News / USA

Wyoming Civil Rights Leader Defends Meeting with Klan

The head of a Wyoming office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is defending talks with a Ku Klux Klan activist, the first known meeting between the oldest civil rights group in the United States and a branch of the white supremacist network.
Jimmy Simmons, president of the NAACP in Casper, Wyoming, said on Wednesday he opened discussions with John Abarr of the United Klans of America because that group has renounced violence and because he felt the best way to gain insight into hate crimes was “to go to a hater.”
The meeting took place under heavy security on Saturday at a hotel in Casper and was criticized by other civil rights organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“It's utterly counterproductive,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the nonprofit center. “This in effect gives unmerited legitimacy to the racist right, and I don't see how any good can come of it.”
Civil rights experts said they could not recall any previous meeting between the NAACP and a branch of the Klan, which has long been associated with hooded, robed night-riders who menaced blacks in the Deep South with cross burnings, lynchings and other acts of violence.
The meeting ended with Abarr paying $30 to join the NAACP, plus a $20 donation.
Simmons said that publicity over the meeting has helped focus much-needed attention on racial slurs and attacks targeting black men who are dating or married to white women in the northeastern Wyoming city of Gillette.
Simmons said he began receiving reports of hate-based crimes against black men in the heart of Wyoming's coal country about seven years ago, but the issue had failed to gain traction with local authorities.
The Gillette Police Department did not respond to several requests for comment on Wednesday. The Casper Star-Tribune newspaper cited police department reports of 10 hate or bias crimes over the past five years, none of them involving assaults on black people.
The issue of race-based harassment came to the fore again last fall when Klan pamphlets were distributed in Gillette neighborhoods, Simmons said.
“This pattern emerged and reemerged. We needed to do something out of the box. To better understand hate language and hate crimes, we opted to go to a hater,” he said.
Simmons first contacted Abarr, a Montana organizer for the United Klans of America, in May, and subsequent periodic communications culminated in Saturday's meeting of Abarr, Simmons and three other officers of the Casper NAACP.
Image makeover
As recounted by Simmons, Abarr told them the United Klans of America was seeking to recast itself in the image of an organization like the NAACP, but with an agenda focused on white rights, pride and history, and the aim of establishing white separatists enclaves in states with predominantly Caucasian populations, such as Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
“They are trying to shed the skin of violence, but they still want a white nation, and people of color are not welcome to join,” said Simmons, 61, who has served as head of the Casper NAACP for 13 years.
Abarr and the Alabama-based United Klans of America did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Abarr was quoted in the Casper Star-Tribune earlier this week as insisting the Klan, despite its adherence to white supremacy and racial separation, does not condone hate violence.
“What I like to do is recruit really radical kids, then calm then down after they join,” he was quoted as telling NAACP officials during their meeting. “I like it because you wear robes, and get out and light crosses, and have secret handshakes. I like being in the Klan - I sort of like it that people think I'm some sort of outlaw.”
The newspaper also said Abarr, despite agreeing to sign up as a member of the NAACP, declined to ask if any of the NAACP members present wished to join the KKK.
“You have to be white to join the Klan,” he said.
According to literature on its website, the group encourages its white-only members to separate themselves from other races, to seek “white fellowship,” and to stop supporting minority-owned businesses and wear Confederate apparel.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Potok said he was incredulous about a “kinder, gentler klan,” though he characterized contemporary members of the KKK as a far less vicious than their predecessors.
The Ku Klux Klan has seen a sharp decline in members compared with its original heyday during the era of Reconstruction following the U.S. Civil War, and a resurgence in the 1920s, Potok said.
The Klan flourished again after World War Two and violently opposed the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s.
The KKK has fragmented into about 30 different klans in the United States, operating 163 local “klaverns” with fewer than 6,000 members nationwide, Potok said.
Abarr was the campaign manager in 1989 for a white nationalist, William Daniel Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in Wyoming vacated by Dick Cheney when he was appointed Secretary of Defense during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, Potok said.
Johnson proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that sought to deport blacks and other people of color from the United States, he said.
“It's hard for me to believe the KKK is all about white pride,” Simmons said, “since we know it's a group that historically has been synonymous with violence.”

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs