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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More