PORTLAND, ORE. -- Racists and civil rights advocates are sitting side by side in a courtroom to watch white supremacist Tom Metzger battle a crusading Alabama attorney out to bankrupt him and his cause.
Metzger, 52, a television repairman from Fallbrook, Calif., is a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon and founder of the White Aryan Resistance. A spinoff, the Aryan Youth Movement, is headed by his son John, 22.
The groups believe in racial separatism.
In a trial that enters its second week at the Multnomah County Court House Monday, the Metzgers are accused of inciting the beating death of a black man by sending agents to Portland to preach hate and violence.
Mulugeta Seraw, 27, an Ethiopian national planning to attend college in this country, was returning home from a party in November 1988 when he was beaten to death with a bat.
Three "skinheads" have pleaded guilty to killing Seraw.
Now Seraw's family wants $10 million in damages for his death. The lead attorney in the civil suit is Morris Dees, a civil rights lawyer from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
Three years ago, Dees won a $7 million jury verdict that put the United Klans of America out of business. Two Klansmen from Mobile, Ala., killed a black man. As compensation, the victim's mother received title to the Klan's national headquarters.
The Metzgers are representing themselves in the trial before Judge Ancer Haggerty.
"I am a white separatist," the elder Metzger told jurors, by way of introduction.
"I'm a small-business man from Fallbrook, California. I'm going to talk to you like I would one of my customers over a cup of coffee or a beer."
He told jurors the lawsuit was a government attempt to persecute him.
Dees spent the week trying to link the Metzgers to Seraw's murder, in part through the testimony of Kenneth Mieske.
Mieske, who goes by the nicknames Ken Death and Bat Man, is serving a life sentence for killing Seraw. Under Dees's questioning he was contentious, often smirking and winking at his girlfriend across the courtroom.
When he pleaded guilty to killing Seraw, Mieske had said his motive was racial. But on the stand last week Mieske said the government forced him to say that. The alternative, he said, would have been charges bringing more prison time than the 20-year minimum sentence he ultimately received.
Mieske, 25, said he really killed Seraw to defend fellow skinhead Kyle Brewster. Seraw hit Brewster with a "sucker punch," he said, and Seraw was choking him.
A man allegedly sent to train Mieske in violence, Dave Mazzella, 21, is Dees's star witness. Dees put him on the stand Friday.
Mazzella, a former vice president of the Aryan Youth Movement, told jurors the Metzgers sent him to Portland to organize neo-Nazi skinheads and incite them to do violence against minorities.
At the Metzgers' direction, Mazzella said, he headed for Kenneth Mieske's home after arriving in Portland.
Metzger has filed a countersuit against Mazzella and two other men he allegedly sent to Portland, charging they were "agent provocateurs" working for the Portland police. The countersuit also claims two of Seraw's friends provoked the fight with the skinheads and that they and the "provocateurs" should be liable for any damages Metzger might be ordered to pay Seraw's estate.