Wyoming recently hosted what's believed to be the first-ever formal meeting between the venerable black civil rights group the NAACP and the infamous white supremacist organization the Ku Klux Klan. That makes the encounter historic — though it certainly doesn't signal a burying of the hatchet.
The secret Aug. 31 meeting in Casper, Wyo., included local NAACP leader Jimmy Simmons and John Abarr, a KKK organizer from Great Falls, Mont. The meeting wasn't sanctioned by the regional or national NAACP, but it was instigated by Simmons, who wanted to talk about Klan literature being distributed in Gillette, Wyo., about 130 miles north of Casper, and reported beatings of black men out in public with white women.
The United Klans of America did sanction the meeting, imperial wizard Bradley Jenkins told the Associated Press from Birmingham, Ala. Abarr said that Jenkins was so enthusiastic about the meeting that he overruled the UKA's Imperial Council so it could take place.
At the end of the meeting, Simmons gamely asked Abarr if he wanted to join the NAACP. "I wouldn't have a problem with joining the NAACP," he said quickly, plunking down a $50 bill — the $30 registration fee and a $20 donation — and filling out the application Simmons handed him. Abarr said he's already a member of the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center. But he didn't return the courtesy to Simmons or his NAACP colleagues. "You have to be white to join the Klan," he told the AP.
The Casper Star-Tribune's write-up of the meeting is kind of amazing. Really, read the whole report. In the meantime, here are some highlights:
- Simmons originally thought about holding a rally to raise awareness of the Gillette attacks, but decided on contacting the KKK instead. "If you want to talk about hate, get a hater," Simmons said. "Let him tell you something about hate."
- Abarr wants the Northwest — Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho — to secede and form a white nation. How would they break away from the U.S.? the NAACP team asked. "Legally, hopefully," Abarr responded, adding that the blacks already there wouldn't be forced to leave. Heavily black states like Georgia should band together and secede, too, Abarr offered.
- Abarr is in favor of some segregation — white cops in white neighborhoods, for example — but opposed to hate crimes like the beatings in Gillette... and also interracial marriage. "Because we want white babies," he explained.
- Abarr likes being in the KKK "because you wear robes, and get out and light crosses, and have secret handshakes," he told Simmons and colleagues. "I sort of like it that people think I'm some sort of outlaw."
- Abarr insisted that the KKK isn't violent, and hasn't been since maybe the late 1800s. Any KKK violence is committed by thugs outside of official Klan groups, he insisted. The NAACP's Mel Hamilton isn't buying it. "It's obvious you don't know the history of your organization," Hamilton said. "It's obvious to me that you're not going out and talking about the good — you're not talking about inclusion, you're talking about exclusion. And it's obvious to me you don't know what you are."
Abarr was born and raised in Wyoming, the son of a cowboy, and once belonged to a white supremacist clique in Casper. "It was just me and two skinheads," he told the NAACP team. Abarr says he has family ties to the Klan, and joined himself at age 18, intent on overthrowing the U.S. government.
Abarr said that he married a liberal woman, and his kids were raised as liberals, free to choose their own direction in life. In 1989, he worked as a campaign manager for a white separatist named William Daniel Johnson, who was running for the Wyoming U.S. House seat vacated by Dick Cheney when he joined the George H.W. Bush administration. Among Johnson's policy proposals was a Constitutional amendment limiting citizenship to white people.
In the 1990s, Abarr tried to join the re-election campaign of Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and the Eastern Montana College Young Republicans, but both groups rejected him because of his KKK ties. In 2002, Abarr himself tried out for public office, losing a GOP primary for a local race. In 2011, calling himself an ex-Klansman, Abarr considered a run for Congress from Montana, but dropped the idea due to lack of support.
Now, along with recruiting white people into the Klan, Abarr is working toward a degree in business administration. Recruiting has really picked up since President Obama was elected, he told the NAACP group, with most of the new Klansmen angry, violent guys in their 20s and 30s. "What I like to do is recruit really radical kids, then calm them down after they join," he says.
After talking with the NAACP, he added, he may be excommunicated from his local chapter of the Klan. "People are going to call me names for coming down here," Abarr told the NAACP. "You know, I might not even have a group when I get back." It's hard to imagine Jimmy Simmons shedding any tears over that.