Editor’s Note: This article from 1992 tells a remarkable story of one man’s brave visit to a KKK rally. The stories Lee present serve a cautionary tale: human nature abhors a vacuum. When leaders fail to lead, humanity cries out. And, to paraphrase Steven King, who knows what dread thing will answer.
Bear in mind that this rally took place in 1992. George H.W. Bush was president, and the Golden Age of Ronald Reagan was only 3 years in the past. The United States had just won the Cold War and trounced Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Storm. The World Wide Web was a year from launching. Email was new–on CompuServe or Prodigy or the upstart AOL. The US economy was emerging from short but deep recession.
My Night With the Klan
by Lee A. Presser
At 5:50, one of the uniformed men whom I had engaged in conversation told me that at 6:00 an announcement would be made about the speeches, which he said would be starting at 6:45. Another hour! I had to fill another hour! My heart sank. Could I be with these people for another hour without them becoming suspicious of who I was and what I was doing there? I’d continue talking with people and learning what they believed and why they believed it.
One of the reporters, a fellow of long acquaintance, had come across the street and into the rally. As I passed him he whispered, ”I’m not a reporter, got it.” I acknowledged what he said and told him about the delay until 6:45. He (and the friend he brought) gradually moved over to a nearby fence, hanging out there until the speeches started.
Continuing my rounds I approached another group of men in their late twenties and early thirties. I stopped short at the mention of the word “bomb.” It seems the “feds” had confiscated one of these fellow’s bomb parts. Another chimed in that he could get him replacement parts. No Problem. This was followed by more complaints about how the police are always harassing them and their friends and how unfair it was. Later the conversation drifted into general conversation.
Across the yard I saw Tom Robb engaged in a conversation with a guy in an Aryan logo T-shirt. The guy was half Robb’s age. After coming into earshot, I heard the younger man telling Robb about how he and his buddies had been forced to move out of the apartment. He was homeless. He couldn’t find a job. He had to move back in with his parents, but his parents didn’t understand about white power. Moving closer, I wanted to hear what Tom Robb said to people at a Klan function.
The young man asked Robb how Robb’s parents had felt about white issues. Robb smiled. “My mother knew ‘the truth’ and taught me well. Look at me today.” There more conversation about Robb’s upbringing which was followed by a back and forth chat about the holocaust. Neither of them believed the holocaust (as portrayed in movies and on TV) had occurred. Both of them appeared to hold that opinion as an article of faith. The fellow asked Robb how he felt, as a younger man, when he watched those World War 2 movies. Robb smiled and stated even then he understood the realities of Hollywood’s “slant” on the war. Thinking back to a much earlier time in his life, Tom Robb said to the younger man, “When I was a little boy I would march home and imagine I was leading a long parade of Nazis.” Looking at the two of them talking, I was thinking, “Mr. Robb you grew up to fulfill that dream.”
Having heard enough my gaze moved to the other side of the yard where a beautiful mature woman was sitting by herself on a bench. She was well dressed and wore a stylish little hat. She seemed completely out of place. The seat next to her had just been vacated so I slid in next to her with the words, “I love your hat.” She could tell I was being sincere and we began a very friendly conversation. This woman definitely did not look like she belonged at a meeting of the Klan.
[Tweet “I was thinking, “Mr. Robb you grew up to fulfill that dream.””]
During our talk, I discovered she was a professional woman, an insurance broker. Further conversation revealed that, she had come to hear what the Klan had to say. She was not a member and had never been to a Klan meeting before. As we continued talking I learned she lived in the town just south of mine. A guy who was sitting further down the bench interrupted to say he lived in the town just to my north. A mother holding her five-month-old on a bench in front of ours faded into and out of our conversation. There followed talk between the women about the joys and pains of motherhood. Through the crowd I heard similar conversations. The crazier people I met earlier talked about violence but most of the crowd, young and old, spoke about wanting a decent life for their family; a home, a job, security.
