Members of a Pennsylvania white supremacist group are facing charges for allegedly beating a black man in a bar. The group’s co-founder, who previously pleaded guilty to terrorist threats and ethnic intimidation in the 2003 beating of another black man, is a local elected official.
Police are preparing charges against six or seven people who allegedly attacked Paul Morris, an African-American man, in a bar outside Pittsburgh earlier this month, KDKA reported. Witnesses said the alleged attackers wore clothing marking them as members of Keystone United, a violent white supremacist group. The group, which has shown up in force at Donald Trump’s rallies, was co-founded by Steve Smith, a current elected official in his county’s Republican Party. Smith, who lives outside the area and was not placed at the scene of the attack, and other Keystone members have previously been convicted in beatdowns on black men.
As of June, Keystone United’s website described Smith as the group’s spokesman, although he did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the attack on Morris.
The Jackman Inn, an Avalon, Pennsylvania bar, has a ban against people wearing gang patches or hate-group symbols, the Pittsburgh-area newspaper The Citizen reported. But a new bartender working that night didn’t notice when a group of men and women wearing Keystone United clothing entered the bar on July 7.
The group was reportedly loitering near the back of the bar, when Morris passed them on his way to the kitchen to deliver a thank-you card to the manager, who had prepared food for Morris’s son’s graduation party.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Keystone United and its previous incarnation, Keystone State Skinheads, as a white supremacist hate group. With its pivot away from the “skinhead” name in 2009, the group hoped to cast off its violent image. But the Terrorist Research and Analysis Consortium describes the group as “increasingly violent,” and Morris told The Citizen his alleged attackers still “had the look” of skinheads.
Still, Morris initially ignored them because “you can’t judge a book by the cover.”
But when Morris returned from the kitchen, the group allegedly began shouting racial slurs at him. A member allegedly hit Morris, knocking his glasses to the ground. When Morris went to retrieve them, the whole group attacked him, he said.
Police apprehended some members of the group, including one man wearing a Keystone United shirt, but did not make any arrests at the time. Morris also identified one of his attackers on the hate group’s website, The Citizen reported.
On Tuesday, police finally announced forthcoming charges against six or seven people allegedly in the attack.
“They’re definitely going to be charged with simple assault, ethnic intimidation, conspiracy for simple assault, and a conspiracy for ethnic intimidation,” Avalon Police Chief Tom Kokoski told KDKA.
Most of the soon-to-be charged live outside the area, Kokoski told The Citizen. Keystone United is a statewide organization whose members travel en masse to Donald Trump campaign events, as The Daily Beast previously reported. Since the group’s 2001 foundation, its leaders have been convicted in multiple attacks, particularly on African-Americans.
Steve Smith, one of Keystone United’s co-founders was involved in one of the group’s earliest attacks. Smith, a former member of the Aryan Nations and David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People, was arrested in 2003 for an attack on a black man in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Smith and two other Keystone members assaulted the man with rocks and pieces of pavement. Smith pleaded guilty to ethnic intimidation and making terrorist threats.
He served 60 days in prison. He remained closely involved with his white supremacist group, but entered politics in 2012, when he won an uncontested race for a committee seat in his county’s Republican party. He won a largely uncontested reelection in 2016, and immediately took to the white supremacist forum Stormfront to celebrate his victory, the SPLC reported.
Keystone United’s website indicates Smith is still a high-ranking member. The group’s most recent post, from June, boasts of a 2008 television appearance by “Keystone United’s spokesman Steve Smith.”
Smith also authored a March blog post for the group’s website, in which he complains of facing “anti-white bias” during his military service in the 1990s. (He had been charged for violating a rule against soldiers doing recruiting for extremist organizations, in his case, David Duke’s NAAWP.) He did not return The Daily Beast’s Wednesday request for comment on the attack on Morris.
Morris was not permanently injured in the attack, but told media that the encounter had rattled him.
"I said 'Who are you?'" Morris told KDKA of hearing a man shout slurs at him. "And he said, 'We are here to eradicate the earth of [racial slur], one-by-one.'"