ALBANY — The images that flicker across the television screen are the stuff of nightmares.
Dozens of robed Ku Klux Klansmen encircle a burning cross, their arms spread wide as they chant in unison. … A small man stands before a gathering of spellbound true believers at a Southern Alliance of Klans event, ranting about the nonwhite “savage animals” who have been allowed to diminish the “superiority of the white race.” … That same small man rages against “Zionist Jews” as he lights an Israeli Star of David flag afire, leading a chant of “Burn, Jew, burn.”
The videos are part of a collection of memorabilia shared with The Albany Herald by a former high-ranking official in a southern Klavern of the Knight Riders, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The former Klansman, who offered certification and video evidence of his legitimacy and spoke with The Herald under the condition that neither his name nor any other possible identifying information be used, said he was kicked out of the organization when he spoke out in opposition to some of the tactics of the Imperial Wizard for one of the Klan’s southern “Realms.” He identified the Imperial Wizard by name, but admitted that it might not be the Klan official’s actual name.
“This all started with a guy from (a north Georgia city) who was kicked out of the Klan because he took possession of a vehicle that was not his and who owed money (to the Klan),” the former Klansman said. “This person was voted out by a tribunal, but four years later he resurfaced, saying he was reinstated by (the Imperial Wizard). (The Klan leader) had taken matters into his own hands and reinstalled the former member (at a higher rank), which is against (the Klan’s) constitution.
“An Exalted Cyclops had expressed the opinion that (the reinstated Klansman) was not to be trusted, but the Imperial Wizard brought him back on his own. When I stated that I felt (the Wizard) was trying to take over the group, I was kicked out. I wasn’t even told that there would be a hearing, which is also against the constitution. But I made it known that I just wasn’t going to be anybody’s puppet.”
Banished from the Klan after more than a decade as a member, the last eight after advancing to the “K-Duo” level as a member of the Knights Kamellia order, the former Klansman said he destroyed “boxes of stuff I had accumulated” as a Klan official.
“They were supposed to come and get the materials that I had, but no one ever did,” he said. “I destroyed most of the stuff I had, except for what I kept to show you.”
That “stuff” includes copies of the Klan constitution, the agenda for ceremonial rituals at Klan events such as installation and naturalization ceremonies, a “Kludd” manual, a copy of the “Kloran,” the sacred book of the Klan, and minutes from a Klavern meeting. (The ex-KKK member said he has since rid himself of that Klan paraphernalia, as well as his robe and certificates showing his Klan affiliation.)
He said rather than a “fraternal organization,” the reigning Imperial Wizard had turned his Klan Realm into a “dictatorship.”
“He has ‘Little Hitler Syndrome,’” the former Klansman said of the Klan Wizard. “He’s turning it into a paramilitary group, which goes against the constitution. When I joined the Klan, I took an oath of nonviolence (which includes the statement ‘We (the Klan) do not believe in terrorism, violence or any act that violates the Civil Rights or constitutional rights of any individual regardless of their religious or racial sect’). The true Klan doesn’t believe in the actions or affiliate with Skinhead or neo-Nazi groups.
“But (the Imperial Wizard) has pulled aside a few men and started training them in paramilitary activities. He’s put the lives of others — mine included — in danger. I’ve had calls from as far away as Virginia from Klan members who say they’re worried about the direction (his former Klavern) is going in.”
An official with the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center calls the former Klansman’s contention that the organization is something of a fraternal organization “ludicrous.”
“The idea that anyone in the Klan would try to pass off the organization as a social group is nonsense,” Mark Potok, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said. “If it’s a social group, why take on the name of one of the most notorious hate groups in American history?
“The whole idea that a group whose organizational principle is the inferiority of other racial and religious groups is little more than a fraternal organization is ludicrous.”
Potok said the nonprofit SPLC monitors and tracks activities of “hate groups” like the Klan (a map at the www.splcenter.org website shows the location of Klan groups in the country, nine among the 53 hate groups listed in Georgia) and has sued a number of Klan members for damages against individuals.
“The idea is to basically put them out of business financially,” he said. “It’s true that the Klan isn’t much these days; there might be 6,000 members in America today. But theirs is a nasty little world, and some members are still pretty radical.”
Sitting with a visitor in his rural home, the former Klansman said he joined the KKK after moving south from a northern city. He was encouraged by a friend to join and eventually acquiesced.
“There were things they did that I didn’t believe in,” he said, “but there were other things that I did believe in. I found that a lot of people joined because they wanted to do this or be that, but I just wanted to be part of a group that got things done.
“In the beginning, I think it was time well-spent. We did things to help people in need.”
