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“His Campaign Is In Line With Their Beliefs”: Former KKK Grand Dragon Explains Why Racists Like Trump

Donald Trump will never own up to just why racists and white supremacists are flocking to his presidential campaign, or why his rallies are increasingly marred by ugly outbursts of racially fueled violence.

One outspoken anti-racist has an explanation: Trump speaks to the issues that America’s white supremacists care about.

Scott Shepherd, a former Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan—who once called ex-KKK leader David Duke a good friend—sees strong similarities between Duke’s campaigns for public office and Trump’s GOP Presidential bid.

“Their campaigns are pretty much parallel when I look at it,” Shepherd told The Daily Beast in Austin, Texas, where he appeared in the new documentary Accidental Courtesy, about R&B musician Daryl Davis’s crusade to convert Klansmen by befriending them.

“Trump won’t take a direct stand in Israel, and these are the things white supremacists are looking at,” said the soft-spoken Shepherd. “They’re latching onto him because his campaign is pretty much in line with their beliefs.”

Shepherd grew up in Indianola, Mississippi, the birthplace of the White Citizens Council; he was 17 when he pledged himself to the Ku Klux Klan. By the age of 19, he’d reached Grand Dragon status, leading the KKK’s operations across the state of Tennessee.

“I was a very shy, unhappy child with low self-esteem,” he’d explain years later to the IB Times. “I was looking to fill a void.”

There was a time when the college-educated Shepherd was chosen to act as one of the KKK’s public faces. Nowadays he incurs the Klan’s wrath as one of its most visible detractors. He left the group in 1992 after a court-mandated rehab stint stemming from a DUI and gun possession arrest led him to a life-changing epiphany, and devoted himself to making amends for the hate and trauma he’d long perpetuated.

Shepherd shares his story in Accidental Courtesy, which also depicts his friendship with African-American activist Davis, who refers to Shepherd as his “brother.” Decades ago he ran for public office in Tennessee, twice campaigning on a white supremacist platform, and served as the spokesperson and recruiter for onetime KKK leader David Duke’s National Association for the Advancement of White People. His business cards now read: “Scott Shepherd, Reformed Racist.”

The Duke-Trump connection resurfaced again last week when the former KKK Grand Wizard drew favorable comparisons between Trump’s messaging and that of Adolf Hitler.

“The truth is, by the way, they might be rehabilitating that fellow with the mustache back there in Germany, because I saw a commercial against Donald Trump, a really vicious commercial, comparing what Donald Trump said about preserving America and making America great again to Hitler in Germany preserving Germany and making Germany great again and free again and not beholden to these Communists on one side, politically who were trying to destroy their land and their freedom, and the Jewish capitalists on the other, who were ripping off the nation through the banking system,” Duke, who endorsed Trump for president, said on his radio show last week.

Shepherd offered an explanation for why the kind of people attracted to the KKK are also drawn to candidates like Trump. Duke, after all, successfully won one term as a Republican Louisiana House Representative before going on to wage several other campaigns for state governor, U.S. Senate, and the White House.

“They all feel like they’ve not been given a fair handshake, and that their rights have been taken and priority has been given to people of color,” said Shepherd. “But what attracted me to [KKK Imperial Wizard] Bill Wilkinson was a self-emptiness within myself… I was introduced to the Klan and I felt part of something, in a way.”


By: Jen Yamato, The Daily Beast, March 19, 2016

March 21, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ku Klux Klan, Racists, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Of The Most Powerful Tools White-Power Groups Have”: A History Of Hate Rock From Johnny Rebel To Dylann Roof

What makes a young man a racist killer? Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old charged for the murder of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston last week, was “normal,” his cousin told a reporter, “until he started listening to that white power music stuff.” It’s not clear exactly what Roof was listening to or how it influenced him. But it wouldn’t be surprising if music were one of the channels through which his racism crystallized; hate rock is one of the most powerful tools white-power groups have to spread their ideology to young people.

Christian Picciolini was a middle-class teenager from the suburbs of Chicago who loved punk rock. In the late 1980s he started listening to Skrewdriver, a British band formed in the regular punk sphere that morphed into a notorious neo-Nazi group. “When I heard the white-power lyrics I felt like they spoke to me,” Picciolini recalled. “My neighborhood was rapidly changing, I knew people whose parents were out of work because of minorities taking their jobs—at least, that’s what I thought at the time.” He was attracted to the aggressiveness of the music, to the way it channeled his angst. Yet he perceived its message to be a positive one. “It seemed like they were asking people to stand up and protect their neighborhoods and families. I realized later they were calling for violence.”

Picciolini says that music was the “primary” reason he became a skinhead; he didn’t come for the racism, but he absorbed it and in turn used music to bring other kids in the Rust Belt into the fold. “Music for us was the most powerful tool—definitely the most effective recruiting method,” he says. Within a few years Picciolini was the front man for the first American white power band to play in Europe. “There’s white pride all across America/White pride all across the world/White pride flowing through the streets/White pride will never face defeat!” he sang to 3,000 skinheads in Weimar, Germany, when he was 18. After selling hate rock out of his backpack for a while, Piccionlini opened a record store, where he kept the white-power music behind the counter. He estimates that it accounted for 75 percent of his revenue.

The scene that Picciolini was a part of has been associated with various acts of racial violence. Wade Michael Page, who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, was a member of several bands, including Youngland, a popular group that performed around Orange County. Youngland was known mainly for its song “Thank God I’m a White Boy,” a worked-over version of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Page sang vocals on “Activist or Terrorist,” a track on Youngland’s 2003 album Winter Wind that concluded: “Activist or terrorist depends which side you’re on/Defend against the invader this war will greet your son/Hey you gotta go not your home anymore/If you don’t move quietly you’ll be forced to war.”

Most white-power bands today play what sounds like punk or heavy metal, but white nationalists have channeled their ideology through everything from country to Celtic folk. The scene’s locus has historically been Northern Europe, but crackdowns on hate speech abroad eventually drove the scene to the United States. Distinctly American contributions include a Cajun musician from Louisiana called Johnny Rebel who pioneered a racist strain of country music in the 1960s in response to the civil-rights movement. His early singles include “Nigger Nigger,” “Some Niggers Never Die (They Just Smell That Way),” and “In Coontown.” He made something of a comeback after 9/11 with a song called “Infidel Anthem,” a promise of vengeance that, while heavier on the profanity, is similar in thrust to Toby Keith’s mainstream country hit, “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American).”

In the late 1990s leaders of white-nationalist groups became more intentional about using music as a recruiting tool, particularly to middle- and upper-class kids like Picciolini. “I am overjoyed at the success we are seeing with the White Power bands,” wrote David Lane, a member of the neo-Nazi group The Order, in a fanzine in 1998. “I must confess that I don‘t understand the phenomenon, since my preference runs to Wagner and Tchaikovsky, but the musical enjoyment of us dinosaurs is of no importance. White Rock seems to reach and unify our young folk, and that is the first good news in decades.” In 1999 the leader of the National Alliance, William Luther Pierce, acquired a label called Resistance Records, which advertised itself as the “soundtrack for white revolution.”

Though white-nationalist rockers sometimes billed their music as an alternative to the “corporate” music business, certainly the music’s potential to raise revenue along with new recruits was not lost on its backers. Resistance was bringing in close to $1 million a year for the National Alliance in the early aughts, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which “helped to take the National Alliance to an all-time high in terms of membership and funding.”

