Far Right Exults; Others See Irony in Sedition Verdict
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) _ The far right exulted Friday in a victory in a seditious conspiracy trial, but others said the very freedoms of the country they attacked allowed the white supremacists to exist.
″The jury’s verdict speaks for a growing patriotic sentiment to ‘just say no’ to black power in America,″ said Richard Barrett, 42, of Jackson, Miss., a lawyer for the Forsyth County Defense League in Georgia.
″The jury’s verdict announces that pro-majority Americans are not a cult, but are a rising voice of the silent majority,″ he added.
Barrett briefly attended the federal court trial, which began Feb. 16 and ended Thursday with an all-white jury’s acquittal on all charges of the 13 white defendants. Nine of them were accused of plotting to overthrow the government by violence and set up an all-white nation in the Pacific Northwest.
″What I find interesting is that the system they hate so much has set them free,″ said Norman Gissel, a lawyer from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He is chairman of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, which was formed to resist movements advocating racial violence after the Aryan Nations was based at nearby Hayden Lake.
Eva Sears, spokeswoman for the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta, said the verdict makes it ″clear that it’s not possible to rely on legal solutions.″ What is needed, she said, is ″more community involvement to counteract″ the white-power movement with ″all non-violent appropriate responses.″
″It is ironic″ that the the freedoms of American citizenship - the right to speak out, the right to trial by jury - protected those who spoke against the government, Ms. Sears said.
The voices of the far right ″are going to view that acquittal as a green light,″ she said. ″They are going to step up their activity. So it is very, very important that those of us who love democracy become more vigilant.″
Prosecutors sought to prove the 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 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.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., Urban League national President John Jacobs said the verdict was another example of the resurgence of racism in the United States.
″We are seeing a climate that is permissive of racist behavior,″ he said. ″People have become comfortable in engaging in this climate. Every time something like this happens, it sets back the whole movement for fairness, equality and justice. You can be a racist and get away with it, and that is a very disturbing message.″
On the CBS ″This Morning″ program Friday, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, J. Michael Fitzhugh, said: ″We thought we had a good prosecutable case. ... But the jury chose otherwise and that’s the great thing about this country is our jury system.″
Peter Lake, a television producer who was the government’s first witness, said on the same program that earlier convictions of some of the defendants may have caused the jury to think they were being prosecuted a second time for the same things.
Lake, who testified about what he saw and heard when he went undercover into the Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake, Idaho, was optimistic about the acquittal.
″I think that the radical right will be forever changed by this decision here,″ he said. ″They have a dilemma. They were protesting about the federal government and now they’ve been treated fairly by the federal government. That’s going to have a telling effect.″
He said some older leaders ″told me that they were going to get out of the business, in essence. They’re going to go home and write books, pass their churches on to someone else.″