*All names have been changed
* This interview occurred before the Trump presidency.
It’s 5pm on an April afternoon and somewhere in deep Alabama I’m being driven into the woods by the Ku Klux Klan. Two ‘Loyal White Knights of the Klan’ are clad in all-black. They are my guards.
My eyes have seen the glory of the tramplin at the zoo,
We washed ourselves in n***rs blood and all the mongrels too,
We’re taking down the zog machine jew by jew by jew,
The white man marches on…
The old Klan hymn chugs along sluggishly via Dawyne’s whiskey-soused baritone, his fleshy pudding face mischievous, like a bash-street kid, as if goading me, the journalist. How he loves to sing; whether just to shock me, or because this is what they always sing as they drive journalists to the deep dark forest for a ‘gathering’ and cross illumination ceremony.
I have been picked up from Birmingham, known as the bloodiest city of the civil rights era and the most segregated city in the USA of the time (it was nicknamed Bomingham in the 50’s and 60s due to the long chain of bombings by the KKK of black civilian homes and of the 16th street Baptist church when four African-American adolescent girls were inside the basement), and we are now driving though dirt roads surrounded by the woods. The truck jostles and thuds through the craggy dusty cross roads and I can’t help thinking that I must be perfecting my Freudian ‘death drive. This time I have not only pursued danger but embraced it snugly. This time it’s intimate.
To me the KKK are kind of like caricatures; uneducated toothless hillbilly inbreds like characters out of Deliverance. But I want to know if they still pose any actual threat to society. The days of lynching, rape, pillage, torture and church burnings by mobs in white sheets- most of whom were the law itself: the town’s sheriff and Supreme Court judges and state governors- are gone but with hate groups on the rise post 9/11, do the KKK hold any power and clout anymore? With their numbers massively dwindling from millions in the 1920s to about 5000 in 2015, America’s oldest domestic terrorist organization are struggling to keep pace with other racist hate groups such as ‘Aryan Nation’, ‘American Renaissance’ and ‘White Aryan Resistance’ amongst many others .
This is because if you are young and racist, chances are you will probably see the KKK as a dated jokey farmer boy organisation from your grandfather’s time with Halloween costumes. And also because the Klan’s history of violence, their identity defined by their history of mass murder and torture of African Americans is also a deterrent to the more moderate racist who wants to belong to a fresh organisation with an academic ‘Christian’ approach and a ‘respectable’ veneer to white rights, Christianity and homosexuality. The KKK is also being affected by the multitude of white power groups sprouting up everywhere post 9/11, with emphasis on an anti-Muslim, homophobic, white rights sentiment and less on the old stereotype of lynching African-Americans. Today, there are countless options for choosing your own personal brand of intolerance. Aryan Nations offers a heavy focus on Christian identity. Some groups promote extreme violence, while others prefer to be seen as offering a more ‘educational’ veneer to their brand of hatred, catering to suit-and-tie racists, offering pseudo-scientific papers on white supremacy.
The modern KKK is not one organisation; the current manifestation consists of numerous small unconnected groups that use the KKK name:
- Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, prevalent in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and other areas of the Southern U.S.
- Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Imperial Klans of America
- Knights of the White Camelia
- Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, headed by national director and self-claimed pastor Thom Robb, and based in Zinc, Arkansas.
With or without the costumes, and whether it is shedding the white sheets and ‘Nazifying’ their image to appeal to recruiting white supremacist skinheads, or prohibiting the use of the ‘N’ word in their manifesto, banning any members with a criminal record acts, they are all one collective of hate. Calling for purifying America by annihilation of non-whites, homosexuality, Catholicism and whose membership campaigns have been based on issues such as people’s anxieties about illegal immigration, urban crime, civil unions and same-sex marriage.
And so it is of the utmost urgency to my two Klansmen-these two are from the ‘White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’- that we talk about AIDS. On this night. On these curvaceous hills. Wood-fire burns somewhere in the distance.
‘Hey you listen to me now,’ Larry turns to grin at me, rheumy-eyed, the luscious pulp of his nose, strawberry from the booze. The black cloth of his uniform is stamped with patches of the KKK insignia (a prominent white X embracing a drop of blood stamped in the middle on a red circle).
