Using a strategy developed together with the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights organization is attempting to bankrupt the Idaho-based hate group called the Aryan Nations.
In a civil case heard Monday in Kootenai County, the Southern Poverty Law Center is arguing that the white supremacist group should be held responsible for a 1998 incident in which a teen-ager and his mother were chased down and beaten outside the Aryan Nations’ 20-acre compound.
Two men were sentenced to prison in the attack.
If the Southern Poverty Law Center has its way, the hate group – which calls non-whites “mud people” and Jews “children of Satan” – would be bankrupted and would have to cede control of its compound.
According to the ADL, Aryan Nations was founded in the mid-1970s and has a following of several hundred people, including Buford Furrow Jr., who opened fire on a Jewish community center in Los Angeles last summer.
The tactic of suing hate groups for civil damages debuted in 1990, when the ADL and Southern Poverty Law Center successfully sued hatemonger Tom Metzger, of California, for inciting the 1988 murder of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant.
An Oregon jury rendered a $12.5 million judgment against Metzger.
That case “established the principle that one way to deal with hatemongers is to deal with them civilly and in the pocketbook, making them responsible for their words,” said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.
The ADL is not involved with the current lawsuit, but has expressed its willingness to help, Foxman said.
The tactic is part of a larger trend of civil lawsuits in areas previously addressed solely in criminal courts. One of the most famous examples of this trend was when the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman successfully sued O.J. Simpson for damages after he was acquitted of murder in a criminal court.
“It’s a delicate strategy,” Foxman said. “Certainly the fact that it’s out there is good” and means some hatemongers “will think twice” before inciting violence.
Staunch defenders of the First Amendment have criticized this strategy, saying it infringes on the right to free speech, but “we’ve never been 100 percenters,” Foxman said.
“There are times when society should enter in to restrain or curb” hateful and inciting language.