NEW YORK (Apr. 7)
Thirteen white supremacists on trial in Fort Smith, Ark., for seditious conspiracy were acquitted Thursday afternoon of all counts against them.
The defendants, all members of violently racist, anti-Semitic groups, had been on trial since Feb. 16 in a courthouse heavily guarded by federal marshals. The jury of 10 men and two women had been deliberating since Monday.
Another of the original 14 defendants, Robert Smalley, was acquitted March 17 by U.S. District Court Judge Morris Arnold because of insufficient evidence.
A principal defendant, Louis Beam, “ambassador at large” of the racist Aryan Nations and a fugitive until his apprehension last November in Mexico, said, “To hell with the government” upon hearing the verdict.
The trial was marked by warnings by Judge Arnold that he would have to call a mistrial if the prosecution continued to present “hearsay” evidence that went uncorroborated. He had several times asked the jury to ignore evidence because it was hearsay or repetitive.
The acquittals came despite testimony by key witnesses, who were members of the violently anti-Semitic groups, about a plot to overthrow the United States government.
Leonard Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal, which monitors right-wing extremist activity, said, “This is obviously a victory for the white supremacist movement, and it was made possible by the government not presenting the strongest case possible.”
But government prosecuting attorneys said they were satisfied with the way they had presented their case.
Ten of the defendants, members of the “Christian Identity” movement, had been charged with 119 overt acts, including robbery, counterfeiting and attempting to murder federal officials.
They were identified as the “Rev.” Richard Butler, so-called pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian of the Aryan Nations; Robert Miles, former Ku Klux Klansman and “pastor” of the Mountain Church Jesus Christ the Saviour in Cohoctah, Mich.; Beam; Andrew Barnhill; David Lane; Ardie McBrearty; Bruce Carroll Pierce; Richard Scutari; Smalley; and Richard Snell.
Snell, who is serving a prison sentence for the 1984 murder of an Arkansas state trooper, and four others also had been charged with conspiring to kill federal Judge H. Franklin Waters and FBI special agent Jack Knox. The other four are Lambert Miller, David McGuire, William Wade and his son, Ivan Wade.
Waters and Knox were allegedly killed for their roles in the trial of an Arkansas couple who had been convicted of harboring Gordon Kahl, a fugitive member of the racist group Posse Comitatus, who had killed two federal marshals in North Dakota.
Many of the defendants acquitted Thursday are already serving lengthy prison sentences for related crimes.