The Ku Klux Klan, long the robed profile of racial intolerance in America, will advertise an expansion of its antipathies to include illegal immigrants at a planned rally Saturday in or near the village of Welcome, N.C.
Latino groups, joined by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) advocates, have vowed a counterprotest, with one activist, Verenice Granadero, saying, “We are organizing … to meet hatred with love.”
The KKK rally and counterprotest mark at least a new wrinkle in the Klan’s long, dark history as a domestic terror association. Experts say members are likely trying to piggy-back on widespread anger over a flood of illegal migrant children, given that about half of Americans in a recent poll wanted the migrants returned post haste to their home countries, and 70 percent say illegal immigration threatens the American way of life. KKK leaders say they would like to see a "shoot-to-kill" policy on the border to minimize illegal immigration.
In South Carolina, some homeowners found bags with candy and offers to join the Klan. Similar materials have been found in Tallahassee, Atlanta, and Chesterfield County, Va. In Harnett County, N.C., fliers appeared this week, marking the rally in Welcome. “Save Our Land, Join the Klan,” fliers said.
While experts on American extremism say the Klan is clearly taking advantage of the situation on the border for recruitment purposes, the notion that the organization that terrorized blacks during Jim Crow and the civil rights movement is resurgent may be off the mark.
In fact, the number of Klan groups has declined since 2010, from 221 to about 150, with a total of perhaps 6,000 members. (The Klan had as many as 60,000 members in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement in the South.)
Planners of Saturday’s rally underscored that the Klan is shifting its priorities.
“If they (blacks) would actually listen to what we’re talking about, it ain’t about them anymore with the Klan,” Imperial Wizard Chris Barker of the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told WTVD this week. “It’s usually about the immigrants who are flooding (the United States).”
Saturday’s rally is not the first this summer. During a secret Klan rally in Abbeville, S.C., last weekend, 300 counterprotesters gathered in Greenville, S.C., an hour away.
“The Klan in general is not the threat we think they are,” Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, told Al-Jazeera on Aug. 1. She said the counterprotest “minimizes them and diminishes their power even more.”
But while immigrants’ rights activists are gearing up for their planned counterprotest Saturday on Highway 52 in Welcome, some confusion remained Friday about where, exactly, the Klan would be holding its rally. (Fliers for the rally indicated that “You must be a [Klan member] to know where and when.")
The Klan had previously requested a protest permit for 200 people on Aug. 9 in Troy, N.C., in Montgomery County, but the sheriff there said no one had picked the permit up. Welcome, meanwhile, has very little public land, so a permit would not be necessary if the group holds the rally on someone's private property, said Maura Pereira, a spokeswoman for GetEQUAL North Carolina and El Cambio, two human rights groups.
According to one of the Klan leaders, Grand Dragon Robert Jones, quoted in a story in Triad City Beat Friday morning, the rally is scheduled for the courthouse at Troy on Saturday, but he also noted that the group will hold "a private rally with a cross lighting about an hour outside of Troy," a radius that includes Welcome. "We won't never let the location out until the last minute," he then said, correcting himself and adding that KKK groups will often announce a location and the event will actually be held "two towns over."
In Davidson County, N.C., where unincorporated Welcome’s slogan is “Welcome to Welcome, a friendly place,” County Commissioner Steve Jarvis called the area “just a very small, nice, beautiful setting – a quiet town, not like anything really ever happens there.”
He added wryly, “Until now, I guess.”