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Arrested Klansman Tells of Plot to Kill Rights Lawyer

February 10, 1985|Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A Ku Klux Klan organizer was being held without bond Saturday after testifying that a fellow white supremacist tried to involve him in what he believed was a plot to kill a civil rights attorney.

William Riccio, 28, of Birmingham, said he believed that Robert Mathews, who was killed in a standoff with FBI agents in the Northwest, wanted to have attorney Morris Dees killed, although he made no direct threats.

Meanwhile, in Denver, fugitive white supremacist David Lane was named as a second suspect in the submachine-gun slaying of radio talk show host Allan Berg last June. Berg, who was Jewish, and Lane had argued several times on Berg's KOA radio talk show.

Police confirmed that Lane is a suspect. Officers previously had said there were two suspects, the other being neo-Nazi Gary Lee Yarbrough, in whose home the murder weapon was found.

In Birmingham, Riccio, who testified Friday at his bond hearing on firearms charges, said: "I had a feeling. He (Mathews) made no specific mention of any violence; he was very careful with his words. I grew frightened. . . . I had enough problems already."

Mathews was killed at Whidbey Island, Wash., on Dec. 8, in a 36-hour standoff with FBI agents. Officers fired a flare into the house where he was hiding, accidentally setting it afire. He was burned to death. The FBI said Mathews was wanted in connection with the robbery of two armored cars that netted $4.1 million and with the shooting of an FBI agent in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 23. One of the robberies was in Ukiah, Calif.

Riccio, Alabama state organizer for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said he first met Mathews at the Hayden Lake, Ida., headquarters of the white supremacist Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations in 1983. He said he joined the group a year earlier but never paid dues.

Mathews later split from the Aryan Nations to found the Order, which FBI agents say advocates the overthrow of the government.

Riccio said he had two more meetings with Mathews, the last in Birmingham a few months before Mathews' death.

"He wanted me to give him all the information I could on Morris Dees. I refused to do that," Riccio said, adding that he feared Mathews was an FBI informant.

Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, said threats would not stop his organization's probe of the klan.

"We are well aware of the threats. We've been receiving aid and assistance from the FBI for many months," he said.

The FBI last month tapped into a computer bulletin board operated by the Aryan Nations and said it found death threats against Dees and Alabama Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley. As Alabama attorney general in 1978, Baxley uncovered information that led to the conviction of white supremacist J. B. Stoner for bombing a Birmingham church attended by blacks.

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