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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs