By Ashley Rueff, Chicago Tribune –
TINLEY PARK, Ill. — Panic shot through the small Tinley Park restaurant as quickly as the stream of determined, black-clad assailants marched in, clubs and hammers in hand.
The wide-eyed hostess frantically dialed 911. Old men leapt from their tables and grabbed chairs to fend off the surprise attack.
Several of the masked attackers targeted the bystanders, but authorities say the majority homed in on a long table — filled with who the attackers believed were about a dozen white supremacists meeting for lunch.
Instantly batons and fists were flying, launching food, plates and chaos. In less than two minutes, the attackers headed for the doors, fighting off customers and restaurant staff into the parking lot.
Ten people were injured, at least three of them needing staples to close bloody head wounds.
An unpublished restaurant security video viewed by the Chicago Tribune of the bizarre Saturday afternoon melee had no sound — but it screams with images of fear and aggression. It was an attack that spilled from Internet chat rooms to the floor of the small Ashford House restaurant, bringing to the forefront an underground and nationwide battle between violent anti-racism groups and white supremacists.
Authorities announced charges Monday against five Indiana men in the attacks and said they still sought about 13 who escaped arrest.
Those charged include three brothers, Jason W. Sutherlin, 33, Cody L. Sutherlin, 23, and Dylan J. Sutherlin, 20. Also charged were Alex R. Stuck, 22, and John S. Tucker, 26. All five live near Bloomington, Ind.
The men are connected to the Hoosier Anti-Racist Movement, which is part of the Anti-Racist Action Network that formed in Minneapolis in 1987 to address discrimination, according to a leader in the organization, Jacob Domke.
Prosecutors say authorities apprehended the men about four miles from the restaurant shortly after the melee and found dark hoodies, scarves, a knife and batons in their car. The five were being held on bail Monday and face felony counts of mob action, aggravated battery and criminal damage to property.
The Sutherlin brothers became interested in combating fascism while growing up in diverse family in Bloomington, a predominantly white city that is home to Indiana University, Domke said. Though they are white, their half-sister’s father is black, he said.
“When you grow up in a multiracial family in Indiana, I think that can open your eyes to the problem of racism in this country,” Domke said.
Jason Sutherlin, the oldest of the three tightknit brothers, shaped his social philosophies as a teen at the Bloomington’s Peoples Park, a decades-old popular spot for protests. The site has been a haven for the anti-establishment movement since 1968, when two members of the local Ku Klux Klan burned a black-owned store there.
“We knew the history, but because we were growing up in a different time, we thought we’d be shielded from that kind of hate,” Domke said.
That illusion was shattered for Jason Sutherlin in July 1999, Domke said, when a white supremacist named Benjamin Smith went on a deadly shooting spree in Indiana and Illinois. Smith, a Wilmette native, targeted minorities, including an Indiana University student.
“Looking back on it, that was one the defining moments in our lives,” Domke said.
The Indiana group has several initiatives in the area, including raising money for hate crime victims and providing security for gay and lesbian events, Domke said. Stuck teaches English to immigrants while Jason Sutherlin and Tucker teach self-defense classes, he said.
Tucker’s father, John, said his son was planning to return to college while working as a bouncer at a Bloomington bar. He said his son could get passionate about political issues, depending “on the friends he is around.”
Mark Potok, an investigator with the anti-discrimination Southern Poverty Law Center, said using violence against racist organizations is not uncommon but is bad for the cause.
“This kind of thing happens far more often than people realize,” Potok said. “The difference here is it doesn’t happen in family restaurants.”
The Saturday melee has lit up Internet sites on both sides for days. The Anti-Racist Action movement posted a note boasting of the attack.
Prosecutors said the targeted diners claimed to be part of an Illinois European heritage association that was affiliated with White News Now and Storm Front — Web sites that tout white supremacy, according to the law center.
But one victim, Beckie Williams, told the Tribune the group isn’t racist, calling the accusation “ridiculous.” She said they were meeting in person from across the country for the first time, having met on the Internet discussing economic hardships.
Ashford House owner Mike Winston said he would not release the video of the attack and blamed both groups for the altercation.