said.
Seraw Tekuneh, the slain man's father, said through an interpreter that the jury had "avenged my son's death for me."
Hate crimes in the Northwest rose 20 percent
Hate crimes in the Northwest rose 20 percent in the past year, according to a survey released Monday by the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. The group said white supremacists and racist skinheads were responsible for much of the violence and intimidation. The coalition based its survey on reported crimes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, in which victims were chosen because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. The group found that for the year ending Sept. 30, the number of hate crimes rose to 320 - including 149 assaults, two cross-burnings and one murder - from 265 the previous year. "Many of these assaults were the acts of white supremacists and racist skinheads, particularly in Portland, Ore., but also up and down the coast," said coalition director Bill Wassmuth.