Once one of the largest and most active Klan groups in America, the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has more recently gained a kind of "Keystone Kops" reputation on the white supremacist scene for its bumbling ways. As disorganized as the Indiana-based group may be, it is still dangerous, as evidenced by a 2001 murder and plot linked to National Knights members in North Carolina.
In Its Own Words
"What We Believe. The WHITE RACE: The irreplaceable hub of our nation, our Christian Faith, and the high levels of Western Culture and Technology."
— Nation Knights website
"Our God, we as KLANSMAN acknowledge our dependence on You and Your loving kindness toward us. May our gratitude be full and constant and inspire us to walk in Your ways. Let us never forget that each Klansman, by his conduct and spirit determines his own destiny, good or bad. May he forsake the bad and strive for the good as truly being in the image of God. Keep us in the powerful bond and fraternal Union of Klannish fidelity towards one another and devoted loyalty to this, our great Klan movement. Let us remember that the crowning glory of a Klansman is to serve his race, his community, his nation and his own high principles. God save our Race and help us to be free people, masters of our own destiny."
— "Klansman Kreed," National Knights website
The National Knights of the Klu Klux Klan formed in 1960 as a response to the growing civil rights movement. Originally a collection of splintered Klan groups from several southern states, this loose confederation quickly grew into one of the largest Klan groups in the nation. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the National Knights coordinated a series of cross burnings across the South (reportedly more than 1,000) on March 26, 1960, and claimed between 10,000 and 15,000 members.
From 1963 until his death in 1993, James R. Venable served as the imperial wizard, or national leader, of the National Knights. A Georgia lawyer whose ancestors owned the legendary Stone Mountain near Atlanta — the site of the 1915 rally that inaugurated the so-called "second era" Klan — Venable used the mountaintop and nearby family land for annual rallies that drew members from the National Knights but also other Klan factions. In 1993, the year he died, Venable appointed Railton Loy, a former railroad worker who goes by the Klan name Ray Larsen, to take over as the next imperial wizard. Under Loy's leadership, the National Knights continued to hold rallies at the group's new headquarters outside of South Bend, Ind. But unlike in the past, attendance at these events was sparse. Just 35 supporters showed up for a May 5, 2001, rally, for instance, while over 200 people attended a nearby counter-protest, according to the South Bend Tribune.
Even worse than the low turnouts, these events often proved embarrassing for National Knights, leading to tangles with the law. After the 2001 rally was over, as police escorted the Klan members to their cars and away from the counter-protesters, Klansmen could not remember where they parked. In the confusion, a fight with counter-protesters began that resulted in eight arrests, including that of Loy's son, Grand Dragon (or state leader) Richard Loy. It didn't stop there. Local newspaper coverage of the rally used the elder Loy's real name instead of his preferred alias, Ray Larsen. After Loy allegedly called a reporter, demanding that she use his alias and asking where she lived, he was charged with misdemeanor telephone harassment. Then, the next month, two sheriff's deputies in Williamson County, Texas, were fired after they tried to recruit a fellow officer with an application touting "White Supremacy." Dept. David Gay, 44, and Sgt. Greg Palm, 29, had both worked for the sheriff's office for more than four years.
The National Knights really lived up to their "Keystone Kops" reputation when Railton and Richard Loy hosted what was widely billed as a "Christmas unity rally" on Dec. 8, 2002, at the younger Loy's Osceola, Ind., farm. They hoped to bring together various factions of the contentious world of professional racists, and indeed, they drew members of two far larger groups — the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Aryan Nations, which sent its then-propaganda chief, August Kreis. Close to 50 people gathered for the Saturday afternoon dinner and cross burning. As hungry racists filed into the shed where food was being served, it quickly became apparent that the Loys had forgotten a critical fact: Large numbers of Klansmen are followers of Christian Identity, a racist and anti-Semitic theology that holds that Jews are biologically Satanic and whites are the true Israelites — meaning, according to Identity adherents' reading of the Bible, that whites can't eat pork. When guest Klansmen strolled into the shed and were confronted by a dead pig that by all accounts was barely cooked, several Klansmen and Aryan Nations members recoiled with horror.
The situation became even more ridiculous. As the gathered haters circulated and clucked about the culinary faux pas — and while a red-suited "Klanta Klaus" worked the crowd nearby — some got to wondering why Rick Loy had a badly swollen lip and two missing front teeth. Soon enough, the story came out, provoking a fresh round of mirth. After being presented with a riot shield that was alleged to be bulletproof, Loy had apparently decided to put the matter to a test, firing a round into the shield at close range. Unsurprisingly, the bullet ricocheted off the shield — which stood up to the tryout admirably — and hit Loy in the mouth.
Things got worse still. As the climactic moment of the afternoon arrived, Klansmen struggled to set up a giant swastika to burn. It collapsed on the ground. Finally, the Nazi symbol was burned where it lay. Then it was time for the cross. It quickly became apparent that it wasn't going to be possible to get the cross upright for burning — at least not the way it had been constructed. In the end, someone had the bright idea of sawing about 12 feet off the wooden cross' bottom, after which it, too, was finally lit. Not long afterward, the rally then came to an end, and its embarrassed participants headed for home.
Despite its sometimes comical stumbles, the National Knights remains a potentially violent and dangerous group. This fact became obvious on Jan. 1, 2003, when Glen Gautier, a member of the National Knights, confessed to authorities his role in the brutal murder of another Klan member. By his own account, Gautier, who was 50 at the time, had carried out the killing with three other members of two separate but allied Klan chapters, or "klaverns," that roamed the backwoods of semi-rural central North Carolina in 2001, stealing guns, making bombs, plotting murders, and carrying out at least one. His confession triggered parallel state murder and federal gunrunning cases, which have since dragged on for years. In the end, two members of the National Knights pleaded guilty in 2006 to charges in connection with a plot to blow up the Johnston County, N.C., courthouse and kill Sheriff Steve Bizzell, and were sentenced to a year in federal prison after cooperating with authorities. Two months later, in December, a judge found Klan boss and alleged ringleader Charles Barefoot incompetent to stand trial for orchestrating the murder of a fellow Klansman suspected of informing to police.