In 2004, a white power label called Panzerfaust Records launched “Project Schoolyard USA” with the tagline, “We don’t just entertain racist kids: We create them.” Panzerfaust made 100,000 copies of a mix CD priced at 15 cents apiece, in the hopes that fans would buy them in bulk to distribute to middle and high schoolers. “[W]e know the impact that is possible when kids are introduced to white nationalism through the musical medium,” Panzerfaust’s owner Bryant Cecchini (who also went by the name Byron Calvert) wrote on his website. The CD included bands like the Bully Boys, who sang about “Whiskey bottles/baseball bats/pickup trucks/and rebel flags/we’re going on the town tonight/hit and run/let’s have some fun/we’ve got jigaboos on the run.” The following year, Panzerfaust collapsed amidst a debate about whether the label’s cofounder was actually white.

White-power groups have struggled to get their music onto the airwaves and into record stores and concert venues. The Internet now offers a cheap and easy way to reach listeners. There’s Micetrap Radio, for instance, which prides itself on being “the very first internet radio program to play White racial music.” Its website streams “the noise of our white generations” 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The SPLC has had some success cutting off online distribution networks: Apple started to pull white-power groups from iTunes late last year after the SPLC identified dozens of hate bands whose music was being sold through the service. The group is still pressing Spotify and Amazon to remove a number of bands.

C. Richard King, a professor at Washington State University who studies white supremacist culture, says that music is “one of the two most important pathways by which someone goes from wherever they’re at to being engaged or committed to something we might call white power.” The other pathway is the Internet, and the two are often bundled together. “If you wanted to be into white power thirty years ago, you had to show up at a bookstore or go to a Klan rally or a Nazi march. Now, one can simply log on and hit some keywords in Google and you can find the music and the websites,” King explained. While white-power music circulates now through online communities instead of between teenagers’ backpacks, King said that live shows, by giving people a reason to get together, continue to nurture white-supremacist communities in the real world.

Should the white-power music scene be more heavily policed? First Amendment free-speech rights protect hate rock to a greater extent in the US than in Europe, where authorities have taken an aggressive stance. In Germany, police developed a smartphone app to alert officers when one of some 1,000 neo-Nazi songs indexed in a federal database is played at a club or on the radio. But stricter regulation of hate speech in Europe hasn’t silenced white-power bands or dismantled neo-Nazi groups; it’s just led them to adopt more deeply coded racial language, King said.

In the United States, a better approach to burying the subculture might be to drag it into the light. “The thing that America really needs is to talk about and engage race, and to take seriously what the foundations of the music are. The music is not the product simply of disturbed individuals or people who are disaffected,” said King. “It emerged out of a much longer history of how blacks and blackness get thought about and how whites think about whiteness.”

American popular music expressed many of the ideas about race that permeate what is now defined as a fringe genre well into the 20th century. As King and his co-author David Leonard write in Beyond Hate: White Power and Popular Culture, it was only once overt racism became impolite that there was reason for “white power” music to occupy its own subculture. In the contemporary era too the boundaries between white-power music and mainstream punk and rock are more porous than one might assume. For instance, Skrewdriver was influential in wider punk circles before the band’s racial politics fully crystallized.

If American popular culture and white-supremacist ideology are no longer in explicit alignment as they once were, the idea that white America needs defending still pervades mainstream politics and culture—the way the right talks about immigration is a clear example. “We need to get those myths, those ideas, that history out. We need to talk about them and engage them seriously,” King agues. Rather than dismiss the genre, “we need to have more conversations about the content of the music—why it’s being produced, why people are listening to it, what is it that makes a young guy in this day and age wear flags from Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.”

For Christian Picciolini, what led him to the white-nationalist movement was ultimately what took him out of it. At his record store he talked with customers he might have otherwise avoided—people who were black, Jewish, or gay. As he found himself bonding with someone over a punk or a rockabilly record, he became increasingly embarrassed about the stock of hate music behind the counter. “I couldn’t deny the feelings that I felt for these people,” he says. He dropped out of the skinhead scene, and stopped selling white-power music. His revenue plummeted and the store went bankrupt. In 2010 he co-founded a peace advocacy group called Life After Hate, and this spring, he released a memoir.

