Klan more active in pockets. Overall membership still on decline in the South, but not in some localities, where numbers grow as goals change

From a modest red house on the eastern edge of the rural Carolina Piedmont, Glenn Miller tends his small farm and organizes the most active and fast-growing white supremacist organization in the country. The Ku Klux Klan and its ilk are in decline across the South and the rest of the nation. But in pockets, including much of North Carolina, the Klan has become extremely active and has apparently gained numbers over the past several years.

Much of the new activity is organized by Mr. Miller, a lean and square-jawed former Green Beret who heads the White Patriots Party, until recently known as the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Why the Klan should be gaining ground in rural North Carolina is usually pegged to the badly frayed mainstays of the local economy, tobacco and textiles. For periods within the last three years, the state has led the nation in farm foreclosures and plant closings.

Klan organizers work to direct the resulting fear and resentment toward blacks competing for jobs. Klansmen, generally poor and uneducated, tend to see blacks as favored and protected by the government.

``Klan membership isn't that large,'' says the Rev. Wilson Lee of Statesville, N. C., a hotbed of Klan rallies, cross-burnings, and house-shootings recently. ``But the people turn their back. . . . When the public gets to the point where it says, `We don't want it around,' it [will] stop.''

Miller regularly parades his White Patriots Party through North Carolina cities in combat fatigues and berets bearing the white cross of the Klan and carrying large Confederate flags. Miller spews bitter and aggressive insults at blacks, Jews, Asians, and nonracist whites over loudspeakers. Over 300 marched in Raleigh last week to protest Martin Luther King Day.

He works from the back of his living room, piled high with racist periodicals, bumper stickers, and Confederate flags -- while his three small children watch cartoons at the other end of the room.

An old bus with a new, battle-green paint job sits beside Miller's house with ``White Patriot Party'' painted on the side and a large Confederate flag on either side of the windshield.

He publishes a newspaper. He has 23 phone numbers which play virulent messages of racial hatred in four states. He claims to run several paramilitary training camps. He is running for the US Senate. And he claims his party's membership has doubled in the past year to 2,600. Klan-watch, a private organization in Montgomery, Ala., which monitors the Klan and similar groups, puts it between 700 and 800.

Miller's vision: an independent, all-white South.

He works in informal alliance with more traditional Klan organizations, and is sympathetic to paramilitary groups such as The Order -- some of whose members were recently convicted in the Northwest of racketeering.

Eight members of the White Patriots Party were convicted this fall of conspiring to assault blacks in Belle Glade, Fla., with spiked axe handles. Miller himself kicked a black man in the groin last summer -- for attacking his marchers, he explained -- as the man photographed a Miller-led parade.

Miller's outfit differs from the traditional Klan, a set of secret organizations acting as enforcers of segregation and the racial values of the old South. The media-wise Miller seeks to be a provocative public figure, attracting followers and fomenting racial hostility.

One reason for a new Klan style is that the Klan is no longer the pervasive institution it was during post-Civil War Reconstruction or the 1920s. Since the early 1980s, Klan membership has dropped by half to between 6,000 and 8,000 nationally, estimates Bill Stanton, director of Klanwatch. The number of Klan sympathizers has fallen off even more, as measured by the crowds that appear at Klan rallies.

In this decline, the Klan mentality seems to have shifted. Rather than vigilante keepers of a traditional flame, on the margins of respectable small-town society, the new Klan adopts the image of paramilitary, revolutionary guerrillas fighting for racial survival.

When Miller fields a call from a woman asking his group's aid in a racial dispute, he brushes her off in contempt. ``We don't work like the old Klan,'' he tells her, explaining later that such people would use his group without ever working for its larger goals.

But the old Klan style still thrives. The Rev. Mr. Lee in Statesville woke suddenly when he heard a thump at 1:30 a.m. one night to find his living room bathed in the light of a burning cross and 15 panes of the front window shot out. It was among the first of 17 cross burnings in Statesville since 1982.

The black minister's offense had been an angry letter to the local newspaper. The week before a group of men dressed in Klan regalia had tried to bond out of jail a black youth accused of assaulting a white woman. In the past, Klan members have done this in order to dispense their own justice. The youth declined, but Lee felt the Klansmen should not have gotten the cooperation they did from jail personnel.

Jim Milsaps, a black man who lives with a white woman, discovered that one of the Klansmen who burned a cross in their yard was a colleague at work who worked under a black supervisor. ``He'd come up and pat me on the back,'' says Mr. Milsaps, a truck driver who managed the company baseball team.

After the cross-burning, Mr. Milsap's companion, a cashier, began looking at each customer's face with doubt, wondering if they were Klan.

``I got so upset I started making mistakes all the time,'' she says, and quit her job.

An FBI crackdown on local Klan activity has led to 21 indictments in Statesville in recent months. The targets of Klan terror are much relieved. ``I laid awake many a night wondering if my husband's car was going to blow up in the morning,'' says the high school student's mother.

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