Lawsuit may force Aryan move to San Diego area

Idaho Statesman/September 5, 2000

Escondido, Calif. -- Although the compound of the newly appointed Aryan Nations leader, Pastor Neuman Britton, is hidden from neighbors, most know what occurs each month when a line of cars travel the road to his homestead.

The 74-year-old, known for his fiery, hate-filled sermons, was appointed the top spot at the July Aryan Nations National Congress in Hayden Lake, Idaho. However, a pending civil rights lawsuit could potentially bankrupt the white supremacist group, forcing it to relinquish its Hayden Lake compound and relocate its headquarters to Britton's six-acre, San Diego County property.

Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, are suing the Aryan Nations. The Keenans were beaten and shot at in 1998 by Edward James Warfield, John Yeager and Shane Wright, three of the group's Hayden Lake security guards.

Warfield and Yeager were convicted of assault and are in prison. Wright is a fugitive.

The Keenans are being represented by Southern Poverty Law Center lawyer Morris Dees, who has won large compensatory and punitive damage awards that have financially crushed other hate groups.

On Friday in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho First District Judge Charles Hosack ruled Aryan Nations was negligent when it appointed Warfield, a man with a criminal record known to be unstable, as its security chief.

The ruling allows the jury the option of awarding punitive damages. San Diego attorney Jim McElroy, who is assisting Dees, told the San Diego Union-Tribune Thursday that he believes a victory in the case could force the group to move to Britton's Escondido compound 30 miles north of San Diego.

"That's a pretty logical conclusion to make that if we get a judgment, they are going to pick up and go somewhere else," he said. "And since Britton is the heir-apparent, it would not be surprising that that's where they would end up."

After canceling an interview with the Union-Tribune, Britton denied, in a brief e-mail to the paper, that Aryan Nations would move its headquarters. Britton, who had been serving as the group's chaplain, is battling melanoma, the most life-threatening form of skin cancer. Some law enforcement officials said Britton's illness renders him too old and ill to orchestrate such a move.

However, T.J. Leyden, an ex-skinhead who lectures on the white supremacist movement, told the Union-Tribune he has no doubt the move will happen. "I've heard that Britton is breaking ground on a church, a bookstore, bunkhouses, rest space and gun towers," Leyden said.

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