Dylann Roof walked away from what might have been a similar redemption. According to reports, he spent an hour with his victims inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before he shot them. He “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him,” sources told NBC News. The day after, a crowd assembled at the Morris Brown AME church in Charleston for a prayer service. They sang “My Hope is Built,” a hymn that ends, “On Christ the solid rock I stand/ All other ground is sinking sand/ All other ground is sinking sand.”


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, June 23, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | Hate Rock, Jonny Rebel, White Nationalists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pamela Geller Is No Rosa Parks”: Trying To Cash In On The Moral Authority Of The Movement While Scrapping Its Moral Foundations

After armed gunmen attacked a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last week, event organizer Pamela Geller went on Fox News to explain the moral righteousness of her cause. Responding to critics like Donald Trump, who accused her of “taunting” Muslims, she asked, “What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people.”

Nor was Geller alone in seeing the civil rights parallel. John Nolte, writing for Breitbart, contended, “Anyone who knows anything about history understands that tactically and morally, Geller’s provocative Muhammad Cartoon Contest was no different than Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark march from Selma to Montgomery.”

They’re both wrong, in a particularly pernicious way. By drawing a parallel between Geller’s anti-Islamic events and the civil rights movement’s anti-Jim Crow protests, they are trying to cash in on the moral authority of the movement while scrapping its moral foundations.

There is a surface-level similarity between the two movements, one Geller and Nolte hope no one probes too deeply. Civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s knew that if they violated the laws and norms of the Jim Crow South, white Southerners would react with spectacular violence. Putting that violence on display was the point. Jim Crow laws gave Southern racial violence the veneer of a civilized legal code. The protests showed the rest of the world the ever-present threat of violence upon which that legal code was built.

Geller, too, meant to provoke violence with her Muhammad cartoon event. The question is, to what end? We already know that violent extremists are violent and extreme. If we want to see how extremists respond to people who draw Muhammad, we only need look at recent events in Paris and Copenhagen. The point for Geller and her cohort is to demonstrate that the West is at war with Islam – and ultimately to devote more resources to that war.

In other words, Geller hopes to use the violence she provokes to justify violence in return. And that’s where the civil rights analogy utterly fails. The radical potential of the early civil rights movement grew out of its moral commitment to nonviolence. And not just nonviolent action – King called upon activists to be nonviolent in word and thought as well. The reason the movement has such moral authority in America is because it was built on this deeply held belief in the transformative power of love-based politics and resistance.

Geller’s movement has none of that. She and those in her camp seek not a world with more peace but one with more war. Given that, it is especially repugnant that they call upon the names of Parks and King, trading on their courage and sacrifice while undermining the values of love and peacefulness that makes their work worth emulating.


By: Nicole Hemmer, Historian of Modern American Politics and Media; U. S. News and World Report, May 12, 2015

May 15, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Muslims, Pamela Geller | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“America’s Forgotten Mass Lynching”: When 237 People Were Murdered In Arkansas

The visits began in the fall of 1918, just as World War I ended. At his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, attorney Ulysses S. Bratton listened as African American sharecroppers from the Delta told stories of theft, exploitation, and endless debt. A man named Carter had tended 90 acres of cotton, only to have his landlord seize the entire crop and his possessions. From the town of Ratio, in Phillips County, Arkansas, a black farmer reported that a plantation manager refused to give sharecroppers an itemized account for their crop. Another sharecropper told of a landlord trying “to starve the people into selling the cotton at his own price. They ain’t allowing us down there room to move our feet except to go to the field.”

No one could know it at the time, but within a year these inauspicious meetings would lead to one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Initiated by whites, the violence—by any measure, a massacre—claimed the lives of 237 African Americans, according to a just released report from the Equal Justice Initiative. The death toll was unusually high, but the use of racial violence to subjugate blacks during this time was not uncommon. As the Equal Justice Initiative observes, “Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime.” This was certainly true of the massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas.

