In a heavily secured meeting, leaders from the Casper, Wyo., chapters of the NAACP and Ku Klux Klan got together this weekend to discuss violence against Black men in the area. Possibly the most surprising outcome of the meeting was that both parties appeared to be in agreement that the violence needed to stop.
Jimmy Simmons, president of the Casper branch of the NAACP, reportedly reached out to John Abarr of the United Klans of America for the sitdown after a number of African-American men, most of whom had been with White women, were beaten in recent weeks. Abarr said he believed violence against Black men was a hate crime and asserted that his organization was “nonviolent.”
The Klan president also said he is a member of the Amiercan Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and a number of other anti-violence and anti-discrimination organizations. As for being a member of one of the nation’s most storied hate groups, Abarr had some interesting reasoning.
“I like it because you wear robes, and get out and light crosses, and have secret handshakes,” Abarr said, according to the Star-Tribune. “I like being in the Klan — I sort of like it that people think I’m some sort of outlaw.”
Abarr did say he supports segregation as well as a number of what he called “Black states” to be established as well as whites-only states.
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Hate-driven violence may still occur, but those perpetrators are hoodlums, he says. There’s no proof that’s Klan violence, Abarr says. There was certainly violence in the past, but even with the splintered KKK, there’s no proof the Klan is violent any more.
“You’re really confusing me, because I don’t think you understand the seriousness of your group,” says the NAACP’s Mel Hamilton.
The disbelief in the room is palpable.
“I think what Mel is saying, is that based on your history, based on the Klan’s history, it’s hard to shed the skin of your group not being violent, not being killers, murderers, terrorizers,” Simmons says. “It’s hard to imagine that.”
During the Reconstruction, those things did go on, Abarr says. The Reconstruction Era covered the period between the mid-1860s and mid-1870s. But what about the wave of Klan lynchings in the 1920s to 1940s, for example? Well, Abarr doesn’t know much about that.
“I just know what it is today,” he says. “I had relatives in the Klan in the ’20s and they didn’t lynch anybody.”
Hamilton shoots back: “As far as you know.”
His relatives quit the Klan because someone wanted them to kill somebody, Abarr says.
The Klan is a secret society, and Abarr won’t discuss how it’s evolved or what it does. It’s a canned answer. Abarr reads it in a rush, from a piece of paper.
Not good enough.
“You tell us what you want, and you maintain the secrecy of injustice,” Hamilton says. “But you’re here, we’re trying to do something good, and you are half-stepping on us. You’re not serious about this, I don’t think.”