I believe Klansman John Abarr (pictured) when he says he’s “evolved” from his White supremacist views, after meeting with members of the NAACP in Casper, Wy., last year. On that meeting, Abarr explained to the Great Falls Tribune, “I thought it was a really good organization. I don’t feel we need to be separate.” Such is the magic of having intimate interactions with members of the community you typically only consider in the context of condemnation. They stop becoming caricatures, and instead, actual people — a direct assault on one’s unfounded hatred.
Keeping with the theme of growth, next summer Abarr will organize a peace summit with the NAACP and other religious groups. It’s a nice step toward netting penance on a personal level, but his new vision for a new and inclusive Ku Klux Klan is a fool’s errand.
Dubbing the new KKK group “The Rocky Mountain Knights,” Abarr assures that it is a Ku Klux Klan that will not to discriminate against anyone based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.
Abarr wants a KKK that does not continue to vilify those who are Black, Latino, Jewish, and/or gay — you know, everything the Ku Klux Klan has always stood for.
According to Abarr, “The KKK is for a strong America. White supremacy is the old Klan. This is the new Klan.”
He speaks as if he’s reached the end of a very important after-school special on anti-discrimination. You could almost dismiss his naïveté as cute.
Already, Abarr has been challenged on his notion of a nouveau Klan — notably from members of the very organizations he will meet next summer. They know the KKK name evokes fear. They also know that if one is truly about reform, you would abandon the KKK moniker altogether. While others consider it nothing more than a farce.
Then there is the Klan itself, who is reportedly furious over Abarr’s plans and the publicity it has since generated: Bradley Jenkins, imperial wizard of the United Klans of America, has dismissed Abarr, explaining, “That man’s going against everything the bylaws of the constitution of the KKK say. He’s trying to hide behind the KKK to further his political career.”
Translation: Don’t taint our hate.
It’s hilarious how the imperial wizard of the United Klans of America has a name that screams Lawry’s seasoned salt and BBQ ribs on paper. That said, Jenkins is correct in that Abarr’s new vision does not mesh with the mission of the KKK and the history behind it. However, Abarr is not unique in trying to envision a new Klan.
Years ago, I was asked about the KKK’s attempt to “rebrand” itself. A chapter sought to distance itself from the “hate monger” tag and convey a more “positive” message. Yes, the softer side of White supremacy.
Can you imagine?
Neither can I.
There have been other attempts in those four years. The story always speaks to some person trying to soften the way we look at a terrorist organization. Abarr does a much better job with his effort, partially because he may genuinely want to no longer be full of hatred. However, the end result will be the same as the others: failure.
There are some groups that simply cannot change. Too much has happened. Too many lives have been lost. The stain has long been set. Why bother pretending anyone can see past it?
If Abarr wanted reform, he could very well start anew and launch his own organization. There are young activists of color now who opted not to work within the current civil rights organizations, choosing instead to create their own. Word to the Dream Defenders.
Abarr could be doing this in earnest or he might indeed be nothing more than an opportunist. It doesn’t matter either way. When it comes to the question of “can something be changed?” and that something is the KKK, the answer is the group is evil, will always be known as such, and all those White supremacists are parasites to humanity.
The end, but nice try.