KKK ral­lies in S.C. for Con­fed­er­ate flag

At­tacks on sym­bol en­er­gize su­prem­a­cists

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY JEREMY BOR­DEN jeremy.bor­den@wash­post.com

columbia, s.c. — On a boiling weekday af­ter­noon on the out­skirts of At­lanta, the KuKluxKlan hunted white peo­ple in a turquoise con­vert­ible.

Roy Pem­ber­ton, 62, a Klans­man who wore the group’s so­called “blood drop” cross on his hat, trolled the sub­ur­ban park­ing lots of Wal-Marts, Home De­pots and Krogers look­ing for fresh re­cruits. But he also had a more im­me­di­ate con­cern: a call for sym­pa­thiz­ers to join Satur­day’s rally protest­ing South Carolina’s re­cent re­moval of the Con­fed­er­ate flag from the state­house grounds and its ban­ish­ment to a mu­seum.

“We’re just try­ing to save our her­itage,” Pem­ber­ton told KKK po­ten­tials, al­most all mid­dleaged white men, hand­ing them two busi­ness cards with the group’s hot line num­ber.

Pem­ber­ton barked at one man who wanted noth­ing to do with him: “They take our flag, soon they’ll take your wife.”

The Loyal White Knights of the KKK, which calls it­self the largest chap­ter in the United States, held a rally in Columbia, S.C., on Satur­day af­ter­noon to protest the re­moval of the flag, an ef­fort spear­headed by Repub­li­can Gov. Nikki Ha­ley.

The New Black Pan­ther Party showed up early. Mem­bers en­cour­aged the hun­dreds who came to keep things peace­ful, while also en­cour­ag­ing African Amer­i­cans to take own­er­ship of their prob­lems and fight back when nec­es­sary.

When Klans­men ar­rived later, the groups clashed in­ter­mit­tently, with three ar­rests, ac­cord­ing to the South Carolina Depart­ment of Public Safety (SCDPS). A man wear­ing a Con­fed­er­ate flag vest was slugged in the head, and a skir­mish erupted. One group seized a Con­fed­er­ate flag and sought to set it on fire be­fore po­lice in­ter­vened.

The Klan rally fea­tured no speeches but chants of “White power!” from the roughly 2,000 who at­tended, SCDPS said.

The rally fol­lows a swift reck­on­ing for the Con­fed­er­ate flag that be­gan soon af­ter photos sur­faced of Charleston shoot­ing sus­pect Dy­lann Roof, who is white, dis­play­ing the ban­ner long as­so­ci­ated with racial hate groups such as the Klan. Roof, an ap­par­ently self-rad­i­cal­ized loner who grew upin and around South Carolina’s cap­i­tal city, is ac­cused of killing nine black wor­shipers at the his­toric Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charleston last month.

Re­tail­ers quickly moved to pull the flag and re­lated mer­chan­dise off phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal shelves, and South­ern states from Vir­ginia to Texas are as­sess­ing how to deal with their ubiq­ui­tous Con­fed­er­ate me­mo­ri­als and sym­bols, along with roads and schools named for prom­i­nent Con­fed­er­ate fig­ures.

The swift back­lash has ex­posed the South’s raw strug­gles with race as the de­bate cou­ples the sym­bolic dawn of a new era with the ugly ves­tiges of a past that some­times seems not so far be­hind.

The Klan rally, while per­haps more a demon­stra­tion for the media than a sign of back­ward move­ment, is a re­minder of the South’s rel­a­tively slow progress on race. Tom Turnipseed, a Columbia, S.C., lawyer who helped bring down the Klan in the 1990s, had mixed feel­ings.

“I want [the re­moval of the flag] to be a step for­ward,” he said. “[But] the strug­gle con­tin­ues. What’s new?”

Be­sides the Klan, groups such as the Sons of Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans have mo­bi­lized against tak­ing down the flag, hold­ing nearly 90 demon­stra­tions na­tion­ally, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, with at least 20 more protests planned.

“This came like a bolt out of the blue,” said Mark Po­tok, a se­nior fel­low at the SPLC, which mon­i­tors or­ga­ni­za­tions it des­ig­nates as hate groups. “[Flag sup­port­ers] are a lit­tle shocked, and they didn’t ex­pect to be los­ing this bat­tle so quickly.”

The Satur­day Klan rally drew the scorn of some flag sup­port­ers, who say the ban­ner hon­ors only South­ern her­itage. They rec­og­nize that the as­so­ci­a­tion with the Klan — a group re­spon­si­ble for the rape and mur­der of mi­nori­ties through­out the 20th cen­tury — only hurts the flag’s cause.

Pem­ber­ton, the Klan mem­ber, is be­spec­ta­cled and stout with one long tooth on the right side of his mouth. A huge Klan cross is tat­tooed on one of his bi­ceps, and an or­ange flame with “KKK” and a cross is tat­tooed near a thumb. The re­tired car­pen­ter and oil worker spends nearly ev­ery day he can seek­ing out re­cruits for his Klan chap­ter, the North Carolin­abased Loyal White Knights.

Pem­ber­ton’s world is one of hate, cloaked, at least at times, in a ve­neer of right­eous strug­gle. He said he would vote for Ben Car­son, the African-Amer­i­can Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent, over Demo­crat Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. He said he hates black peo­ple as a race, but not in­di­vid­u­ally.

He said he will not ini­ti­ate vi­o­lence but stands ready to fight. He car­ried a small switchblade in his pocket on his re­cruit­ing run this week. A bag in his con­vert­ible’s back seat held two huge “Ka-Bar” blades, weapons fa­vored by U.S. Marines and com­man­dos, and a set of nun­chaku.

“If they con­tinue . . . there will be a war, and we will fight for our her­itage,” Pem­ber­ton said. “There are things the South will fight for, and that is one of them. If it con­tin­ues, there will be blood­shed.”

Down from a high of 4 mil­lion in the 1920a to about 4,000 now, the mod­ern Klan poses lit­tle real threat, Po­tok said, adding that lone wolves such as Roof are the ones to watch.

“The Klan to­day is small, weak, poorly led and largely looked down upon by other white su­prem­a­cist groups, who see them as il­lit­er­ate and un­help­ful in the greater strug­gle,” he said.

On Pem­ber­ton’s whirl­wind Klan re­cruit­ing tour, the signs of the new South were ev­ery­where. Among groups of white and black teens were in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples — for which Pem­ber­ton saved his most hate­ful in­vec­tive — who held hands as they walked through the Wal-Mart park­ing lot.

But the de­cid­edly ran­dom sam­pling of about a dozen white men yielded more nods and smiles — which could be po­lite­ness taken for em­pa­thy.

But no one com­mit­ted to at­tend the rally Satur­day — even a fel­low Klans­man said he couldn’t come be­cause he was a mem­ber of another Klan chap­ter.

ERIK S. LESSER/EURO­PEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A man dis­play­ing a Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag gives a Nazi salute Satur­day on the steps of the South Carolina state­house as ral­lies staged by the New Black Pan­ther Party and a Ku Klux Klan chap­ter over­lapped.

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