By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Grand Dragon Sue Green holds a cigarette between her hot-pink fingernails and watches the men in her klavern slice through burlap bags with buck knives. Inside the garage crammed with timber, old blankets, tools and other assorted junk, the sacks' odor chokes like mustard gas.
"Burlap smell pretty good, don' it, Bubba?" one of the plainclothes knights asks a friend.
Outside, it's cold and drizzling, but the knights won't let the weather spoil their ceremony. Fresh from a recruitment rally and stuffed with gumbo and weenies, the new, Conroe-based Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan is going to light three crosses behind Green's red brick house.
Green is a 60-year-old grandmother who wears a jacket over a gray T-shirt with "KKK" printed in Confederate colors. She watches with pride as her 20-year-old son, David, staples burlap to a ten-foot cross. Another son, 41-year-old Ken, sits on a freezer and cuts through another sack. Ken says he supports the klavern but won't join because his best friend is black.
Beside Ken, a CD player bellows music from revered Klan singer Johnny Rebel.
"Some niggers don't die / they just smell that way," Johnny twangs over pedal-steel guitar. The klavern sings along with glee.
This is Mr. Rebel's prime motif. Whether strolling the stinky streets of Coontown or lurking mischievously in a woodpile, his songs' African-Americans are a great source of amusement for the Invisible Empire.
As the men wrap the crosses, the women soak torches in a bucket of diesel fuel. Inside the house are the klavern's unofficial seamstress and Shaggy, their crippled mascot. Shaggy, a mutt recovering from a run-in with a car, was around even before the Invisible Empire splintered from the American Knights last year. He's such a part of the klavern that the seamstress is designing him a robe.
Like all the other robes, this one will have to be washed at home. Too many dry cleaners have deliberately burned holes in the robes. The Klan just can't get a break.
By now, the seamstress is one mask short of a full set of uniforms. And that's not the only worry: The Harris County nighthawk -- security guard for the klavern -- got lost near Highway 105 on his way back from dropping off the rental van they drove to the rally. So Green has to go pick him up. Renting a van is a necessary hassle, since members say local authorities could identify them if they drove their own vehicles to events.
When the grand dragon and Harris County nighthawk return -- the latter with a pistol strapped to his leg -- the men set up the crosses in the muddy woods 50 yards behind Green's house.
But there's another problem: They don't have enough diesel to soak the burlap. Ken and another nonmember, whose exceptionally large noggin earns him the nickname Waterhead, have to drive back to Montgomery to restock.
A miffed grand dragon returns to the house, sits at the kitchen table and takes swigs from a can of Diet Coke. This Klan stuff is hard work.
Green's entry into the group came two decades ago, when she married a member of the Waco chapter of the American Knights of the KKK. After a traditional wedding, the couple donned their uniforms and a reverend Klansman made them lifelong mates in the eyes of the Klan.
Headquartered in Indiana, the AK was then one of the most organized and hard-core Klan groups in the country, according to national hate group trackers.
But Green says she grew tired of her affiliation with what she describes as a group that spewed hate and recruited violent ex-cons. She decided to form her own klavern of the Texas-Oklahoma Invisible Empire of the KKK, which she describes as a low-key, nonprofit white rights organization. While proud of her efforts, she asked to use the pseudonym Green, explaining that she might be fired from her regular job if her real identity were published.
After one year, Green says, her klavern has 25 members. Besides being proud of their pigmentation, they take pride in being a different kind of Klan. Members say they don't allow criminals or drugs and they absolutely do not drink on meeting days. Green says she runs a background check on every prospect. And the Invisible Empire claims it is not a hate group, unlike the Cleveland, Texas-based White Camelia Knights.
During the Christmas season, Green says, klavern members call Montgomery County schools without revealing their Klan ties and get lists of needy families. They drop food baskets on the families' doorsteps, along with cards that say, "Merry Christmas from the Ku Klux Klan." Some of the families are black and Hispanic, but Green doesn't have a problem with that.
In fact, Green proudly explains that she rejected one applicant who said he wanted to join for the express purpose of hanging blacks. She says this while sitting at home in front of an altered yellow street sign that reads, "Caution: Hit Nigger Children at Play."
Members also say the prominent klavern positions of women also sets them apart from some Klan branches. Not only is Green the grand dragon, she's also the higher-ranked grand klaliff. Their Exalted Cyclops, or local leader, is also a woman. The EC says people shouldn't fear the Invisible Empire's uniforms.