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Two sentenced to prison for 2008 Medford hate crime

A judge in Eugene sentenced two Medford men to federal prison Tuesday for burning "KKK" and the shape of a cross on the lawn of a mixed-race Medford couple in May 2008.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Gary Moss, 37, to 41 months and Devan Klausegger, 30, to 51 months.

The two, both white, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to deprive individuals of civil rights related to fair housing. They also must serve three years probation and pay restitution of $3,107.

Karen Immergut, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, said it is not clear what if any ties the two had to hate groups but that at the sentencing hearing there was testimony that Moss' "100 percent peckerwood" tattoo could be linked to white supremacist groups in prisons.

The two had poured flammable liquid on the lawn near the house of Jonathan and Sol Whyte with the couple and their two small daughters inside. According to plea agreements, Klausegger handed Moss fireworks, which Moss used to ignite the fluid.

A neighbor put out the flames with a garden hose. Both men said they wanted the family to move.

Letters to Judge Aiken by Moss and his wife Melissa describe a dedicated but frustrated family man overwhelmed by events around him.

Immergut said the sentences were what the government sought and that both men waived appeal under a plea bargain.

"Generally I believe human beings are kind and generous but in this case I think that veil has been pierced," Aiken said at sentencing. "No one deserves this, especially kids."

Aiken said the victims would bear the impact of the crime for life.

The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center lists a 54 percent increase in active hate groups in the country, from 602 to 926, between 2000 and 2008, although many researchers report no corresponding jump in actual hate crimes.

Two such groups, Volksfront and the National Socialist Movement, have small operations in Oregon.

The law center cites unemployment, illegal immigration and the election of Barack Obama as possible reasons for the growth in such groups.

Moss wrote to Aiken that at age 36 he lost his construction job and was at the bottom of the stack in a new career.

He wrote he was "truly sorry for the fear and any problums I have caused Mr. & Mrs. Whyte" and denied being a racist.

"I made a huge mistake trying to drown my fears in a can of beer," he wrote.

In April, a man who identifies himself as the head of the local National Socialist Movement, based in Phoenix near Medford, was arrested on a parole violation.

Lee Patterson, 39, who claims he has been a "storm trooper first class," was on parole for attacking three men including an East Indian motel owner in 2003 and was arrested for parole violation in April.

Members of Volksfront, founded in the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1994 and now in several states and countries, have carried out religious and racially based attacks including at least one on Eugene's Temple Beth Israel.

National Homeland Security said in April that such groups have increased recruiting efforts. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said new hate crimes laws were needed to stop what he called "violence masquerading as political activism."

While Oregon now has a liberal reputation, it had racist roots and an active, primarily anti-Catholic, KKK movement in the early 1920s, when the Portland Police Bureau boasted of more than 100 Klansmen in its ranks.

The Klan was at least instrumental in electing one Oregon governor and influenced the temporary closure of Catholic schools in the state.