Arkansas Klan Group Loses Legal Battle with North Carolina Newspaper

  • July 9, 2009

Following a nearly three-year legal battle, in June 2009, an Arkansas Ku Klux Klan group has been ordered to pay $25,000 in punitive damages to the Rhino Times, a North Carolina newspaper, which it was using to spread its propaganda. Additionally, the Knights Party is under a permanent injunction not to place its fliers in or around any issues of the Rhino Times.

The Rhino Times first filed suit against the Knights Party in September 2006 alleging unfair and deceptive trade practices. The Klan group was inserting its racist and anti-Semitic fliers inside issues of the newspaper delivered to readers, thereby using the Rhino Times to spread its hateful message. Some readers reportedly thought that the paper was permitting the Klan to enclose its fliers, that the newspaper supported the Knights Party, or that it had sold advertising to the group. The 2006 suit contended that the Klan's insertion of the fliers into the newspaper was "immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous, and substantially injurious" to the Rhino Times.

In response to the law suit, the Knights Party sued the newspaper for defamation. That case was dismissed because the Rhino Times does not have a presence in Arkansas, where the suit was filed. The Knights Party appealed the decision, but decided to drop the appeal in a settlement reached before the Rhino Times' law suit went to court.

The October 2007 settlement stipulated that both parties would cease their legal actions, and that the Knights Party would not distribute its material inside copies of the Rhino Times.

Twenty days after the settlement was reached, Knights Party leader Thomas Robb reportedly posted the following to the group's Web site, explicitly encouraging readers to use publications like the Rhino Times to distribute Klan literature:

"Wrapping literature around discarded sheets of newsprint as an economical means of sharing information with the general public, whether that newsprint is the New York Times, the circular from a department store, or the Rhino Times of Greensboro, North Carolina was and continues to be fully legal. You can use your week old issue of The Wall Street News, or Rhino Times to line a drawer, polish a window, pack a gift, or to wrap a KKK leaflet around."

In response to Robb's language, and other similar postings, the Rhino Times sued the Knights Party for breach of contract, alleging that Robb's postings were in violation of the settlement. A North Carolina Superior Court judge did not accept Robb's defense that the group was only prohibited from inserting fliers inside the newspaper; Robb contended that wrapping fliers around the newspaper was within his group's rights. The judge issued a preliminary injunction against the group, thereby ordering it to cease using the Rhino Times, in any fashion, to distribute their material.

In March 2008, another North Carolina Superior Court judge turned the temporary injunction into a permanent one and decided that the newspaper was deserving of punitive damages. Reportedly, the Rhino Times is the only paper in the United States to ever win a permanent injunction against a Ku Klux Klan group.

Use of newspapers in this way has been a common tactic of white supremacist groups, and this case may deter such groups from adopting the tactic in the future.