Fueling the Ire

Despite downpours and dwindling diesel, the Klan tries to mount a soggy comeback

"To me, it's like the pope," the Exalted Cyclops says. "He wears a robe."

Members and their leader all insist they don't hate minorities -- they just want them to stick to themselves.

But Joe Roy, of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, says there's no difference between Green's Klan and the others. "We have a saying down here in Alabama: You can put lipstick on a pig and call it Monique, but it's still a pig," Roy says.

The "softer, kinder" KKK lights up a cross.
Troy Fields
The "softer, kinder" KKK lights up a cross.
The Invisible Empire tries to recruit members in a Montgomery park.
Troy Fields
The Invisible Empire tries to recruit members in a Montgomery park.

Of the 676 hate groups Roy tracked nationwide last year, only the Klan showed a decrease in membership -- he estimated it at roughly 5,000 to 7,500. Klaverns have been so hungry for members that many are putting women in positions of power, which was unheard of years ago, he says.

The Klan just doesn't have the same mystique it used to, and with the prevalence of other hate groups and their Web sites, Roy says, "you can find something to fit your hatred better than the Klan." Infighting and other problems have also hurt the Klan, he says.

The Invisible Empire splintered from the American Knights, which was one of the fastest-growing factions until their national leader got thrown in prison last year for holding a television reporter and cameraman at gunpoint after an interview. Since then, the AKs dropped from 33 to 18 chapters nationwide, Roy says.

Mark Pitcavage monitors extremist groups from his Columbus, Ohio, office for the Anti-Defamation League. He says Klan groups try to recruit in one of two ways: either by being blatantly racist, like the American Knights, or by saying they're just a white civil rights group, like the Invisible Empire.

"The reality is, they are hate groups," Pitcavage says. "The Klan is founded on hate."

Pitcavage doesn't even consider groups like the Invisible Empire to be the real Klan, which he says hasn't existed as a unified organization since the mid-1940s. It peaked in the 1920s with a few million members and considerable influence, then gradually splintered into regional or local groups that never had more than 10,000 combined members.

Which is exactly why Green and her group decided to hold a recruitment rally north of Houston on November 2. They're trying to get the numbers up.

On a cold, rainy Saturday, a white van carrying 12 Klan members rolls into Montgomery's Cedar Brake Park. State, county and municipal police agencies put 75 officers in the park. The cops and Klan in the park equal one-fifth of the town's population.

Members of the sheriff's tactical squad gather in a pavilion, their riot gear lined up neatly on the ground. Their expressions are as ugly as the weather. Green inadvertently scheduled the rally for the opening day of deer season. Dozens of cops and deputies had to change their schedules to baby-sit in case of violence.

"Next time, check your calendar," some of them tell the knights as they step out of the van.

Park entrances are blocked off, and the cops relegate the rally to the rear of the park. The only blacks on hand are wearing law enforcement badges. An African-American councilwoman scheduled a barbecue picnic and domino competition for the black community on the other side of town.

Klavern members armed with various flags -- U.S., Texas, confederate and POW -- amble into the barricades, with four black-robed nighthawks circling the eight white robes. Some wear sunglasses behind their masks. One nighthawk wears a Halloween witch's wig, the scraggly black locks jutting out from under his hood. He says later that it's all part of his disguise.

About a dozen spectators show up, not counting Klan sympathizers Ken and Waterhead. Four members of the county Democratic Party stand behind two gigantic Ron Kirk campaign posters. The low turnout is disappointing for the klavern, especially after the series of night rides they held to get the word out. For the past few weeks, they've cruised slowly through Conroe and Montgomery, throwing rolled-up leaflets about "black apes" and the Zionist Occupational Government onto front lawns.

A tiny megaphone emerges from under one of the white robes, and before the man holding it can speak, he accidentally hits a switch that makes the bullhorn blare out a metallic recording of "Dixie." All the hoods immediately swivel in his direction, but he does his best to play it off, nonchalantly raising it to his lips.

This knight, who calls himself James Confederate, launches into a history lesson not found in traditional schooling. He claims blacks commit 90 percent of crimes, that black men love to hook white girls on drugs, and that descendants of slaves should be grateful for Christian last names.

"Our government is selling out to the blacks," James Confederate shrieks.

A hundred yards away in the pavilion, Montgomery Mayor Mary Sue Timmerman braces herself against the cold and anxiously waits for the Invisible Empire to leave. Then she'll take the cops out for lunch, a way of saying thanks for having to miss out on that ten-point buck.

"This is the first time I've seen them, and I hope the last," she says. "I don't even think they like themselves."

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