MARINA DEL REY -- Morris Dees may never walk alone again.
Dees, an easygoing civil rights lawyer from Alabama, showed up at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here in broad daylight recently accompanied by at least two bodyguards who appear to have bulky items under their loose-fitting sportscoats.
It was a travel style appropriate to a man who, as a result of his legal quests against hate groups, has been targeted by the Ku Klux Klan, a group that's been known to get its man. Along, at times, with women and children.
Racial hate groups clearly take Morris Dees seriously, and Dees feels the same way about them. But does anyone else?
"I think we do not take racial hate groups seriously enough," Dees said. "I'm not an alarmist, saying that we'll have another holocaust in the United States. But in 1990, there were 24 racist murders committed in America, most of them outside the South. The most ever committed in any one year in recent history was in 1964 when 20 minorities were killed by white supremacist groups."
By his count, Dees in the past 10 years has tried six major legal cases against white supremacist groups.
One of his cases, in which he sued the Klan on behalf of the mother of a murdered black youth in Alabama, is the subject of "Line of Fire: The Morris Dees Story" (Monday at 9 on NBC). Dees is played by "L.A. Law's" Corbin Bernsen, sporting curly blond locks just like Dees'.
Dees, a native of Shorter, Ala., founded a mail-order business while an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. While building the business, which he eventually sold in 1969, he was carving out a law practice oriented toward civil rights. With Joseph J. Levin, Jr., and Julian Bond, he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery.
Dees recalled that his father, an overseer on a plantation, nonetheless gave him a memorable spanking when young Dees called a black man a "nigger."
As a young attorney, his early cases -- like the black man who wanted to sue to integrate the Alabama State Troopers -- set the course of his practice.
But for all of his civil rights crusading, Dees said he hoped "Line of Fire" would not be taken as just another film "beating up on the South." It was an all-white jury that heard the case depicted in the film, he said, and "I think that's a kind of redemption for the South."