The acquittal of 13 white supremacists on sedition charges means that "religious freedom is still alive in this country," says one of the defendants in the seven-week federal trial.
An all-white jury Thursday acquitted the men of charges including conspiring to kill a federal judge and FBI agent and plotting to overthrow the federal government and establish an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest.Defendant Robert E. Miles, 63, a white supremacist leader from Cohoctah, Mich., praised the verdicts. But when asked how the trial had affected the supremacist movement, he said, "Who knows? What movement? What's left of it after this?"
"This proves that the common law is still alive," said defendant Richard G. Butler of Hayden Lake, Idaho. "This means we still enjoy the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religion."
The government presented 113 witnesses during the trial, which began Feb. 16. Prosecutors sought to prove that supremacists robbed banks and armored trucks of $4.1 million to finance their activities, including about $1 million still missing. The jury deliberated four days.
The defense, which called 79 witnesses, contended the conspiracy theory was made up by a key government witness, James Ellison, 47, who led a supremacist group in Arkansas and is serving 20 years for racketeering.
To discredit Ellison, the defense disclosed he had two wives, thought he received messages from God and had himself crowned King James of the Ozarks.
Defendants said the government was trying to suppress their call for white separatism and other aspects of their political and religious views.
But U.S. Attorney J. Michael Fitzhugh denied that the charges were politically motivated.
"We weren't after them because of what they believed or what they said," he said. "We were after them because of what they did."
Defendant Louis Ray Beam Jr., 41, of Houston, celebrated his acquittal by standing in the shadow of a Confederate memorial opposite the court building and claiming victory against what he calls the Zionist Occupation Government.
"I think ZOG has suffered a terrible defeat here today," Beam said. "I think everyone saw through the charade and saw that I was simply being punished for being a vociferous and outspoken opponent of ZOG."
Burton Levinson, national chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, called the verdicts "a real setback in the war against organized hate."