Bratton agreed to represent the cheated sharecroppers, who also joined a new union, the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. Its founder, a black Delta native named Robert Hill, had no prior organizing experience but plenty of ambition. “The union wants to know why it is that the laborers cannot control their just earnings which they work for,” Hill announced as he urged black sharecroppers to each recruit 25 prospective members to form a lodge. Hill was especially successful in Phillips County, where seven lodges were established in 1919.

It took a lot of courage to defy the Arkansas Delta’s white elite. Men such as E.M. “Mort” Allen controlled the local economy, government, law enforcement, and courts. Allen was a latter-day carpetbagger, a Northerner who had come to Arkansas in 1906 to make his fortune. He married well and formed a partnership with a wealthy businessman. Together they developed the town of Elaine, a hub for the thriving lumber industry. Allen and the county’s white landowners understood that their continued prosperity depended on the exploitation of black sharecroppers and laborers. In a county where more than 75 percent of the population was African American, this wasn’t a task to be taken lightly. In February 1919, the planters agreed to reduce the acreage of cotton in cultivation in anticipation of a postwar drop in demand. If they gave their tenants a fair settlement, their profits would shrink further. Allen spoke for the planters when he declared that “the old Southern methods are much the best,” and that the “Southern men can handle the negroes all right and peaceably.”

There was nothing “peaceable” about the methods used to demolish the sharecroppers’ union. Late on the night of September 30, 1919, the planters dispatched three men to break up a union meeting in a rough hewn black church at Hoop Spur, a crossroads three miles north of Elaine. Prepared for trouble, the sharecroppers had assigned six men to patrol outside the church. A verbal confrontation led to gunfire that fatally wounded one of the attackers. The union men dispersed, but not for long. Bracing for reprisals from their landlords, they rousted fellow sharecroppers from bed and formed self-defense forces.

The planters also mobilized. Sheriff Frank Kitchens deputized a massive white posse, even setting up a headquarters at the courthouse in the county seat of Helena to organize his recruits. Hundreds of white veterans, recently returned from military service in France, flocked to the courthouse. Dividing into small groups, the armed white men set out into the countryside to search for the sharecroppers. The posse believed that a black conspiracy to murder white planters had just been begun and that they must do whatever it took to put down the alleged uprising. The result was the killing of 237 African Americans.

None of the perpetrators—participants in mass murder—answered for their crimes. No one was charged, no trials were held, at least not of those who had killed blacks. In the early 20th century, state-sanctioned collective violence targeting African Americans was a common occurrence in the United States. 1919 was an especially bloody year. By September, the nation had already experienced seven major outbreaks of anti-black violence (commonly called “race riots”). Riots had flared in cities as different as Knoxville, Omaha, and Washington, D.C. In Chicago, a lakefront altercation between whites and blacks escalated into a week-long riot that took the lives of 38 men (23 black, 15 white). To restore order, Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden called in thousands of state militia.

The root cause of 1919’s violence was the reassertion of white supremacy after World War I. Disfranchisement, Jim Crow laws, and biased police forces and courts had stripped African Americans of many of their constitutional rights and created deepset economic, social, and political inequities. Blacks who defied the rules and traditions of white supremacy risked personal ruin (being banished from their hometowns was one punishment), bodily harm (beatings and whippings), and death. In just five months in 1919, from January to May, more than 20 lynch mobs murdered two dozen African Americans. One of these victims was a black veteran killed for refusing to stop wearing his Army uniform. Lynchers took pride in their actions, often posing for photographs at the scenes of their crimes; few were ever charged, let alone convicted. Mob violence helped protect the racial status quo.

What made 1919 unique was the armed resistance that black Americans mounted against white mobs trying to keep them “in their place.” During the United States’ brief but transformative involvement in World War I, almost 370,000 black men served in the military, most of them in the Army. On the homefront, African American men and women bought war bonds, volunteered for the Red Cross, and worked in defense factories. They were fighting to make the world safe for democracy, as President Woodrow Wilson defined the war’s purpose, yet they didn’t have equal rights and opportunities at home. When the war ended, African Americans resolved to make America safe for democracy. In May 1919, civil rights activist and prolific writer W.E.B. Du Bois declared, “We return from fighting. We return fighting. Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.”