“We’re jes tryin’ ta educate you. You from England, you need to learn a lot about our history. All th’ lies that our government has told you. Aids is a black disease. It has scientifically been proven that the white race -even white homosexuals have a natural immunity to AIDS because of their race. They only contract it because they continually expose themselves to the virus via their filthy lifestyles sleeping with non-white homosexuals. Non-whites are in greater danger of contracting the virus through toilet seats, drinking glasses, sneezing etc. white people just don’t get AIDS.”
I have already read that ‘educational’ bit of information from their website. These two Klansmen seem to have had it memorised. I don’t say anything. I’ll save the questions for when I meet the Imperial Wizard, the Grand Dragon and the Exalted Cyclops.
When we finally reach the compound (a 10 acre enclosure in the middle of a forest), we stop by a security cabin and I am searched: bag, body and shoes before we drive into the sanctuary of the Klan. Families with babies are reclining on benches: bouncy, gushing, animated, Southern apple-cheeks aglow with gratitude. A band is playing country music on a makeshift stage. There’s even a bake sale. Barbeques sizzle and children run around like some mad scene from the Sound of Music. From a distance it all seems like a typical suburban familial gathering. Except those little children running around are giving the occasional Nazi salute and are cooing cute baby-yowls of ‘white power’ as they waddle around innocently whilst their mummies and daddies look proudly on in their white robes and conical hats. There is infants in nappies in Ku Klux Klan regalia and the sizzling meat and the cookies and ice cream of the feast is exhibited under swathes of swastika and confederate flags. And the lovely band is serenading not declarations of bloated love songs but lyrics of toxicity, of rage. Flecks of skin-heads in the serene scene holler sudden guttural howls of ‘n***s must die’ and ‘kikes and mongrels belong in the jungle’.
I am introduced to Ron, the Imperial Wizard who is dressed in a purple robe and Joel the Grand Dragon who is dressed in a green robe. All robes are patched with the white cross in the red circle Klan insignia. Both are about to give speeches and then I will have a chance to ask questions.
The congregation of families gather by benches before a raised podium with a mic stand as Joel takes to the stand first. Linda and Dustin a married couple who are senior Klan members stand next to me with their two teenage sons.
“Our boys have been Klan members since birth”. Linda tells me. All are dressed in the white robes but it’s only Linda’s face that’s visible as the rest of the family’s heads are hidden inside the white pointy Klan hat, eyes peeking from its slits.
“Do you like being in the Klan?” I ask one teenage son.
“I do because I hate disgusting people”, he says.
“Minorities are only concerned with selling drugs at schools”. Linda chimes in.
When I proffer that white people sell drugs too, Linda gawks at me incredulously.
“Only because the Mexicans, the muds (mixed race), have been forcing it onto them as kids. They have ruined our race, our white nation”.
The sight of little toddlers bouncing and tottering around with their chubby little legs in white robes and pointy hats seig heiling and cooing and gurgling ‘white power’ is one thing, but I’m stunned to see the toys they are given to play with: on the wooden tables before me are black wooden dolls with knives stabbed through them and a noose around their neck.
“Ornaments for the home dear. Twenty dollars. Would you like one?” an old marm, silver-bunned and moist with grease, is selling cakes and cookies next to the dolls. Thick cola bottle glasses magnify her owl eyes into giant peepers and her Southern drawl is warm and churchy-toned.
“They make good kids’ gifts. Good toys. One to take back home?” Linda picks out a golliwog looking doll and casually swings it around by the rope around its neck.
I am not so naïve to have fancies of educating and changing these people, nor do I for once second believe that by challenging their absurdity I will be reciprocated with an enlightening profound discussion. Here, I am an impertinent observer, asking questions as a student would.
“Do you think these dolls with knives in them are healthy for children to play with? Teaching them from an early age is good?” I ask Linda.
“Hell we played with toy guns pretending to shoot Indians when I was a kid”, her husband replies from underneath his hood.
“It’s funny, I think. Just a funny joke”, Linda giggles as the old marm proceeds to sell the ‘souvenirs’ for the kids and adults who come to her table. The dolls, similar to a golliwog have exaggerated features like bulging eyes and big lips but the way they have been carved to have a miniature knife stabbed through them and a noose thrown around their neck is making me quite upset and spaced out.
