Domestic Terrorism

Klan and other white nationalist groups splinter and evolve

Years ago, white nationalists were thought to mainly belong to one name-brand group: the Ku Klux Klan.

But in 2015 it’s not that simple. Many groups exist, and there’s not just one Klan anymore either.

For profiles of many of the groups, go to KansasCity.com. But here’s a sample:

Venerable but changing

Once led by David Duke, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has been rebranded in recent years as the Knights Party as it seeks to put a kinder, gentler face on the organization.

Based near Harrison, Ark., leader Thom Robb also has changed his title from grand wizard to the mainstream-sounding national director. Members seldom wear uniforms or robes anymore, and they conduct just one cross lighting ceremony a year.

In December, Robb’s Klan erected a billboard on U.S. 65 in Harrison that says, “It’s Not Racist to (heart symbol) Your People” and declares that “Love Lives Here.” The controversial sign refers readers to a website that links to 24-hour KKK radio programming.

The organization also has reached out to a wider audience: women and youths.

Robb’s daughter, Rachel Pendergraft — the highest-ranking woman in the Klan — is host of “The White Women’s Perspective,” a program that runs several times a week on the KKK’s online radio channel with “news and views of interest to white women.”

Klan reboot

The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was founded around 2005 and is based in Park Hills, Mo., near Potosi.

One of the group’s achievements has been to burn a reusable cross at its quarterly lighting ceremonies, said Frank Ancona, the imperial wizard — and no relation to the Olathe car dealer of the same name.

The group made headlines last fall during protests in Ferguson, Mo. As the city awaited a grand jury’s decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson, Klan members distributed fliers warning they would not tolerate violence by protesters and would use lethal force if necessary to defend themselves. Critics accused them of trying to incite violence.

The Traditionalist Knights were in the spotlight again earlier this month when authorities in Florida arrested three members on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The suspects, current and former employees of the Florida Department of Corrections, allegedly plotted to kill a former inmate after his release from prison. The murder allegedly was to be in retaliation for a fight between the inmate, who is black, and one of the corrections employees.

Falling apart

The Aryan Nations, once one of the best-known racist groups in the country, has struggled since founder Richard Butler died in 2004.

For years, the organization — whose followers have included terrorists, murderers and bank robbers — sponsored an annual World Congress at its headquarters in northern Idaho. The gathering attracted a “who’s who” of neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, Klan members and other white nationalists. But in 1999 the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil lawsuit against Butler and the Aryan Nations on behalf of a woman and her son who said the group’s security guards chased them down and shot at their car after it backfired near the property in 1998, then assaulted and threatened to kill them.

The case resulted in a $6.3 million judgment and the sale of the compound in Hayden Lake.

Since Butler’s death, various Aryan Nations factions have formed as a procession of members has tried to take the reins.

Coming back

The West Virginia-based National Alliance, considered a powerhouse among white nationalist groups in the 1990s, went through turmoil after the death of founder William Pierce in 2002.

Now, after a lengthy legal battle with an offshoot group, former Pierce associates Will Williams and Kevin Strom are reviving the organization — Williams as chairman and Strom as media director.

Williams, a former Green Beret, is a friend of accused killer F. Glenn Miller Jr. The two met, Williams said, when Williams joined Miller’s White Patriot Party in 1985.

Strom, a broadcast engineer, was repudiated by many in the movement after being convicted in 2008 of possessing child pornography. (He said he was falsely accused.)

Williams, who lives in Tennessee, said he gets tired of people calling his organization a hate group.

“Being concerned about the future existence of your people is not hate,” he said.

Moving out of prison

Of all the white supremacist groups, racist prison gangs are showing the biggest growth, experts say.

“They’re a huge problem in some states right now,” said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League. “Even though they originate in the prisons, they are all at least as active on the street as behind bars.”

The gangs, he said, “combine the criminal know-how of organized crime with the hatred of a white supremacist group.” And they’re causing problems that are fueled by the meth epidemic. Most of the gangs not only sell meth but use it as well, Pitcavage said.

Several of the gangs have emerged in Missouri, he said, with names like Sacred Separatist Group, Peckerwood Midwest, Family Values, Joplin Honkeys and Aryan Circle, a Texas-based gang that has moved into the state.

The suspect in a January shooting in Springfield that severely injured a police officer is a man with ties to the Southwest Honkeys gang, an offshoot of the Joplin Honkeys.

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com.

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