Whether they had served in the military or not, African Americans answered Du Bois’s clarion call. When a white mob in Longview, Texas, tried to seize a black man named S.L. Jones to lynch him for insulting the honor of a white woman, a self-defense force organized by Jones’s friends opened fire, dispersing the mob and saving Jones’s life. When police in Chicago failed to stop white gangs from attacking blacks, veterans of the 370th Regiment, 93rd  Division (an all-black unit recently returned from France) put on their uniforms, armed themselves, and took to the streets. And when white servicemen and veterans joined with civilians to form mobs in Washington, D.C., hundreds of black Washingtonians lined the streets of Uptown (now called Shaw) to prevent these mobs from marauding in the neighborhood known for its black-owned businesses and theaters.

The Arkansas sharecroppers who stood up against the white planters of Phillips County were a major part of black resistance during 1919. Their courage came with heavy costs. As word of the trouble spread, white vigilantes from Mississippi crossed the river and began attacking blacks. The posse organized by Sheriff Kitchens scoured the canebrakes and fields, firing on blacks. Meanwhile, Arkansas Gov. Charles Brough cabled the War Department to request the deployment of infantry units. Almost 600 white troops and officers soon arrived from Camp Pike. Told that a black uprising was underway, the soldiers rounded up African Americans and, like the Mississippi vigilantes and local posse, killed indiscriminately. A special agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who led a force of approximately 50 white men later said the Mississippi mob “shot and killed men, women and children without regard to whether they were guilty or innocent of any connection with the killing of anybody, or whether members of the union or not.” One of the county’s richest white men, Gerard Lambert, observed soldiers shoot a black man who had tried to run from a hiding place. Let that “be a lesson,” the troops told blacks who were also present. Vigilantes killed a black woman, pulled her dress over her head, and left her body on a road, another brutal “lesson” of what happened when African Americans forgot their “place.”

The sharecroppers did the best they could to defend themselves and their families and neighbors. A group of sharecroppers and a black veteran in uniform shot back when part of the posse opened fire. Hearing the shots, union member Frank Moore rallied the men with him. “Let’s go help them people out,” he shouted. But the sharecroppers were outgunned and outmanned. By October 3, most had been captured and jailed. Sheriff’s deputies and special agents for the Missouri Pacific Railroad tortured them to extract false confessions to a conspiracy to murder whites. Rigged trials brought swift convictions and death sentences for 12 men whose only crime was their attempt to obtain fair earnings for their labor. Protracted appeals, supported by the NAACP, resulted in a Supreme Court decision (Moore v. Dempsey, 1923) that helped free the men. The ruling also established the federal government’s obligation to ensure that state trial proceedings preserve the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of the laws, a standard the Arkansas trials certainly had not met.

This legal victory couldn’t give back the lives of the black residents killed by the posse, vigilantes, and troops in Phillips County. The death toll of 237 reported by the Equal Justice Initiative is a new figure, based on extensive research. In 1919, sources as varied as the NAACP and the Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) estimated the number of killed African Americans at 25 to 80. Writer Robert Whitaker, who has identified 22 separate killing sites of African Americans during the massacre, put the death toll at more than 100. NAACP official Walter White, who risked his life in October 1919 to investigate the killings, stated that the “number of Negroes killed during the riot is unknown and probably never will be known.” In contrast, just four whites died, all of them posse members; one or two may have died as a result of friendly fire.

Say the number of African Americans killed in Phillips County in 1919 was 25. Or 80. Or 237. The very fact that, almost one hundred years after the massacre, we are still trying to pinpoint the death toll should lead us to a larger reckoning: coming to terms with one of the most violent years in the nation’s history, bloodshed that resulted from efforts to make America safe for democracy.


By: David Krugler, The Daily Beast, February 16, 2015

February 17, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Arkansas, White Supremacy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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