Ku Klux Klan leaving flyers at homes, will target Carroll County next, leaders say
HARRISON -- A faction of the Ku Klux Klan plans to begin recruiting members from Carroll County this month, Klan officials said.
The Virginia-based group, dubbed the Imperial White Knights, is one of scores of groups throughout the country claiming the mantle of the Klan.
The White Knights' Imperial Wizard, Chuck Harless, estimated there were about 240 White Night Klansmen throughout the nation. However, he said they were beginning an aggressive recruitment campaign to increase that number.
The organization has already begun recruiting in nearby Harrison and rural Boone County. There, Klansmen passed out some 300 flyers last Saturday night, alarming residents and city leaders alike.
The flyers featured an image of a hooded Klansman, pointing in Uncle Sam fashion at the viewer.
They read, "Neighborhood Watch: Are there troubles in your neighborhood? Call the Imperial White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan today!" and listed the imperial wizard's contact information.
Patti Methvin, who leads the Harrison Race Relations Task Force, called the flyers "horrible."
"It's not something we're used to having happen over here," she said.
Of course, the City of Harrison is no stranger to the Klan. The largest KKK faction in the nation, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan -- otherwise known as the Knight Party -- has been headquartered just outside Harrison since the late 1980s.
That group's leader, Thomas Robb, maintains a P.O. Box in the city. That fact, along with a pair of ugly race riots in the first decade of the 20th century, earned Harrison an unenviable reputation as "national headquarters of the Klan" and a hotbed of racial prejudice.
"It costs us a lot in traffic," Harrison Mayor Jeff Crockett says. "We lose a lot of visitors that come here and vacation (in Branson). ... People pass straight through and don't bother stopping."
Methvin, Crockett, and others have worked diligently in recent years to change that reputation.
Just last year, the city celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by hosting a statewide summit on non-violence. It was the first time the city had publicly celebrated the holiday.
Their case hasn't been helped by recent media scrutiny of Freeland Dunscombe, a Harrison barber running for the Boone County Quorum Court. Dunscombe, who is married to Robb's granddaughter, says he is not a Klan member. However, according to a recent article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he has spoken at two Klan conferences in the past five years and holds views that align closely with those of the Knights Party.
Though they don't appreciate being associated with Robb's group, city leaders said they were glad the existing Klansmen were, at least, fairly inconspicuous
"To give Robb a little bit of credit," Crockett said, "he says he is trying to promote a 'kinder, gentler Klan' -- if there is such a thing."
Methvin added that Robb's group does not characteristically use the image of the hood and cloak. This, she said, was what she found particularly "horrible" about the White Knight flyers.
Still, the Knight Party is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization noted for its legal victories over the Klan. The center monitors hate groups -- defined as having "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics" -- and shares intelligence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The White Knights are not currently listed in the center's database of hate. However, their website links to organization that are.
Speaking Thursday, the White Knights' Imperial Wizard, Chuck Harless, said one of the main reasons his organization wants to expand their influence in the area is because they feel Robb has "turned his back" on traditional Klan values.
Among his grievances, Harless listed the abandonment of the cloak and hood.
To this criticism, Robb responded, "We're not re-enactors of the Ku Klux Klan," adding "We (still) wear a robe in the cross lighting ceremony." He called it a "silly issue."
On more serious issues, the two men actually seemed to be in relative agreement.
Harless called his group a white, patriotic, Christian based organization.
They are not a hate group, he said, and do not condone breaking the law or using violence -- except in cases of self defense.
In fact, Harless said he did not believe the Ku Klux Klan had ever promoted violence or interracial hatred -- a belief that, undoubtedly, would be disputed by many.
"You will never once find a photo of a klansman hanging someone from a tree," Harless said.
"A true klansman has nothing but love in his heart for his race, for his country and for his god," he said. "We are about the love for our race, preserving our heritage."
They don't want to take away the rights of other races to take pride in their heritage, he said. They simply want the right to take pride in their own "Western, Christian Civilization."
"We want the traditional ways of life brought back to the fabric of America," Harless said.
While the Knights say they are not a hate group, there are things the group says they hate.
Among these are homosexuality, Affirmative Action, the elimination of Christianity from the public school system, and interracial sex.
"You can have black friends," he said, "just don't date them."
Harless said illegal immigration was also a "hot button" issue for the group, and a primary reason for their expansion efforts in Northwest Arkansas.
He referred to the "illegal immigration problem" in the region.
"We do not know if they're murderers, racists, sex offenders, gang members or drug dealers," he said.
Harless said the response to their recruitment efforts in Boone County had been voluminous, and mostly positive.
He said the White Knights' grand dragon, whose name he would not release, had been inundated with calls from those who were interested in signing up.
Methvin, on the other hand, said she had received a number of calls from people complaining about the flyers. City Hall also received complaints.
"They have every right to speak their mind," Methvin said.
However, she added, "We want to take this seriously because you never know what a group like that is capable of."
She said she was not too concerned, however, because she didn't believe the group would make inroads.
"No," she said, "Not in Harrison, not in our community."
"I think some of the perception is that there are klan members like on that flyer running around town and that we have a parade every weekend," she said. "That's just not true."