A sad little hate group, thankfully, fades away
It’s a lonely and worrying business being racist. There are no signposts guiding the way to the Baptist church that is the headquarters of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, in the backwoods of Harrison, in northern Arkansas.
A local farmer says to cross a small bridge, turn left at a hump and then follow the dirt track down a few miles. “You won’t find any blacks around here,” he laughs.
Past a rundown farmhouse with a shiny new black hog parked outside, this is deep Confederate country. Probing further, past ratty chook pens, there are white-tailed deer grazing openly off the track, seeming to carry the conceited knowledge that hunting season doesn’t begin till September 15.
Having overshot the turnoff to Klan HQ, another local riding a quad bike points to a track that leads up to an unmarked private hillside property.
Driving up, signs announce the place is under 24-hour surveillance. Past a phalanx of what appears to be Confederate, Arkansas and Klan flags, there’s a handful of cars parked and no one in sight.
A big head-shaven man with a goatee steps out of a building. He says Pastor Robb is interstate but his daughter, Rachel Pendergraft, is holding the service.
She is reading Ezekiel from the Good Book. It’s the story of the Valley of Bones, in which the prophet asks the Lord whether dry bones can be born again. The Lord says they can.
For Ms Pendergraft, the analogy is that the subjugated white people of America can, too, rise again.
The crowd is mostly elderly. They are long past having children, and live in an almost exclusively white area, yet worry that blacks and Hispanics are diluting their bloodline.
At this very moment, around 11am on Sunday morning, unbeknown to Ms Pendergraft and myself, a white supremacist named Wade Page, 40, is shooting dead six Sikh worshippers in a temple outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Wade would also shoot a police officer with his semi-automatic pistol before shooting himself in the head. Ms Pendergraft, whose sermons are broadcast on the internet, finished with a call for all Anglo and Germanic peoples to rally.
The K-KKK call themselves the open face of the Klan, even though they actively conceal themselves in a tiny rural community. From whom, you wonder? There is, to the best of my knowledge, no recorded act of domestic terrorism in the US committed by an African-American.
There are two young adult women playing with kids in the church vestibule. They are Ms Pendergraft’s daughters, Charity and Shelby, who briefly made a name for themselves with their band, Heritage Connection, which produced the CDs “Aryan Awakening” and “Standing Our Ground”.
Charity shows non-intuitive piano skills as she bangs along woodenly to a final hymn.
Ms Pendergraft advises that the congregation would rather not be photographed.
She comes across as a friendly person. Her group only pointy wears hoods once a year. They burn crosses now and then, but it’s just an old Scottish legacy. They do not advocate violence against non-whites.
They promote the rebuilding of white America, to restore a nation (you’ll have to forget native Americans ever existed) that was founded as a white Christian country.
“Our people are facing worldwide genocide,” Ms Pendergraft tells The Punch. “Our numbers are dwindling fast. We’re a global minority. The demographics are changing very quickly.
“I’m a white mother and with children and grandchildren and other people like people me are concerned about a world they perceive to be committing a genocide against our people.
“Anyone who has a love for something, they hate the idea of that person or entity ceasing from existence.”
The Southern Law Poverty Centre, which defends death-row prisoners and monitors racist groups across the US with its famous “Hate Map”, identifying both white and black extremist groups, has been separately watching both Page and the K-KKK organisation, also known as the Knights Party, for many years.
“Wade Michael Page was a member of two racist skinhead bands—End Apathy and Definite Hate, a band whose album ‘Violent Victory’ featured a gruesome drawing of a disembodied white arm punching a black man in the face,” the organisation noted after the Sikh massacre.
“It comes in the midst of explosive growth on the radical right – growth fueled by America’s increasing diversity, its economic problems and the election of the nation’s first black president.”
It is true that Barack Obama’s election has awakened some extremism. It is probably even truer that his presence has enhanced greater tolerance.
Judging by the attendance at the Sunday church/Klan meeting, this organisation has been virtually destroyed by the same white apathy that the Sikh killer, Page, was so worried about.
To see it another way, it is not apathy at all. It is outright, widespread rejection.
By rote, Ms Pendergraft rattles off the key points. She cites the Geneva Convention definition of genocide as “any systematic planned repopulation of people or coordinated plan to diminish a birthright”.
It happened in Rwanda, she says, and it is happening in America.
Asked if Rwanda made her sad, she says: “It does make me sad, it does. That was happening when I was a young mother. I felt extreme pity for those people, a mother finding half a body of her child floating down a river. I would have the same empathy I would hope any other would feel for a human being.”
Ms Pendergraft claims that certain black leaders in the US support her, but does not name them. She is probably right. There are black separatist groups, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which sometimes gather in Manhattan’s Times Square, to attack the white devils.
But that does not mean they and her group agree on anything apart from separatism.
“The people I come across,” she says, “which I believe represent the vast majority of those with white separatist beliefs, they are motivated by love for their people and has nothing to do with hatred for anyone else or denying anyone else to ability to succeed in life.”
If the US became how you wanted it to be, would there be room for black people?
“Whether they choose as part of the solution to repatriate to their ancestral homelands, I don’t know the answer. People need to become educated on the issues and solve it together. The battle for us now is to even get people to recognize there’s a problem in the first place.”
Therein is the concession of her own organisation’s shrinkage. Most people can’t see the issue.
Ms Pendergraft says she never worries she is just plain wrong. “No. How can loving my people be wrong? I would not comprehend not loving my kids, or my grandkids. No.”
The election of Barack Obama, she says, did not shock her at all. “It wasn’t anything out of the blue. It was a matter of course.” President Obama proved everything she and her father have been saying: whites are being swamped.
As the sad little crowd gathers for lunch, I am invited to leave—after Ms Pendergraft asks her brother to take a photo of us together. This is not a treasured memory, I think, but insurance should I not prove to be a reporter but a hate enthusiast looking to come back and wreak terror.
The problem, it seems, is not racial hate. It’s just hate, full stop. The Colorado Black Knight gunman showed that.
This little Klan church in the Arkansas backwoods thinks it’s got love. But they love themselves, not others. Their Bibles are no more than dust in their hands.
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