Meet The Man Who Went Inside The Ku Klux Klan

A new documentary takes a look at the Ku Klux Klan in 2015

Meet The Man Who Went Inside The Ku Klux Klan

by Jess Commons |
Published on

Think the Ku Klux Klan are irrelevant? A dark part of last century that survives in grainy black and white YouTube videos of men in white hoods burning crosses? Think again.

Over the past few years, racial tensions in America, and indeed across the world, have been at boiling point. Events like the Dylann Roof church shooting, the murder of Trayvon Martin and the countless young black men and women who've died at the hands of the police have had a huge impact on how the world deals with race issues. On one hand they've started campaigns likes Black Lives Matter and opened up the floor for debates about race but on the other, they've deepened already problematic divides between extremists. In fact, the Ku Klux Klan; the feared organisation that terrorised the black population in America's South for much of the last century is currently enjoying a mini-revivial, with new recruits applying all the time.

Filmmaker Dan Murdoch headed to North Carolina earlier this year to spend time with a chapter called the Loyal White Knight and recorded his experiences in a new documentary for BBC3. His footage of the group makes for a tough watch. The people he meets advocate the removal of the black race, use derogatory terminology to startling effect and deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

We spoke to Dan about his experiences.

What role does the Ku Klux Klan hold in 2015?

'They're a secret society so are very reluctant to talk about membership numbers, or political power. The Klan I spent time with, the Loyal White Knights, claim to be the largest Klan chapter, and they told me they had "boots in every state."’

'They have a Klan hotline you can call to express interest in joining, and I saw their call logs – they’re getting tens of thousands of calls a month, though even they admit many of those are abusive. But monitoring groups like the Southern Poverty Law Centre estimate Klan numbers are in the low thousands.'

What effect has Dylann Roof had on today's Klan?

'The Imperial Kommander of the LWK (Loyal White Knights), Amanda Lee, condemned Roof’s actions, but followed up by saying that if he’d massacred black drug dealers on a street corner, she would have no problem with it.'

'I think the broader issue for the LWK was that national debate focused not on Roof’s attempts to start a "race war", but on him posing with the confederate flag. Major retailers stopped selling the flag and it was taken down from outside the South Carolina statehouse. To the Klan, this was just the latest "attack on their white heritage."'


Why are more people signing up now?

'I met a new recruit named Bubba, who’d been a roofer for 20 years, until, he told me: "Mexicans took my job." He was unemployed and felt he was being squeezed out the job market by immigrants undercutting him on wages, and big businesses outsourcing work to cheaper countries. He felt an America run by the Klan would help protect him. Other major gripes I heard included levels of black on white crime, and positive discrimination in work or education.'

What is their end goal? Do they want to remove black people from the US?

'Some of them talked about seceding from the Union and setting up a white nation. Others had revolutionary ideas about overthrowing the political and banking systems.'

'The most consistent aim I heard was to have optional all-white establishments and institutions. Many of them told me that they were being forced to integrate against their wishes and it was "destroying white culture". Some said they want to be able to have all white schools, churches & businesses – something they feel they should be guaranteed by their constitutional right to freedom of association. They don’t think this should be forced – but they think they should have the right to send their children to all white schools if they wish.'

What is their reason for hating non-white people?

'They constantly told me that they don’t. But then a moment later would be using obscene racist language or stereotypes. A lot of their justifications for seeing other races as inferior came from their interpretation of Bible passages.'

There's a part in the film where a member claims that Auschwitz had cinemas and swimming pools and wasn't a concetration camp at all. How can they not believe in well documented events like the Holocaust?

'I asked if they are conspiracy theorists, but they denied that. As we all know, the internet is awash with incoherent or just plain false information. But they told me I’d been brainwashed by the liberal media and education system.'

Did you find it tough to keep your cool?

'The aim was to try and build relationships so Klansmen felt comfortable talking to me, but also to challenge them on their beliefs. That was a delicate balancing act, which meant having my game face on all the time. I’d normally get in the car after a day with them, take a deep breath and put some hiphop on.'

Do you think troubled people naturally drift towards a group of that sort?

'I put to them that they were a conduit for disaffected or lonely white people and they rejected that.'

'Many of the people I met claimed they had experienced racism themselves – they’d been in a white minority at a black school or in a black neighbourhood. A lot were unemployed. Many were veterans. Some had been affected by reports of black on white crime.'

'All of them were fiercely religious – the Klan claims it’s a Christian organisation – sermons and Bible readings are an important part of Klan meetings.'

The Black Panthers have also had resurgence – tell me about that.

'I arrived in Charleston a few days after the Emanuel AME Church massacre – when white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black churchgoers and the scene outside the church was one of grief and shock.'

'But a block away there were protestors from lots of organisations – New Black Panthers, Nation of Islam and Black Lives Matter among others – and they were angry.'

'They burned the Confederate and American flags before marching across the city. I was struck by how many local people joined them to protest.'

What's going to happen – will there be an all-out 'race war' or do you think racial relations are on the mend in the US – with things getting worse before they can get better?

'Many of the Klansmen I met are convinced that a violent, all-out race war is on the horizon. I met Klansmen training armed militias for that moment. To them race war is very real.'

KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy, Monday 28th September at 9pm on BBC Three.

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Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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