Today, July 18, a rally is being held at the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia* to protest the removal of the Confederate flag. The action has been organized by a North Carolina group called the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which bills itself as the "largest Klan in America." Understandably, this chapter of the KKK has been receiving a lot of attention; a pair of its members, Robert Jones and James Spears, have been widely quoted in the media praising the flag and Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged with the shooting deaths of nine people in an African-American church.
Except Spears* and Jones aren't real people—both are aliases for Christopher Barker of North Carolina, an unemployed man in his 30s with an extensive rap sheet who is despised even by other white supremacists.
Barker's involvement has not been reported elsewhere, but over the course of numerous phone conversations acknowledged to VICE that he used Spears and Jones as pseudonyms and was responsible for organizing the rally—even though he also says that he's banned from Klan activity as a condition of his parole. (That's the reason he won't be attending the rally in person, he told VICE.)
Barker's name doesn't appear on the official application for permission to protest at the Columbia* statehouse—it was filled out instead by his wife, Amanda, who also runs the LWK website. (A copy of the application obtained by VICE can be seen here.)
Barker's criminal record, according to law enforcement documents, spans at least 18 years and includes arrests on at least 20 charges, including larceny, possession of stolen goods, malicious arson, at least five DUIs, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Most of the charges aren't related to white supremacy—instead, they are indicative of a man with an alcohol problem and a short temper who can't stay out of trouble.
"We have long been aware of Chris Barker," said Craig Blitzer, the Rockingham County, North Carolina, District Attorney. "We have charged Barker over the years with forgery, assault with a deadly weapon, making threats, an arson charge, an assault on a female in 2011 and again in 2014, DWI in '07 and '09 and '04, possession of stolen goods, larceny, two charges of possession of a stolen weapon, and an open container charge last month. And that is just in Rockingham County."
On Christmas Eve 2008, Barker was arrested for trying to burn down the house of a man he apparently thought was having an affair with his wife. "We found his electronic discount card—the kind you swipe at the cash register at Walmart each time you buy something—at the fire scene, which traced back to Barker," said Rockingham County Fire Marshal Robert Cardwell. "When we went to talk to him, he was so drunk we couldn't understand half of what he was saying. He was drinking beer through the whole interview."
"I think Mr. Barker has a problem with alcohol," he added.
The arson charges were dismissed in April of 2009 after "the prosecuting witness failed to appear," according to the Rockingham County Court clerk, who noted that the "prosecuting witness had pending charges against him." (The man whose house Barker allegedly tried to burn down is now in prison himself in Florida.)
In 2011, Barker was charged with assault on his wife, but those charges, too, were dismissed "when the prosecuting witness failed to appear," said the Rockingham County court clerk. She added that the "prosecutor asked for a motion of continuance, but it was denied by the judge so the charges were dropped."
Barker founded the Loyal White Knights in April 2012 after being expelled from at least three other KKK groups, and established a reputation shortly afterward for squabbling with other Klans online and for allying himself with neo-Nazis—a tactic that many Klan members disagree with.
"There are many old Klansmen turning over in their graves because of Barker."
–JB Elmore, Grand Giant of Virgil's White Knights of the KKK
Despite its boasts, the LWK hasn't attracted much in the way of membership, according to law enforcement officials and members of other KKK groups.
"We don't know of any other people from here who are members of his group. It is just a website," said Lieutenant Richie Jeffries of the Eden, North Carolina, police department, the small town where Barker lived until this month. "We have arrested Barker many times, but as for his Klan, we haven't seen anyone else but him."
His fellow Klansman are even more dismissive of Barker.
"They are inciting the public over a hot issue to gain publicity and attract paying members over the internet... He has conned the media into believing he is something he is not," said JB Elmore, the Grand Giant of Virgil's White Knights of the KKK. "There are many old Klansmen turning over in their graves because of Barker and his sort of modern day fake 'mom and pop' Klans."
"To be honest, what they're doing just makes me want to walk away from the Klan in some ways," said the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona, whose organization has long been a rival of Barker and his LWK. "It just goes against everything I've worked for. The image people are going to have in their mind when they think of the Klan after the South Carolina Confederate flag demonstration is those are a bunch of nutcases."
UPDATE 7/18: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the article mistakenly identified Charleston as the capital city of South Carolina when in fact it is Columbia. Also, the pseudonym James Spears was mistakenly referred to as "Smith." These errors have been corrected.
Nate Thayer is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and correspondent with 25 years of foreign reporting experience.