The ex-Klansman said the election of Barack Obama forced the Klan underground. And while the Klan is not currently listed on the U.S. government’s terrorism exclusion list, it is generally considered a terrorist organization. It was so designated by Congress in 1871, essentially outlawing the organization. The KKK resurfaced in the 1920s, considered its heyday, before fizzling out in the 1940s. It gained momentum for a third time in the 1950s and ’60s, during the civil rights movement.
The city of Charleston, S.C., passed a resolution formally declaring the Klan a terrorist group in 1999, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas characterized the Klan as a terrorist organization in 2003.
“We were told that, by being members of the Klan, we were in danger of being arrested,” the former Klansman said. “We were told that federal officials could come into our homes and take us away in the night. By taking the group underground, we lost a lot of credibility.”
The material shared with The Herald offers an inside look at the organization that formed in 1865 as a “fraternal organization,” based loosely on the Greek culture that had become a large part of college life. The organization’s popularity grew, and eventually its membership of mostly Confederate Civil War veterans took on the role of counteracting what were reported as atrocities by such groups as northern “carpetbaggers” and the notorious Union League.
The name “Ku Klux Klan” has traditionally been attributed to the Greek word “kyklos,” translated as a band or circle of friends. But material provided by the ex-KKK member includes an article published in 1924 in the Pulaski (Tenn.) Citizen suggesting the name came from the Mexican god of light, Cukulcan.
Some other information gleaned from the material:
— Constitutional qualifications for Klan membership: “Applicant must be a white person of non-Jewish ancestry, a non-user of drugs with no misdemeanor or felony convictions and must … be of sound mind, good character, free of any homosexual activities, have a commendable reputation and a respectable vocation, be a believer in the tenants (sic) of the Christian religion, and one whose allegiance, loyalty and devotion to the Knight Riders, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in all things is unquestionable.”
— If a member has in his or her possession any article or property of (a Klan) order and voluntarily discontinues his membership or is banished from membership, or in any other manner his connection with his order is severed, such articles or things must be immediately returned or surrendered.
— Every Klavern in the Knight Riders must use the Confederate battle flag or the “Betsy Ross flag” to cover the altar (at a ritualistic meeting). (James King, commander of the Albany Sons of Confederate Veterans camp, said that group condemns use of the Confederate emblem by the Klan.)
— All Klaverns must submit a monthly financial report to the Klan’s national office.
— Among the Klan’s ranking officers are the Imperial Wizard (president), Imperial Klaliff (vice president), Imperial Kilgrapp (secretary), Imperial Klabee (treasurer), Imperial Board (made up of Grand Dragons) and Imperial Night Hawk (chief of security).
— Any Klan member may be penalized for committing one or more of the following offences: violation of the constitution, obtaining membership through fraudulent means, publishing false reports, slandering or willfully wronging a member of the Knight Riders, using abusive language, misappropriating monies, using the name of a Klavern to solicit money, interfering with an official discharge of duties.
— The Klan “does not discriminate against a man because of his religious or political creed, as long as it does not conflict with Christian ideals and the welfare and furtherance of the white race,” according to its constitution.
— The Kloran’s “Ku Klux Kreed” includes the line: “We avow the distinction between the races of mankind, as same has been decreed by the Creator, and we shall ever be true in the faithful maintenance of White Supremacy and will strenuously oppose any compromise thereof in any and all things.”
— The burning cross, long a symbol that has inspired terror in non-Klansmen, signifies to KKK members that “Christ is the light of the world.”
The former Klansman said the Imperial Wizard had ignored the tenets of the Klan constitution. He points to the official’s statements on a video taken at the secret 2012 Alliance of Klans meeting, including: “There will come a day when we will have to band together, maybe in the trenches.” … “If you don’t know who the enemy is, you don’t know who the target is.” … “The white man of the South is under attack.” … “Heathen Zionist Jews, that is your enemy.” … “Obama made us terrorists.” … (While Israeli flag is burning:) “We must destroy this plague that’s destroying our race and nation.” … “This is a military-style organization.”
The former Klansman said the Imperial Wizard’s statements are dangerous.
“This guy is recreating the Klan in his own image,” he said. “His idea of the Klan is not what it’s supposed to be, and it’s not what I signed up for. This guy is trying to create a dictatorship, and the paramilitary activity he’s leading is putting others’ lives in danger.
“I feel that I served with honor and loyalty. That’s the password of K-Duo: loyalty. That’s why it doesn’t bother me to get rid of the robe that I wore and destroy these documents that show my affiliation. And while I’m concerned for my family, I can take care of myself. I shared this information with you so no other people will be talked into joining a group that’s not what it’s supposed to be.”