Klan be­liefs same, but dis­like la­bel

Mem­bers claim be­liev­ing only whites can run so­ci­ety doesn’t make them white su­prem­a­cists

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jay Reeves

pelham, n.c.» In to­day’s racially charged en­vi­ron­ment, there’s a la­bel that even the KKK dis­avows: white supremacy.

Stand­ing on a muddy dirt road in the dead of night near the North Carolina-Vir­ginia bor­der, masked Ku Klux Klan mem­bers claimed Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent proves whites are tak­ing back Amer­ica from blacks, im­mi­grants, Jews and other groups they de­scribe as crim­i­nals and free­loaders. Amer­ica was founded by and for whites, they say, and only whites can run a peace­ful, pro­duc­tive so­ci­ety.

But still, the KKK mem­bers in­sisted in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, they’re not white su­prem­a­cists, a la­bel that is gain­ing trac­tion in the coun­try since Trump won with the pub­lic back­ing of the Klan, neo-Nazis and other white racists.

“We’re not white su­prem­a­cists. We be­lieve in our race,” said a man with a Mid­west­ern ac­cent and glasses just hours be­fore a proTrump Klan pa­rade in a nearby town. He, like three Klan com­pa­tri­ots, wore a robe and pointed hood and wouldn’t give his full name, in ac­cor­dance with Klan rules.

Claim­ing the Klan isn’t white su­prem­a­cist flies in the face of its very na­ture. The Klan’s of­fi­cial rule­book, the Klo­ran — pub­lished in 1915 and still fol­lowed by many groups — says the or­ga­ni­za­tion “shall ever be true in the faith­ful main­te­nance of White Supremacy,” even cap­i­tal­iz­ing the term for em­pha­sis. Watch­dog groups also con­sider the Klan a white su­prem­a­cist or­ga­ni­za­tion, and ex­perts say the groups’ de­nials are prob­a­bly linked to ef­forts to make their racism more palat­able.

Still, KKK groups to­day typ­i­cally re­nounce the term. The same goes for ex­trem­ists in­clud­ing mem­bers of the self-pro­claimed “alt-right,” an ex­treme branch of con­ser­vatism mix­ing racism, white na­tion­al­ism and pop­ulism.

“We are white sep­a­ratists, just as Yah­weh in the Bi­ble told us to be. Sep­a­rate your­self from other na­tions. Do not in­ter­mix and mon­gre­lize your seed,” said one of the Klans­men who spoke along the muddy lane.

Trump last month told The New York Times, “I dis­avow and con­demn” the alt-right move­ment and its white su­prem­a­cist mem­bers.

The As­so­ci­ated Press in­ter­viewed the men, who claimed mem­ber­ship in the Loyal White Knights of the KKK, in a night­time ses­sion set up with help of Chris Barker, a KKK leader who con­firmed de­tails of the group’s “Trump vic­tory cel­e­bra­tion” in ad­vance of the event. As many as 30 cars pa­raded through the town of Roxboro, N.C., some bear­ing Con­fed­er­ate and KKK flags.

Barker didn’t par­tic­i­pate, though: He and a Klan leader from Cal­i­for­nia were ar­rested hours ear­lier on charges linked to the stab­bing of a third KKK mem­ber dur­ing a fight, sher­iff’s of­fi­cials said. Both men were jailed; the in­jured man was re­cov­er­ing.

Like the KKK mem­bers, Don Black said he doesn’t care to be called a white su­prem­a­cist, ei­ther. Black — who op­er­ates storm­front.org, a white ex­trem­ist fa­vorite web­site, from his Florida home — prefers “white na­tion­al­ist.”

“White supremacy is a le­git­i­mate term, though not usu­ally applicable as used by the me­dia. I think it’s pop­u­lar as a term of de­ri­sion be­cause of the im­plied un­fair­ness, and, like ‘racism,’ it’s got that ‘hiss’ (and, like ‘hate’ and ‘racism,’ fre­quently ‘spewed’ in head­lines),” Black said in an e-mail in­ter­view.

The Klan formed 150 years ago, just months af­ter the end of the Civil War, and quickly be­gan ter­ror­iz­ing freed blacks. Hun­dreds of peo­ple were as­saulted or killed as whites tried to re­gain con­trol of the de­feated Con­fed­er­acy. Dur­ing the civil rights move­ment, Klan mem­bers were con­victed of us­ing mur­der as a weapon against equal­ity. Lead­ers from sev­eral dif­fer­ent Klan groups have told AP they have rules against vi­o­lence aside from self-de­fense, and op­po­nents agree the KKK has toned it­self down af­ter a string of mem­bers went to prison years af­ter the fact for deadly ar­son at­tacks, beat­ings, bomb­ings and shoot­ings.

The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter and the Anti-Defama­tion League, which mon­i­tor white ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions and are track­ing an in­crease in re­ports of racist in­ci­dents since the elec­tion, of­ten use the “white su­prem­a­cist” la­bel when de­scrib­ing groups like the Klan; white na­tion­al­ism and white sep­a­ratism are parts of the ide­ol­ogy. But what ex­actly is in­volved?

The ADL is­sued a report last year de­scrib­ing white su­prem­a­cists as “ide­o­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated by a se­ries of racist be­liefs, in­clud­ing the no­tion that whites should be dom­i­nant over peo­ple of other back­grounds, that whites should live by them­selves in a whites-only so­ci­ety, and that white peo­ple have their own cul­ture and are ge­net­i­cally su­pe­rior to other cul­tures.”

That sounds a lot like some of the ideas es­poused by to­day’s white rad­i­cals, yet they re­ject the la­bel. That’s likely be­cause they learned the lessons of one-time Klan leader David Duke, who un­suc­cess­fully ran for the U.S. Se­nate in Louisiana this year, said Penn State Univer­sity as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Josh In­wood.

“(There was) this ped­dling of kinder, softer white supremacy. He tried to pi­o­neer a more re­spectable vi­sion of the Klan,” In­wood said.

Ex­trem­ist ex­pert So­phie BjorkJames, a scholar at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity, prefers the term “racist right” to de­scribe to­day’s white su­prem­a­cists.

“They are not sim­ply con­ser­va­tive or alt-right, but ac­tu­ally es­pous­ing racist ideas and racist goals,” she said. “They won’t agree with this la­bel, but I think it is im­por­tant to be clear about what they rep­re­sent and what their goals are.”

What­ever you call them, the muddy-road Klans­men said their be­liefs have gained a foothold. The pop­u­lar­ity of Trump’s pro­posal to build a wall on the Mex­i­can bor­der — an idea long es­poused by the Klan — is part of the proof, they said.

“White Amer­i­cans are fi­nally, most of them, open­ing their eyes and com­ing around and see­ing what is hap­pen­ing,” said a man in a satiny green Klan robe.

A robed and masked Ku Klux Klans­men gives an in­ter­view Dec. 2 near Pelham, N.C. Jay Reeves, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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