Residents in cities across the country woke up Sunday morning to bags of candy on their front lawns accompanied by fliers telling them to “SAVE OUR LAND, JOIN THE KLAN” and “SEAL THE BORDER — PROTECT OUR NATION.”
Robert Jones, the Imperial Klaliff of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told VICE News that the candy and propaganda was distributed as part of a nationwide campaign to recruit new members to the organization, which in the 20th Century became notorious for hatred and violence against minorities, particularly African-Americans.
Called a “National Knight Ride,” the organization is distributing candy with its literature in an effort to soften its image and represent itself as non-threatening. Jones explained that the effort is not a new tactic, noting that his group carries out Knight Rides once or twice a year.
“It’s one of our recruitment techniques, and it’s also to let everyone know that the Klan is still out there and still active,” he said.
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A flier found in North Carolina asked readers if they were tired of “integration,” “race-mixing,” “black welfare,” “black crime,” and “minority tyranny.” It directed residents to a website where they could learn more about the KKK, become a member, and groove out to “We Will Never Give In” by British white supremacist Ian Stuart. (“The message to our enemies, with their treacherous beliefs / Our ideals are stronger, and your deaths will be your release.”)
The Klan hopes that anti-immigration sentiment and concern over the recent border crisis will help swell its ranks. The flier included a hotline number that greets callers with a message that tells them, “Be a man, join the Klan.” It goes on to say that illegal immigrants cost the American taxpayer $113 billion per year and bring with them “third world diseases” like leprosy and tuberculosis, and insists that the US government should institute a shoot-to-kill policy against “spics” entering its borders illegally.
“This message has been brought to you by the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” it concludes. “Always remember: if it ain’t white, it ain’t right. White Power!”
Another of the group’s fliers that was distributed in Atlanta said, “Blacks are seven times more likely to go to prison, Hispanics three times, and the reason is clear, because from 1980 to 2003 the US incarceration rate has tripled, and so proves that Justice is not only hard won, but well served.”
'When your name is the Ku Klux Klan, it’s a little bit difficult to convince the world that you’re not a hate group.'
A different flier distributed by a group called the Original Knight Riders was found earlier this month in Houston neighborhoods and elsewhere encouraging recipients to “fight for your Heritage and fight for America’s future before it is too late.” An online amplification of this sentiment assailed officials who “reward Illegals with Citizenship while our White Homelands turn into third world cesspools.” It also referred to threats to Second Amendment gun rights and “your rights as Christians.”
Barcroft TV, a British news channel on YouTube, published a report in June showing members of the Loyal White Knights distributing propaganda on a Knight Ride and announcing an alarming plan to train Klansmen in military combat in anticipation of a looming race war.
Despite the race-baiting rhetoric in the group’s material, Jones claims that the Klan of the new millennium is not the same black-lynching hate group that is known as America’s oldest terrorist organization, although its website shows that the group’s enthusiasm for cross-burning and hood-wearing is still strong. The Klan is focusing more on issues like opposing immigration and less on the racial supremacy of whites over minorities, he maintained.
“We think our government should step in and do a whole lot more to secure our borders,” he said. “All our jobs are being outsourced right now, and what jobs are left here, black and white Americans are being forced to have a competition with the Mexicans coming across the border, because they’ll do the job cheaper.”
Jones added that the Ku Klux Klan is finding new avenues to help reach common ground within communities. In April, residents of a neighborhood in Fairview Township, Pennsylvania, woke up to learn that a local Klan chapter had set up a neighborhood watch. Fliers on their doorstops exclaimed, “You can sleep tonight knowing that the Klan is awake!”
'We could be your neighbor, we could be your doctor, we could be the local policeman that you’re talking to at the gas station.'
Jones professed that his group’s outreach includes, improbably, partnering up with blacks.
“We’re starting to see the whites and African-Americans waking up to this illegal immigration problem,” he explained. “We’re starting to reach out more to the African-American community and talk to them about the same issues, and they’re agreeing with the Klan that illegal immigration needs to stop.”
But Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told VICE News that the Ku Klux Klan is the same violent hate group it has always been.
“Over the last several months, two particular Klan groups in the United States have been doing a lot of pamphleteering in about half a dozen states,” he said.
Potok noted that the group’s aggressive pamphleteering should not be misinterpreted as reflecting a resurgence in KKK membership or activity in the US. He said that there were only roughly 163 Klan chapters — or “klaverns” — in the US in 2013, down from 221 in 2010. The SPLC estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 KKK members nationwide.
“The comparisons to that number are some 40,000 Klansmen who were active at the peak of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and four million Klansmen in the 1920s, when the Klan was at its numerical peak,” Potok said.
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Potok recently published a report that discussed a sharp rise in right-wing American political groups over the last several years, coinciding with the election of the country’s first black president. But Potok doesn’t think the Klan should be confused with these other groups.
“There are massive social changes occurring, and this has provoked a real reaction, sometimes a violent one, in very large swaths of the population,” he said. “Consequently, the radical right has been growing.”
The Klan’s recruitment drive is trying to take advantage of this growth in right-wing political sentiment.
“It’s essentially a method of getting publicity,” Potok said. “Their hope is that publicity brings members, and members bring dues. Many of these Klan leaders, in fact, live off the dues that come from their members, so that’s very important to them.”
As far as Jones’s claim that the Klan is focusing its energy elsewhere and dialoguing with black communities, Potok said nothing could be farther from the truth.
“That’s a completely ludicrous assertion that is utterly false,” he said. “The idea that black people are somehow flocking to the Klan or the Klan’s message because the Klan is critical of undocumented immigration is simply false. It’s a claim that is made as part of the Klan’s general claim that they’re more of a friendly neighborhood watch group that hates no one and is merely proud of white heritage.”
The KKK did meet with members of the NAACP last September, but the conference was awkward to say the least. Klan organizer John Abarr afterward expressed doubt about what the meeting had accomplished.
Despite the Klan’s efforts, Potok said the organization is going to be hard-pressed to convince anyone that it is not a hate group or that it has turned over a new leaf.
“Look, when your name is the Ku Klux Klan, it’s a little bit difficult to convince the world that you’re not a hate group,” he said. “Let’s remember that it was Klan groups that, for instance, killed four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church by bombing it on a Sunday morning. It was the Klan that threw people off bridges, that hung them from trees, that castrated black men. The list of terror emanating from the Klan over its very long history is long and very, very ugly.”
Though he could not confirm an exact number, Jones said that his group’s hotline receives anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 calls a day. Contradicting the SPLC’s estimates, he claimed that there are thousands upon thousands of Klansmen all over the country, and that membership is in fact on the rise — due largely to outreach like the National Knight Ride.
“You’ll never know where we live,” he said. “We could be your neighbor, we could be your doctor, we could be the local policeman that you’re talking to at the gas station while you’re buying your coffee in the morning before work. That’s why we’ve always been called the invisible empire — because you will never know a Klansmen when you see one.”
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