After Swift Reckoning for the Confederate Flag in the South, the KKK Tries to Preserve Its Heritage

Ku Klux Klan members depart the state capitol building under police escort following a Klan demonstration on July 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.
Ku Klux Klan members depart the state capitol building under police escort following a Klan demonstration on July 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.

On a boiling afternoon this week on the outskirts of Atlanta, the Ku Klux Klan hunted white people in a turquoise convertible.  

Roy Pemberton, a 62-year-old Klansman who prominently wore the group’s so-called “blood drop” cross on his hat, trolled the suburban parking lots of Wal-Marts, Home Depots and Krogers looking for fresh recruits. But he also had a more immediate concern: a call to join Saturday’s rally protesting South Carolina’s recent move to yank the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds and banish it to a museum.

“We’re just trying to save our heritage,” he told KKK potentials, almost all middle-aged white men, handing them two business cards with the group’s hotline number. “Racial Purity is America’s Security!” one said.

Pemberton barked at one man who wanted nothing to do with him: “They take our flag, soon they’ll take your wife.”

The Loyal White Knights of the KKK, which calls itself the largest chapter in the United States, held a rally in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday afternoon to protest the removal of the flag, which was spearheaded by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.

The New Black Panther Party showed up earlier in the day to protest, on the north side of the statehouse. Members encouraged the hundreds who came to keep things peaceful, while also encouraging African Americans to take ownership of their problems and fight back when necessary.

When Klansmen arrived later, the groups clashed intermittently. A man wearing a Confederate flag vest was slugged in the head, and a skirmish erupted. Police could be seen breaking up other fights, detaining people and hauling them away. One group stole a Confederate flag and sought to set it on fire before police intervened.

The Klan rally, which ended around 4 p.m., featured no speakers but chants of “White power!” from the around 100 who attended.

Saturday’s event followed a swift reckoning for the Confederate flag that began soon after photos of Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof surfaced, showing him displaying banner long associated with racial hate groups like the Klan. Roof, an apparently self-radicalized loner who grew up in and around South Carolina’s diverse capital city, is accused of killing nine people praying at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., last month.

Retailers quickly moved to pull the flag and other merchandise off physical and digital shelves, and southern states from Virginia to Texas are assessing how to deal with their ubiquitous Confederate memorials, symbols, roads and schools.

The swift, seemingly overnight backlash has exposed the South’s raw struggles with race as the debate couples the symbolic dawn of a new era with the ugly vestiges of a past that sometimes seem not so far behind.

The Klan rally, while perhaps more a demonstration for the media than a sign of backwards movement, is a reminder of the South’s relatively slow progress. Tom Turnipseed, a Columbia lawyer who helped bring down the Klan in the state in the 1990s, said he turned during his lifetime from a so-called “genteel segregationist” into an ardent civil rights activist.

“I want [removing the flag] to be a step forward,” he said of the flag’s removal. “(But) the struggle continues. What’s new?”

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Source: The Washington Post | Jeremy Borden

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