As 300 or so Klan members gather underneath a huge wooden canopy, children are hushed, toddlers are swayed back and forth in their KKK robes and Joel the Grand Dragon stands up on the platform in his green robe, an epidemic of the KKK insignia decorates him like medals. His pyramid wizard hat sit atop of his head not covering the face.
“White Power!” he sieg heils and the crowd roars back and salutes. This is done three times before he begins a tirade of hate. Ironically all about what the Bible says. Apparently the Bible is all about the hate.
“The Bible says don’t mix races, the Bible says sodomy is evil, the Bible says the Jews are the enemy”, pummel away at you like the rabid thrustings of a rapist. The crowd laps it up, grunting, yelping like some gibbering crack whore.
“Christ himself forbid race mixing. It is against the law of Jesus to produce mongrels and under-breeds. It. Is. Against. The. Law. Of. God!
“Our rights as the white man are being taken away. We are in a holocaust of the white man right now. They’re tryin to destroy the white man. There’s gonna be a civil war!” The crowd has been whipped into a frenzy now, as if seized in the grip of an exorcism. They’re dribbling, gnashing their teeth and foaming at the mouth.
“The blacks and the spics own America now. They get all the jobs, all the healthcare, all the privileges. We are in a race war and the white man is being murdered. The bible is not meant for the Mexican, or the Asian or the mongrel or the negro or the dirty parasite Jew. There is a Jewish conspiracy to annihilate the white man!!”
As the crowd salutes him, enraged and patriotic, the Imperial Wizard takes the stage.
The Imperial Wizard is of the highest rank in the Ku Klux Klan; the leader. The Grand Dragons (in charge of a realm or state) are second in command, the Grand Titans, head of a district within the state after which comes the Giants and Exalted Cyclops. And finally the Ghoul, the probationary member who for one year needs to keep their criminal record clean, study the codes and ideology of the Klan earnestly and ‘mentally and physically prepare for the race war’.
And this ‘race war’ is what Ron the Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK is here to exhort, like Joel the Grand Dragon.
“In California they let zoo animals walk free”. Ron begins. “It just shows what happens when you take the n****r out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the n****r.”
The crowd once more roar with approval.
“BUT…we’re not the Klan of the 1920s, the 1950s or the ‘60s. We don’t go around hanging people and burning churches. We are here to defend the white race from the GENOCIDE it’s going through.” Ron directs his gaze at me, the journo, this ‘the KKK are a ‘non-violent’ organisation spiel. I suddenly wonder what it was that made Ron what he is. Perhaps some alchemy of a shit childhood constantly beaten and abused by a series of stepdads with cirrhotic livers and child rape conviction combined with a lack of education? It’s lazy pop psychology but the hate speeches I am witnessing from him do make one wonder what made it all happen.
“We have plans to militarise for a race war,” he continues. “If we continue to mix races there won’t be a white race; it’s going extinct with so many mongrels now. We need to preserve the pure white race.
“Our government has been funding Israel billions of dollars. Why is that? I tell ya why. Because America is run by a Jew mafia. A Jew mafia that wants to destroy Christianity. A Jew conspiracy that has created a holocaust for white America”. And with that an Israel flag is brought out and set on fire.
“And we are here to wipe out the mixing of the races, the mongrels, and the disease spread by faggots and n***s!” Ron rounds up his speech. “I hate faggots, because homosexuality is forbidden by God’s law.”
“Praise god for AIDS!” Someone shouts from the crowd.
Before the cross illumination ceremony, Ron, Joel and a few of the Grand Titans are hanging around to speak to me. They are all in robes as etiquette dictates on ceremonial nights. The costumes-sheets, masks, hats all designed to disguise the identity of the wearer- were created when the KKK was founded in 1866.
Established as a social fraternity in the aftermath of the civil war by six confederate veterans in Tennessee, it was to maintain white ‘superiority’ and to thwart the newly freed slaves’ rights and to return them to a state of captivity. Initially on their nightly rides, the hooded Klansmen posed as ghosts of confederates to frighten newly freed superstitious slaves, and then with the reconstruction act of 1867 where the South felt divided by Northern authority, it manifested into a campaign of terror: to intimidate newly freed slaves and keep them from voting booths; to restore the Southern way of life and social order disrupted by civil war in which white supremacy was threatened. Names such as Grand Wizard, Grand Cyclops and Ghoul gave the organisation an exaggerated menacing presence. Led by elite members of the community such as judges, the town Sherriff and those in high power with the law and drawing on a cross-section of white male society, the Klan’s assaults and murders numbered in the thousands. After a first warning (which was a note left on the victim’s door), was ignored the next step would be to tie up the victim and give them hundreds of lashing, or burn them or lynch them. Many died as a result of this.
The Klan has had its surges whenever many in white America have felt threatened. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1883 that Congress lacked the authority to outlaw racial discrimination, the national government abandoned its efforts to protect Negro rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In white Southern legend, the Klan was treasured as the saviour of downtrodden white people from what they saw as the ‘unnatural’ condition of black equality. In the 1920s Klan membership was at nearly 4 million due to mass immigration and Catholics-because of the abundant number of Catholic immigrants, there was anti-Catholic sentiment. The Klan were always able to operate outside of the law, because most of its members were the law: local officials, governors, senators, the police were all Klansmen which made extreme violence, rape, murder and arson punishment-free.
The Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that public school segregation was unconstitutional gave the Klan a tremendous boost. Surge of protests in the South grew as it was feared that this would mean restaurants, hotels, swimming pools, even drinking fountains would be integrated. This gave the Klan licence to grow and strengthen. When the Civil Rights Movement flowered in the Deep South in the 1960s, the Klan was there to meet it. Its members enjoyed what initially amounted to general immunity from arrest, prosecution and conviction. As before, many police officers, governors, judges and politicians were Klan members. The murderers of civil rights Mickey Schwerner, Ben Chaney, and Andrew Goodman in Philadelphia, Mississippi couldn’t even get into court. The bombers of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church walked free.
It’s with all of this in mind that I sit down to interview Ron (Imperial Wizard), Joel (Grand Dragon), and Daniel, Justin and Wayne who are a couple of Grand Titans and an Exalted Cyclops. I wonder if they are proud of their organisation’s history and what it means for them to be a Klansman.
Joel: “Our website says we are spreading a message of love not hate. We don’t take no one with a criminal record. They will conduct themselves in an acceptable manner and WILL NOT commit criminal acts while a member of The IKA of the Ku Klux Klan”.
I ask how they feel about the KKK’s history of murder and violence.
“Our forefathers had to do what they did as there was no other way,” Ron tells me. “They were in a war zone where savages were raping their women and children, stealing, being like wild animals. For the Klan it was the only way to protect their families”.
Justin, a 37 year old Grand Titan (head of a district) says: “Black people come from animals. We need to be separated. Black people have brought AIDS. We don’t have to have a reason why we hate them; because they exist, because they are scum, because they breed. We’ve been here longer than them…they are not our equal, they have no right to breathe free air in America”.
Ron the Imperial Wizard offers his ‘wisdom’. “Look, it’s not skin colour or nothing like that, it’s the race, an inferior race that has still not evolved; it is still in the stage of monkey. And like wild animals it is in the negro genes to commit uncivilized acts. What we are now is not about resolving the issue with violence; it is to unite white America against this war against the white man, this war against Christianity”.
I ask how they propose to do that.
“The Klan used to only take in white members of a Christian background. Now to widen and empower the Klan we are accepting membership from white people of other religions”. Ron says.
I wonder if it’s because Klan membership numbers have dwindled down to only 5000 and whether they are now desperately trying to recruit new members.
“Actually membership is on the rise,” Ron adds. “We have joined forces with Aryan Nation and other white power groups and we’re picking up more members because of immigration, because of Obama. 9/11 definitely brought us more members”.
I am curious to know what makes someone join the Ku Klux Klan.
Wayne, a 22 year old who is a relatively new recruit answers. “My brother was killed by a black gang in an initiation ceremony. Not one fucking person was convicted of the crime. I went into depression for one year. I decided to join up when I saw how the White Knights wanted to change the law to stand up for white people.”
I ask the why they believe the white race is under attack and why they think there’s a war against whites.
“We have no rights in this country,” Wayne looks at me, a blurry alco-gaze, despondent, a patina of self-harm scars on his arms. “All the black and spics get all the jobs. The kikes are running this country. N****s have brought AIDS and disease from Africa and our communist government is letting the faggots make a mockery of Christian values. We the whites don’t get any jobs. We don’t got nothing, just a kick in the teeth since we were kids.”
“Actually whites have way more jobs and equality than African-Americans and other minorities,” I say. “I think your answer is just an excuse because you think the white man is superior. In what way is the white man the superior race? Jesus wasn’t white. Are you aware your saviour is Jewish?”
Suddenly I hear what my mouth has just uttered to the men with the rifles, especially when Ron stands. I think he’s a bit angry.
“Those are false shepherds bringing Jesus’s message. They are not real Christians. We believe the White, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and kindred people to be God’s true, literal Children. Only this race fulfils every detail of Biblical prophecy and world history.” He says.
On the KKK website it says that the types of individuals that they are seeking are honourable, intelligent, responsible, and of pure Aryan heritage and I wonder how they able to trace every individual’s family history. I am amazed that the KKK can trace every individual’s family history and find out if a person has been in an interracial relationship and if they are lying, they will get vengeance.
“Also the truth is that there was no holocaust as Hollywood would like you to believe,” Ron says. “The Jews and the gypsies and homosexuals were polluting, thieving, contaminating Europe with their presence. The numbers they have you believe in the movies is not the real case.”
I ask about the burning of the cross which has been a sacred Klan ceremony since 1915. Why has the KKK been associated with cross burnings, I ask Ron.
“We are lighting the cross to glorify the light of Jesus Christ; to bring him back from the dark. The cross is a symbol of sacrifice, service, and a sign of the Christian religion, sanctified and made holy nearly 19 centuries ago by the suffering and the blood of Christ. We have added the fire to signify that “Christ is the light of the world.”
The cross illumination ceremony is about to start and Ron and the others walk to the middle of the wooded area. A huge cross is steeped in kerosene and lit as a circle of Klansmen light their own crosses from it.
Everyone has gathered, families surround the burning cross.
“Klansman do you accept the light?” Asks Ron.
“I accept the light.” Responds the Klans-person as he or she lights a small cross. Several Israeli flags and the gay pride rainbow flag are set ablaze.
I notice that the compound, barb wired, is a place for target practice and a training ground. New recruits are going to be taught armed and physical combat and indoctrinated into white supremacist ideology.
The KKK’s ultimate goal is to affect political change so the modern day Klans-man is wary of conducting illegal activity, yet they are training new recruits for physical combat. But do they just get together and rant and rave hatred, wrath and venom in the costumes doing sieg heil salutes or are they a clear and widespread danger to society? They are categorized as a terrorist group but what constitutes their terrorist activity? It’s hard not to think of their past as torturers, murderers and arsonists with lynching and church bombings their mark, but is the KKK now anything more than a bunch of people dressed up in Halloween costumes getting together to Seig Heil? Saturating brains with rants filled with rage and hatred will no doubt indoctrinate even meek individuals and ultimately trigger violent reactions from those individuals that are on the edge of it.
Before the cross illumination ceremony ends, a ghoul tells me that they are going on a ‘night ride’ late that night, an old Klan term that meant a murder run in the old days, but which now means leafletting for recruitment. Throwing KKK literature at people’s homes or into postal boxes.
I end the night watching families lighting crosses, hollering White Power, warm and snug in their unison of hatred. I wonder how they go about their daily lives carrying all this rage and hatred within them. More disturbing is the children, the babies that are being trained to hate. Children who will go to school every day with people of all different backgrounds and will feel like they have to hate them. And whilst the KKK are not the powerful force they once were, any hate group that incites violence and loathing, inculcating other individuals to marinade in a constant state of loathing and anger for no logical reason, will ultimately trigger acts of violence and aggression.
Through the pewter sky, burnished crimson by the burning crosses, I grab a hotdog before I am driven back to my hotel. It is not the best. More like the terrifying hooves and anus ones bought from builders’ burger vans off the motorway in England. I look back at the Grand Wizard, standing there, almost bored with his own atrocities and give him a peace sign.