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Lawyer recounts hate-group battles

September 26, 2000

Lawyer recounts hate-group battles



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Morris Dees Jr., a civil rights lawyer who won landmark civil lawsuits against hate groups, said Tuesday that prejudice will fuel "a battle over America" in the next 10 or 20 years.

Dees, co-founder and chief trial counsel of the Southern Poverty Law Center, was speaking at Shippensburg University. Hundreds of people packed Memorial Auditorium to listen. Dozens more sat on the floor or stood.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jewish prophet Amos, Dees called for tolerance and friendship to overcome bigotry.

Earlier this month in Idaho, representing a woman and her son who had been assaulted, Dees and the SPLC won $6.3 million from five members of the Aryan Nations.

Speaking softly but firmly, Dees said his clients probably will take over the compound within a month.

The SPLC has won large settlements in other bias cases.

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In a 1990 suit in Oregon, the White Aryan Resistance was ordered to pay $12.5 million to the family of a young black student who was beaten to death. The Resistance is now virtually bankrupt and its chapters decimated, Dees said.

During the trial, Dees said, Resistance founder Tom Metzger was rigid with hate and declared that the United States is great because of white people.

Dees said he pointed out that Metzger's children will benefit from the achievements of both white and non-white people.

Dees and the SPLC also won a $7 million judgment against the Ku Klux Klan after an African-American man was lynched in Mobile, Ala.

On Tuesday, Dees urged people to seek out those different from themselves. "Take the time to get out of that comfort zone most of us live in," he said.

The SPLC, formed as a civil rights law firm in 1971, describes itself as "a non-profit organization that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation."

It now monitors the Ku Klux Klan and tracks other hate and anti-government militia-type groups, according to the center's Web site.

The center's Web site lists over 450 groups, broken down into Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, skinhead and other categories.

It also lists more than 200 antigovernment "Patriot" groups, including more than 60 militias.

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