Founded by David Duke in 1975, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has attempted to put a "kinder, gentler" face on the Klan, courting media attention and attempting to portray itself as a modern "white civil rights" organization. But beneath that veneer lurks the same bigoted rhetoric. The group's leaders, from Duke to current chief Thomas Robb, have been plagued by their own racist views, which inevitably shine through the smokescreen, and by the attacks of other Klan members who view their interest in mainstream media and politics as hypocritical and counterproductive.
In Its Own Words
"Non-whites who reside in America should be expected to conduct themselves according to Christian principles and must recognize that race mixing is definitely wrong and out of the question. It will be a privilege to live under the authority of a compassionate White Christian government."
— The Knights Party website
"[T]here are politicians in Washington D.C. working around the clock chipping away at our liberty, but thanks to the foresight of our founding fathers America has held out the longest against the global, race mixing, homosexual, anti-Christ forces working to wipe out White Christianity the way we have always known it."
— The Knights Party website
"The Mexican birthrate in this country is five times that of white people. The black birthrate is four times larger. America will become a Third World nation if these trends continue. Unless we slow down and cut off immigration by beefing up border control and encourage welfare recipients to have fewer kids, the white population in America will be swamped."
— David Duke in the run-up to the KKKK's 1977 "Border Patrol" operation
"Dats when A'hs does what A'hs want. Dat's also when A'hs kin have da white girls, and da free food stamps."
— KKKK leader Thomas Robb, The White Patriot
"Fear of the Klan will never win our people over but rekindling the love for their heritage will — and love of heritage is what we want. Love of Race, Love of Nation, Love of Faith. This is our Goal — This is our Hope!"
— The Crusader, 2005
In true David Duke style, the foundation of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK) is shrouded in political myth. Duke's claim that the Knights were founded in 1956 by Ed White (a pseudonym for Jim Lindsay) has, however, been largely discredited as a propagandistic attempt by the budding Klan leader to fend off depictions of his group as an inconsequential upstart. The group seems to have first appeared briefly in New Orleans in 1973, with Duke billing himself grand dragon and Jim Lindsay grand wizard. But records show that the KKKK was not formally incorporated in Louisiana until 1975, following Lindsay's murder, when Duke listed himself as founder and national director and his then-wife, Chloe, as secretary.
Duke's attempts to win over the old guard of Klan leaders, both by re-imagining the origins of his group and by reaching out early on to fellow "Klan brothers," belied his revolutionary plans. Famously calling on fellow Klansmen to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms," Duke saw himself as the leader of a slick, new Klan which would captivate the public through political discourse, eschewing the violent methods of the past. Duke thus brought the art of media manipulation to the Klan, wooing mainstream media personalities such as NBC host Tom Snyder and attracting dozens of reporters to write excited stories about the Knights' 1977 "Border Patrol" publicity stunt, a supposed effort to close the U.S.-Mexico border to undocumented entrants that lasted just a few days. Under Duke's management, the Knights opened its doors to women and Catholics (while never giving up entirely on the view that women are, above all else, best utilized for producing white babies). This all served to reinforce the public image of a more modern, educated Klan, an image that Duke reinforced by shunning Klan robes for suits and ties.
Duke also revamped the Klan's particular brand of bigotry. No longer a mere horde of cross-burning minority-haters, the Knights, like many other American hate groups, became "Nazified" — focused on Jews rather than blacks as the primary enemy — with Duke spinning elaborate theories about everything from Jewish control of the Federal Reserve to a Jewish conspiracy behind the civil rights movement. Likewise, the leadership of state KKKK chapters boasted a pantheon of budding neo-Nazi figures, including notorious anti-Semite Don Black in Alabama, White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger in California, and David Lane, a future leader of the terrorist group The Order, in Colorado.
For a while, the Knights prospered, hosting in 1975 one of the largest Klan gatherings in decades in Walker, La. By 1979, Duke had built membership in the KKKK to an estimated 1,500, with another 10,000 non-member supporters. Duke and his tactics were arguably the catalyst for the Knights' growth, but the egocentric leader also posed a constant threat to his group. Even one of the Knights' greatest successes, the Walker rally in 1975, contained the seeds of trouble. In the rally's wake, its organizer, Knights member Bill Wilkinson, quit in disgust over Duke's management of the proceeds. This kind of criticism soon became common, with aides to Duke, also including Metzger and others, eventually alienated by what they portrayed as his corruption, his womanizing and his self-serving desire for personal political glory. A series of schisms rocked the Knights, and by 1980, the breakaway group that Wilkinson had formed following his departure — the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — boasted more members than Duke's KKKK.
Thus, by the time that David Duke left in disgrace, after being caught on camera trying to sell the Knights' membership list, the KKKK was already weakened. That, plus the prosecution of several group leaders including Duke for allegedly inciting a riot at a New Orleans meeting, decimated the Knights. Many of those KKKK members who remained followed Duke to his new, non-Klan group, the National Association for the Advancement of White People, and the KKKK almost entirely collapsed several years later with Don Black's 1981 arrest for conspiring to invade the Caribbean nation of Dominica. Leadership of the weakened KKKK passed to Stanley McCollum and the 1980s saw a decline in Klan activity, with the Knights claiming only a few hundred members when Thom Robb took over in 1989.
Robb, who eschewed the Klannish "Imperial Wizard" title in favor of the more businesslike "National Director," led the group to something of a revival in the early 1990s, even attempting at one point to start a family-oriented Klan camp near the KKKK's new headquarters at his home in Harrison, Ark. Claiming, like Duke, to represent a "kinder, gentler" Klan, Robb followed in Duke's media-exploiting footsteps with the added boon of expanded Internet communications. Robb's was the first Klan site on the Web and he managed to develop a number of linked sites, thus creating the impression of a mushrooming cyber-movement. A gifted public speaker, Robb was also an adherent and pastor of Christian Identity theology who wooed his listeners with speeches embracing a more subtle form of hate cloaked behind white "pride" and Christian compassion. But these promising efforts could not stop a series of schisms similar to those that plagued the KKKK under Duke.
Like Duke, Robb also had a sharp interest in financial matters. He "formalized" KKKK recruitment, abandoning initiation rites in favor of a simple mail-in fee, in return for which members received booklets and tests allowing them to pay for their "promotion" to the next level. Complaints arose that this practice made Klan membership virtually meaningless. The salesmanship exhibited by Robb has sparked other controversies about money management, as well. In 1994, a number of high-ranking members split with Robb amidst accusations that he had made off with telephone hotline funds and a $20,000 donation to the group. These peoples were also highly critical of Robb's "kinder, gentler" approach and went on to found more confrontational Klan factions. One of the splinters that emerged was a Michigan-based group that promptly hosted a more "traditional" Klan rally, hoods and all, in Lafayette, Ind. Ed Novak, an ex-lieutenant of Robb's, founded the Chicago-based Federation of Klans and took with him roughly one third of Robb's membership.
Although weakened since the 1994 split, the KKKK has continued to stage rallies and other events, garnering the most media attention for its involvement in several "free speech" lawsuits. The group was represented by the ACLU in a 1999 Missouri case in which a local KKKK chapter was initially barred from participating in the state's "Adopt-a-Highway" cleanup program (the Adopt-a-Highway technique had been advocated by David Duke himself). And, that same year, it engaged in a failed attempt to underwrite St. Louis, Mo., broadcasts of the National Public Radio new program "All Things Considered." Most recently, the Knights were sued by the conservative tabloid Rhinoceros Times in North Carolina for allegedly inserting Klan leaflets into papers that were then distributed to local residences.
Today, Robb's website continues to bill the Knights, somewhat disingenuously, as "the most active white rights organization in America" (it clearly is not) and still offers Klan membership (and promotion!) for a price. Robb recently began calling his organization "The Knights Party" in an attempt to emphasize what he sees as the need for a softer, more political approach along the lines of David Duke's tactics. In order, apparently, to finance political activity, the Knights website offers numerous wares for sale, such as handcrafted, glazed-ceramic statues of Klansmen.