News / USA

    Wyoming Civil Rights Leader Defends Meeting with Klan

    Reuters
    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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora