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Klan power wanes; hate, bigotry edge toward the militias

NCR Staff

The Ku Klux Klan and militia groups increasingly are speaking to the same listeners, according to Klan experts, who say that one in five militia groups now has direct ties to white supremacist movements.

Those figures are from KlanWatch of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in Montgomery, Ala. A spokesperson for the group, in a recent interview, said that many KKK members have transformed themselves into "patriots," switching over to militia groups as the Klan continues to falter in attracting new members.

The Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta-based racism watchdog group, also said the KKK and the militia movement ideologically overlap. The racists have codified their language. Now instead of saying they hate blacks, they will speak out against government-supported "welfare mothers."

"Hate group leaders that once spouted racist language, now emphasize more antigovernment rhetoric," said KlanWatch. For example, The Messiah Militia was founded in Potter County, Pa., by a former Klansman, August Kreis, who told KlanWatch that any future confrontation with the government "won't be like Waco (the deadly 1993 Texas battle between the federal government and Branch Davidian sect members). They won't have to wonder who shot first. It will be us."

In the late 1980s, Louis Beam stepped down as Texas KKK leader to become ambassador-at-large for the Aryan Nations white supremacist group. Beam is credited with the "leaderless resistance" strategy that recommends building multiple cells of rebellion uncoordinated nationally, all primed to take up arms against the government.

Are there still willing KKK recruits? KlanWatch sees the Klan as "badly broken. Most of the groups are splintered." The Center for Democratic Renewal noted that as the Klan's overtly racist message has changed, its membership has declined.

CDR reported that when KKK leader Thom Robb in Harrison, Ark., spoke not so much of hating blacks as "loving the white race," his supporters criticized him for "sounding more like a young Republican than a Klansman."

Anti-Racist Action, based in Columbus, Ohio, told NCR that the Klan's current recruitment method is to hold a rally and then build a fledgling group in the local high school.

However, the KKK is competing against the militias and more peer-oriented hate organizations that speak directly to the next generation of racists, CDR said.

Reports of hate activities by militia and Klan groups continue to surface. West Virginia militia members have been charged with plotting to bomb the FBI's fingerprinting headquarters in Virginia; black churches have been burned (NCR June 28 and Aug. 29); this summer a black family's home was burned down in Alma, Mich. The cross left on the lawn failed to ignite.

Michigan looms as a hate campaign test area.

Earlier this year there was antipolice violence by white groups in Ann Arbor and Lansing, Mich. The Klan selected the cities of Midland and Saginaw, Mich., for July 4 weekend recruiting drives.

CDR sees the Klan as an existing but minimal threat. But the militia movement, CDR said, has gained more and more support and holds the greatest potential for violence.

National Catholic Reporter, October 25, 1996