ABC57 Special Report: Stopping the Hate

A fiery cross is firmly planted in the history of Indiana.

“In the 1920’s, about one in three white men in Indiana were part of the Ku Klux Klan,” Professor of Sociology at The University of Notre Dame Rory McVeigh said. “Local business people would hang signs saying, ‘shop with a Klansman’.”

McVeigh, who has written about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, believes economic disruptions like the housing crisis in 2008, or the COVID pandemic today, drive interest in hate groups like the KKK.

“There's this sense of loss that organizers will try to appeal to. We're losing something that's rightfully ours, that's being taken away,” McVeigh said. “It can generate this sense of anger, of wanting to do something without knowing what to do.”

In Osceola, Indiana, a 5-acre ranch used to be the headquarters of the National Church of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Grand Dragon Railton Loy used his property as a gathering place for white supremacist groups from across the country. Loy died, and neighbors say the property hasn’t been an issue since. Today, the Klan is decentralized, splintered, and it’s nearly impossible to estimate the size of its membership. But a KKK leader we spoke with assures ABC57, the Klan is still active, with members here in our region.

National director of the Knights Party of the Ku Klux Klan, Thomas Robb, insists he’s not a racist. Talking to ABC57 from the group’s headquarters in Alabama, Robb said the KKK is a political organization, not a terrorist group.

“There is a continuing awakening of white people,” Robb said. 

Even though KKK fliers and recruitment letters are still found in Michiana communities, including just last month in St. Joseph County, Robb said today’s Klan is less focused on its membership growing, and more focused on its message spreading.

The Knights Party website advocates for fairly common policy positions; like closing the border, 2nd amendment rights, and America-first trade policies. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups like the KKK, says Robb, as the successor of David Duke, has tried to re-frame the Ku Klux Klan as a, "white civil rights" organization, while spreading the same racist views as the KKK of the past.

“My views are not on the fringe at all. That’s why more and more people across the country are becoming aware,” Robb said.

“Do you think people of color should be allowed to vote?,” ABC57’s Tim Spears asked.

“Do I think people of color should be allowed to vote? No,” Robb said. 

“Modern hate groups today are rooted in the same hateful ideology they were 20, 30, 40 years ago,” Anti-Defamation League Midwest regional director David Goldenberg said. “The way they operate and function today though is very different.”

The ADL’s H.E.A.T. Map tracks state-by-state cases of racist and extremist activity including murders, terror attacks, and white supremacist events. Since 2016, there are 213 recorded incidents in Indiana, with the most common issue being white supremacist groups distributing propaganda.

In the last year, the ADL has tracked at least 70 incidents of white supremacist propaganda being distributed in Indiana.

Goldenberg said modern hate groups will use patriotic-sounding names as camouflage; masking the same beliefs held by the Klan. Some of the organizations considered hate groups by the SPLC have names like “Patriot Front” and “American Freedom Party”.

“We have to recognize when people are spewing hate, bigotry, and racism, and [xenophobia], and turning them into policy positions. Those are more dangerous,” Goldenberg said. “Politics sometimes gives cover, gives credence, gives permission, to those who share these extremist views to say them even more.”

The FBI says the greatest domestic threat can come from a single individual who’s radicalized online.

“You look at the most recent mass shootings,” Goldenberg said. “Those individuals were not card carrying members of a hate group. But they were people that were inspired and had online profiles.”

Goldberg says the same online inspiration helped fuel the rioting through the capitol on January 6th.

“You had people who were showing up to protest the results of the election, but they were intermingling with known extremist groups who take advantage of the emotion and instability,” Goldenberg said. “Before you know it, everyone is in the middle of it.”

The Department of Justice says the Oath Keepers stormed the capitol looking to capture members of congress to try for treason and election fraud. Prosecuting documents allege Oath Keepers stashed weapons at a nearby hotel, with an armed “quick reaction force” ready to respond.

The ADL’s Center on Extremism says about a quarter of the individuals identified in the capitol insurrection have direct ties to known right-wing extremist groups.

“Tying ideology, with politics, with real life action; you kind of saw that cocktail play out,” Goldenberg said. “What occurred on January 6th was the most predictable domestic terrorist attack to happen on U.S. soil.”

A newly-released intelligence assessment from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security points to racially and ethnically motivated extremism as the number one threat of domestic terror attacks in the near future.

“The [KKK] is not very strong or organized, but a lot of other groups have risen up and sort of taken the place, adjusting to modern times,” McVeigh said. “They are part of the fabric of America. Something we have to push back against if we want a more equal or more just society."

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