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Ku Klux Klan: A change of plan?

‘We're not killing Black people'

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Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:34 am

At one time it was normal to see Ku Klux Klan members, dressed in the full regalia of their white hoods and sheets, hosting a "lighting" or cross burning in Indianapolis. 

At any time, residents of what was once the heart of the city's Black community near downtown could look out of their windows and see hundreds of Klansmen marching boldly down the street, imposing an environment of fear an intimidation.

However, nothing like that should be seen again in Indiana, or anywhere else. According to several recent reports, the Ku Klux Klan, known historically for its violence against Blacks and other minorities, is trying to "re-brand" itself and change its image. Promoting "white pride" and preserving the white race in a growing population of minorities is the main thrust of the organization now. Cross burnings, lynching and threats of violence are supposed to be things of the past.

"We don't do that," Travis Pierce, national membership director of the Ku Klux Klan LLL, told the Huffington Post. "We have people call us and ask, ‘Why are you still killing Black people?' I say ‘We're not.' It would be on the front page of newspapers."

Pierce's organization is among several Klan-affiliated or white supremacist groups nationwide that are changing tactics to reach their goals and attract recruits. Legal challenges to policies that "discriminate" against white people and involvement in elections are being promoted over violence, and cyberspace is being used more often to air comments instead of the volatile street marches that the Klan had become known for.

"Even with great speeches we just get protesters and thugs who try to drown out our message, so we're taking our agenda directly to the people and those who can make something happen," Pierce added. "We've hired attorneys, and can take our case directly to the government."

In Montana, John Abarr, a former organizer for the Ku Klux Klan who is still on the organization's mailing list, has traded his hood for a suit, and announced his run for the state's single congressional seat in 2012.

In addition to trying to present a more sensible image, some Klan and white supremacist groups are trying to make themselves appear more reasonable in comparison to other organizations.

For example, a Klan-affiliated group in Virginia made national headlines at Arlington National Cemetery last month after chastising members of the Kansas-based ultra conservative Westboro Baptist Church for picketing during the funerals of soldiers.

In a bizarre twist, a 46- year old African-American man in Connecticut was recently charged with attempting to sell weapons to two men he knew were members of a white supremacist organization plotting a possible racist attack on area Blacks.

Any transformation of the Ku Klux Klan's image holds significant meaning for Indiana, given its historical relationship with the organization.

The original version of the Klan was established in Tennessee in 1866 by Confederate veterans of the Civil War upset over federal support for African-Americans in the South. By the early 1880s, the movement had died out after several Southern states issued laws to limit the legal and voting rights of minorities.

In the early 1920s, however, a second wave of Klan activism swept the North, and Central Indiana was chosen as the base for the revived organization. Although less violent than its Southern counterpart, the "new Klan" attracted followers by speaking out against the millions of Blacks, immigrants and Catholics who moved to Northern states to find industrial jobs.

"The dominance of the Klan in Indiana had reached the point that virtually every aspect of life outside the home was impacted in some kind of way by the Klan," said Wilma Moore, senior archivist of African-American history at the Indiana Historical Society.

In 1924, Ed Jackson, a known Klan member was elected governor of Indiana, and the organization controlled political affairs in Indianapolis, mandating racial segregation with the 1927 construction of Crispus Attucks High School, a separate institution for Black students.

By the end of the 1920s, however, the Klan lost influence in Indiana after several of its leaders and associates were caught in scandals.

Smaller Klan splinter groups continue to operate in Indiana, such as the Bloomington based Supreme Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Elwood and the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in College Corner.

The Klan organizations have survived along with several other "hate groups" that hold white supremacist, neo-Nazi or other extreme views. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 24 different hate groups operate in Indiana, an increase from 16 in 2009. Those organizations, according to the SPLC, hope to increase membership from the frustration some white middle class residents have with the struggling economy, a Black president and rising immigration.

Still, recent developments seem to support the claim by many groups that they are trying to be non-violent. Only a few cases of hate crimes, all of which involved attacks against property and not people, were reported to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department within the last two years.

Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Greater Indianapolis Branch of the NAACP, said the organization has to deal mostly with discrimination, not violent threats.

"Most of the incidents we handle are non-violent cases of discrimination that involve treatment in public establishments and places of employment," Ratcliffe said.

As far as many residents are concerned, the Ku Klux Klan is still a threat to racial unity, despite the professed moderation of some members.

"The Klan is still here, and it still has the same beliefs about being better than everybody else, regardless of how it presents itself," a man who gave his name as Glen said while waiting for refreshments near a hot dog stand at the intersection of 38th and Sherman. "I'm Native American, and my wife is Black, so I know they would have a major problem with us."

Another customer, Ebo Lewis, agreed with Glen as they waited in line for relief from the intense heat.

"The Klan ain't changed. It wants the same thing it has always wanted; a society with people who look the same, act the same and think the same," said Lewis, who is Black. "I think the solution is educating folks about other cultures and breaking down stereotypes. Only then can we really end racism."


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