At 6:45pm the meeting was called to order. Recorded music had been playing since I arrived. The final tunes were stirring renditions of patriotic songs including America the Beautiful. There was a podium with a microphone and large speakers. The first speaker moved to the speaker’s area.
This gentleman, whose name I did not hear, was middle-aged, had a soft smile, and knew how to speak to a crowd. The meeting was officially underway. He thanked Terry Taviner, the owner of the house, for the use of his yard. He reflected on how this was the first open Klan meeting in Madison County in over three decades but he hoped it would be an annual event. He mentioned the recent death of an influential Klan member and invited people to the memorial service which was 500 miles away. I learned many of the people at the rally travel from state to state attending meetings and memorials.
When the speaker finished his announcements he turned his mike over to a younger man. During that quiet moment we could hear the chants from the student protestors across the street. The young man was the son of the featured speaker, Thomas Robb. In his middle twenties, the younger Robb spoke well, had a warm smile, a pleasing manner, and looked like he belonged in his Klan/Nazi uniform. He briefly covered his list of announcements and quickly moved on to introduce the next speaker, Ed Novak from Chicago, a state leader and a great Klansman.
Ed Novak, bearded and in his thirties, was also in uniform. Moving to the mike, he immediately dealt with the protesters’ chants. Turning to the rally crowd he suggested the next time we hear that noise from the other side of the street “all of you should answer with a cry of White Power.” Soon thereafter we heard the protesters shout and over a hundred voices responded with a mighty yell of “White Power.” This provoked another chant from the street. That sent the rally crowd into a frenzy of “White Power” yells. I could see the right arm being raised by many in the crowd making the responding yells. The younger members of the crowd were really getting into it with repeated quick shouts.
Finally, the speaker called the crowd back to order. He reminded them that those yelling in the streets for black rights wouldn’t last a day in an inner city neighborhood. He talked about trouble in Chicago caused by minorities, the cost of welfare, and the cost of housing them in local jails and in state prisons. He talked about how much tax money was wasted supporting “those people.” He spoke about his affiliation with the Klan and the pleasure of knowing the truth about why America was in trouble. He pointed out that due to our open border with Mexico many Mexicans were in our country, taking our jobs and shifting the political balance of power in several states and in many large cities. Then he said Mexico City has the largest population of Mexicans in the world, followed by Los Angles and Chicago. He asked, “Why is it that the number two and three population centers of Mexicans are in the United States?”
The crowd stirred at that realization. He said that at the current rate of immigration and minority births, within a generation or two at the most white people will not be the majority in America. The crowd did not like to hear that kind of talk. “America was founded by white people for white people,” Mr. Novak shouted. He also attacked the idea of gay rights being equal to the rights of Christians. “In the beginning God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” he said in a very disapproving way. On that point, I thought he sounded like several prominent Republicans at their 1992 convention.
Ed Novak spoke for about 30 minutes. He had the crowd yelling “White Power, White Power” throughout his talk. One young man, not in uniform, particularly enjoyed the yelling, the raising of the right arm, and the White Power subject matter. This young man had wildness in his eyes, as did dozens of others in the crowd who were clearly ready for action. If Novak were to have given an order it would have been carried out immediately. If he had instructed these people to attack the 10-15 members of the press or the student protestors on the other side of the street, they would have responded. The press was not their friend. Several times before the speeches started I heard people give example after example of how the Klan story which appeared in the newspaper or on TV was corrupted and did not represent then Klan they knew.
But Ed Novak did not give any orders. He stated his case for creating laws which would protect whites from minorities. “White Laws” would keep the Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and “Queers” in their proper place. “White Laws” would help a decent Christian family man get a job. Getting and keeping jobs in the white community were thoroughly discussed by both the crowd before the start of the speeches and by the speakers on the platform. It was said that because of liberal changes in the law, a white man does not stand a chance for a job when in competition with a minority. The man was a good speaker but certainly not a spellbinder. During the speech, I got up to look around the house at the chanting crowd across the street. What surprised me was how few protestors there were.
To be continued