KKK holds rally in Memphis Saturday to celebrate white peoples' rights

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - There is a lot to be angry about if you're in the Ku Klux Klan.

As local leader of the Loyal White Knights, Edward the Exalted Cyclops organized a barbecue last month to make plans for Saturday's demonstration to show that white people still have rights.

Edward curses sparingly, drinks rarely, and keeps his hair clipped short -- his tribute to his old-fashioned Christian values. With a voice to match his hulking frame, Edward issues commands, not requests, and rarely bookends his sentences with "please" or "thank you."

Edward asked not to be identified by his full name because of concerns for the safety of his family and his business, which he suspects would suffer if people knew he is in the Klan.

He began his tenure as the highest ranking Klansman in Shelby County, Tenn., with the same massive recruitment campaign that has been happening all over the region for the past six months.

But the campaign exploded after the City Council's February decision to rename three municipal parks: Confederate Park; Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, named after a Confederate lieutenant general and the first Grand Wizard of the KKK; and Jefferson Davis Park, named after the president of the Confederacy.

Some Klansmen wanted to protest the parks' renaming in some "evil" ways," Edward explains between sips of root beer, but he insisted they plan a demonstration instead.

Organizers promise hundreds of Klansmen will descend on Memphis from North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and Maryland.

"There's so many coming, it's hard for me to keep track of 'em," said Imperial Wizard Chris Barker, who is the head of the Loyal White Knights, which has a presence in 15 states, mostly east of the Mississippi.

Barker refers to the rally as a "white unity event," and a protest of the council's attempt "to erase white people out of the history books."

To Barker and Edward, the Klan's agenda is pretty simple: Send the immigrants back where they came from, silence the homosexuals and the communists (known as liberals today), promote sobriety and abstinence, end abortion, and discourage the mingling of races in a way "God never intended."

While Edward and Barker don't dispute the Klan's racist history, they deny they're interested in harassing black people.

"The black race has been here (in America) just about as long as we have," Barker said. "They deserve to be here, too."

If some of the less racially offensive rhetoric offered by the Ku Klux Klan today is surprising, it shouldn't be, said University of Tennessee, Knoxville, lecturer Kelly Baker.

Baker, author of the 2011 book "Gospel According to the Klan," said such tempered messages keep the Klan from "becoming completely irrelevant," but still it always comes back to race.

"There's a kind of focus on white unity and white pride instead of racism, but other Klan groups have also attempted that kind of public relations campaign," she said.

Barker claims that the Klan' rightful reputation should include service to the community. Much of the violence blamed on the KKK was the work of those who claimed they were in the Klan but weren't recognized by the organization, he says.

Two Klan members were found guilty of the murder of four young girls in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. The 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., were also the work of the Klan.

Edward's adult stepdaughter isn't in the KKK, but she and her 2-year-old son have tagged along for the barbecue.

Eventually the talk turns to homosexuality, and Edward's sister qualifies one of her statements by saying that they don't necessarily hate gay people, just homosexuality. Edward rebukes her. Of course we hate 'em, he says.

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