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Road-Tripping to South Carolina With the 'New' KKK

A three-hour car ride with two klansmen headed to last weekend's Ku Klux Klan rally in South Carolina yielded near-miss accidents, thwarted bathroom breaks, and sour conversation.

by Charlie LeDuff
Jul 22 2015, 8:40pm

Photo par Lewis Rapkin / VICE News

Watch Charlie LeDuff on the road trip in 'The Americans.'

Will Quigg has a long title: California Grand Dragon West Coast King Kleagle of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

He is, in short, head kommandant in charge of the KKK from Texas to the Pacific.

Quigg and the Loyal White Knights saw a real recruiting possibility in the wake of the Charleston Church massacre in which 21-year-old Dixie flag-waving racist Dylan Roof murdered nine black parishioners. In the aftermath, the South Carolina state legislature voted to remove the Confederate banner from the state grounds.

The KKK took this as an assault and an outrage on white culture, and converged this past weekend to the capitol steps for a rally.

The California King Kleagle granted me permission to carpool with him on the three-hour trip from Greensboro's Piedmont Triad International Airport to the klonvocation in Columbia, SC. Why?

"I'm using you for propaganda," Quigg explained to me by telephone.

Related: Raw Coverage of the KKK's Confederate Flag Rally in South Carolina

He would have people believe the modern Klan has a new outlook, new packaging.

"What you know about the Klan?" he asked.

"Robes. Church bombings. Lynchings," I said.

"See? You've got a bad image left over from the old KKK who dragged niggers around the parking lot from the back of a truck with a rope around their neck. The new Klan, we're a non-violent pro-white civil rights movement. The only one in America."

Quigg arrived after dark in Greensboro and was met at baggage claim by Calvin Simpson, a local klansman. Simpson is a tall, thin, gristly man with a long blond ponytail. He was wearing sunglasses and a KKK patch on his left breast.

Charlie LeDuff discusses the American middle class on 'The Business of Life.'

As the grand dragon, dressed in Klan khaki and dark glasses, descended on the escalator, Simpson stood at the bottom and greeted him with an obsequious arm-out, palm-down salute. The men then hugged as a Muslim woman in a headscarf stared.

The Southern Poverty law center estimates there are no more than 5,000 Klan members nationwide belonging to a gaggle of unaffiliated klaverns. In the 1920s, 4 million belonged to the national organization — but it's hard to imagine a resurgence. The members possess no true philosophy, no dialectic beyond Mexicans back to Mexico, blacks back to Africa, the United States for Christian whites. But listening to Simpson while waiting in the baggage claim, I also heard complaints common among a segment of the white working class who don't wear satin robes in their off-hours.

"What do you do for a living?" I asked Simpson.

"Right now for the moment, thanks to the Mexicans, I'm unemployed."

"So how do you eat if you're not full-time employed?"

"Well, I… I… I…. Thanks to Christian brothers and family and stuff, I have support."

"Do you get any aid? Food stamps? Stuff like that?"

"Yes sir, I do get food stamps," said the part-time dry-waller. "If they're gonna let some illegal who's not supposed to be here get it illegally, then why can't I go up there and get it legally?"

"I got to pay for it," I said.

"Well yeah, you got to pay for it 'cause you're fortunate enough to have a full-time job."

A stereotype wrapped up in an insignia. But it's worth remembering that a used-to-have like Simpson is exponentially more dangerous than a never-had.

His Dragoness went to the Hertz counter and rented a Chevy Spark. I pointed out the fact that Quigg was accepting help from a black man behind the counter — and informed the black man behind the counter that he was servicing a Klansman.

"Why you trying to stir up problems?" Simpson stewed. "We're Christians, sir. We try not to be rude."

Later in the car, I asked him if I had made him angry back at the rental counter.

"Yeah, I mean, what were you doing?" Simpson asked. "He was just an average guy doing his job. We don't like it, but you got to mix with people. You can't hate all the time."

The grand dragon is not a good open-road driver — he lives near Los Angeles, and so is used to rush-hour stop-and-go. On more than one occasion, he nearly put us into a cement road barricade at about 100 mph. He complained that it was hard to drive and conduct an interview at the same time.

The conversation in the car was as sour as old socks. According to Quigg: Jesus was not a Jew, Catholics are not true Christians, and there was no Holocaust. Though when pressed on this last point, Quigg relented a bit.

"Okay, maybe a little Holocaust — but not as bad as they say."

I'd brought along a sleeve of saltine crackers and offered one to the dragon. He refused, but not Simpson.

"Crackers?" he said with a laugh. "That's funny. No shame in my game."

The saltines gave Simpson dry mouth, so he suggested to the dragon that they stop at a gas station for a 2-liter of Coca-Cola. After a few wrong turns, Quigg pulled into a station in a predominately black part of town.

"Boy, we're pulling into niggerville here," Simspon said with a cackle. "You could buy a crack rock here, couldn't you Billy?"

"Yeah."

"Scum."

Simpson went into the store and bought the soda, then was refused use of the toilet by management. Black eyes followed his whiteness across the parking lot to the rental car. A local drunk asked Quigg for change. Quigg refused him.

"I guess they only let blacks use the toilet around here," Quigg muttered, roasting up another cigarette.

"How's that make you feel?" I asked.

"I'm in their neighborhood," he said. "I'm in the wrong place in town. But I'm not scared."

Related: In Photos: At the KKK's South Carolina Confederate Flag Rally

Clearly he was; his hands shook like milk. But only a moron wouldn't be, standing there in the parking lot dressed in KKK khakis and dark glasses.

He pulled deeply on the cigarette, then tossed the butt on the ground.

"Let's get the hell out of here."

Follow Charlie LeDuff on Twitter: @Charlieleduff