The new face of the KKK: Black, Jewish, and gay?

New recruits will still wear the traditional Ku Klux Klan costume of white robes and conical hoods, and be required to partake in secret proceedings.

Adrees A. Latif/Reuters/File
A Ku Klux Klan member is seen during a demonstration in Huntsville, Texas in 2000.

It's been likened to a Dave Chappelle skit or an April Fools' Day prank gone bad.

The Ku Klux Klan, the oldest hate group in America, notorious for violently targeting blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and immigrants, is getting a makeover. Now welcome: blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and Hispanics.

That's right. According to reports, one of Montana's most well-known white supremacists has re-branded his branch of the KKK to reflect what he says is the future of the organization. John Abarr's new Rocky Mountain Knights is diversifying its message and its membership and is now recruiting minorities.

"White supremacy is the old Klan. This is the new Klan. The KKK is for a strong America," Mr. Abarr told Montana's Great Falls Tribune.

Apparently, Abarr, who in 2011 ran for Congress “to draw attention to the fact that white people are becoming a minority and losing our political power and way of life," has had a change of heart.

Last year he met with members of the NAACP in Casper, Wyo. That meeting inspired him to organize a peace summit with the NAACP and other religious groups next year – and to reform the KKK, according to the Tribune. 

"I thought it was a really good organization," Abarr told the NAACP. "I don't feel we need to be separate."

Not everything will change. New recruits will still wear the traditional Klan costume of white robes and conical hoods, and be required to partake in secret proceedings. New members must agree to the new Klan branch's mission, to fight against "a new world order," and for "a strong America."

Not surprisingly, Abarr and his rebranded KKK have attracted some incredulous responses.

"If John Abarr was actually reformed, he could drop the label of the KKK," Rachel Carroll-Rivas, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, told the Tribune. "They know that their beliefs aren't popular, so they try to appear moderate. I think it's just a farce."

Jimmy Simmons, one of the NAACP representatives who met with Abarr last year and is supportive of Abarr's new initiative, admitted that "the use of the letters KKK instills fear in people."

Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League, said Abarr is probably the only member of the Rocky Mountain Knights.

“He’s one guy, pretending to start a Klan group,” Pitcavage told the New York Daily News.

Even the Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America, Bradley Jenkins, was dubious. 

"That man's going against everything the bylaws of the constitution of the KKK say," he said. "He's trying to hide behind the KKK to further his political career."

While the Klan enjoyed a membership in the millions in the 1920s and tens of thousands in the 1960s, it is small, fractured, and scattered today, with estimates putting its national membership between 5,000 and 8,000.

"Today's Klan groups have been riven by internal conflicts over territory and personality, and by operating in an environment much less welcoming to their political goals," reports NPR.

As such, Abarr's "new and improved" Rocky Mountain Knights may be a bizarre new strategy to expand the Klan and rebrand it into a softer, gentler, less "Klan-ish" KKK.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.