BRANDENBURG — The head of a Kentucky-based Ku Klux Klan organization led a failed plot to kill the co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and challenges white supremacists, a former Klan member testified Thursday.
Kale Todd Kelly testified as part of the center's lawsuit seeking to bankrupt the Imperial Klans of America, the nation's second-largest Klan group.
Kelly said imperial grand wizard Ron Edwards wanted to kill civil rights attorney Morris Dees over a suit he brought against another white supremacist group, Aryan Nations, in 1999. The plot failed when the FBI infiltrated the group. Edwards was never charged.
"It was all planned," said Kelly, 48, who served three years in federal prison for weapons offenses related to the plot against Dees.
He said Edwards was supposed to meet him in Idaho with a weapon. Then, Kelly said, he was to shoot Dees.
Kelly is one of several witnesses who testified that Edwards tends to push for violent acts against opponents.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center is suing Edwards, lieutenant Jarred Hensley of Cincinnati and the Klan on behalf of Jordan Gruver, a Latino teenager severely beaten at a county fair by two Klan members in 2006.
The suit seeks a "substantial judgment." Hensley and fellow Klansman Andrew Watkins were convicted in the beating, and each served just over two years in prison.
Watkins and other members initially named in the civil lawsuit have reached undisclosed settlements with the law center.
Dees, who is the lead attorney in this case, contends Edwards incited Klan members to violence through speeches and music.
Edwards maintains his group isn't typically violent.
Kelly's testimony came on the second day of the trial, which was attended by nearly a dozen self-identified skinheads and Klansmen, several dressed in black jackets with Nazi symbols. Kentucky State Police have stationed officers on the courthouse roof.
Meade Circuit Judge Bruce Butler told jurors to expect deliberations to begin sometime Friday afternoon.
He repeatedly admonished Edwards and Hensley, who are representing themselves, to stop arguing with witnesses.
"Mr. Edwards, you ask questions, he answers them. But you don't comment on the answers," Butler said.
"I'm trying," Edwards said.
"Try harder," Butler responded.
Hensley and Watkins testified Thursday that they didn't beat Gruver and that they pleaded guilty in criminal court only out of fear.
"I was basically afraid the jury would hear my beliefs and convict me based on my beliefs," Watkins said.
Hensley, who has the word murder tattooed on his chest, denied that he attacked Gruver.
"Absolutely not," Hensley said. "That is false."
Two other former Klan members, Joshua Edward Cowles and Matthew Roberts of Ohio, testified that Edwards encouraged recruiting and violence but did not tell them to attack Gruver at the fair.
But both described Edwards as a greedy coward who used the Klan to intimidate enemies and make money.
"It was an absolute obsession with money and greed," Cowles said. "The IKA is about one man and one man only. That's Ron Edwards."