New Klan Launders Old Image

Violence Is Out, But Rhetoric Persists

March 22, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Jerry has a house in Pasadena, a collection of antique furniture, two Doberman pinschers -- and a membership card from the Ku Klux Klan.

As a state officer in the Maryland Klan, the 27-year-old, who requested that his last name not be used, is responsible for organizing Anne Arundel County's only Klan chapter. The membership roster shows about 20 names, half of them belonging to teen-agers.

"I'm a hard-core adrenalin junkie," says Jerry, who is soft-spoken, with Elvis sideburns and a certain live-on-the-edge charisma. "I used to do cliff-climbing without ropes."

Three years ago, a 25-foot fall while unloading cars for the Teamsters in Jessup sent Jerry tothe hospital in a coma. Since then, he has moderated his thrills to what he calls less life-threatening activities. Last year, for instance, he joined the Klan.

The local KKK group, which Jerry organized, meets once a month. Members are recruited by "networking." The Pasadena chapter, called a klavern, has distributed small pamphlets in several communities in the county, putting them on mailboxes and in newspaper boxes.

The Maryland Klan, which broke off from the nationalgroup last year, does not advocate violence in any form, Jerry says.He calls the group "Klan-Lite" because they won't admit skin-heads or neo-Nazis.

But Jerry's ideology echoes traditional racism:

"The Jews have been kicked out of every country they've been in. Doesn't that tell you something?" he asks.

Black people are genetically different from whites, he says. "They're made for a different climate."

Eight klaverns exist in the Maryland Klan, named the InvincibleEmpire, as opposed to the national group's Invisible Empire. The state organization is in what Jerry calls an "educational phase," which means it is trying to convince the public that the Klan isn't what people think it is.

Jerry insists the Klan is just like any other social organization, "except we don't admit black people." This past Christmas, the Pasadena klavern raised money to feed 11 poor white families in West Virginia.

The African American-Jewish Coalition of Anne Arundel County, formed last summer to unite the county's black andJewish communities, has protested the fact that the Klan is trying to moderate its image.

The Klan has a long history of racial, ethnic and religious intolerance, observes Vincent O. Leggett, co-chairmanof the coalition.

Says Leggett: "It's important that our community know that these men and women, whether they wear white sheets or suits and ties, are not philanthropists, but racists."

Jerry isn't loath to admit that he does, indeed, wear white robes to official Klanceremonies, such as a cross-burning scheduled in April in Manchester, Pa.

He drags on a Camel, and his brown eyes focus intensely.

"Why is it you can be proud of being an African-American or a Chinese-American, but if you consider yourself a white American, you are considered a racist?" he asks.

"Everybody thinks of the KKK as ignorant, pickup truck-driving, beer-belly rednecks, and we're not," he says. "We have politicians, doctors, butchers and hair-stylists. We havepolice officers who can't join because of their jobs, but they tell us they're on our side, and if we ever need help to call them."

Although he once spent a few hours in jail for getting in a fight, Jerry hasn't struck anyone in nine years, he says. He just completed barbering school. But he still "likes aggressive people."

A 2-foot killerfish swims around a long tank in his living room. The fish, which will grow to as much as 6 feet, is a strict carnivore that devours the goldfish in his tank, says Jerry.

"It's neat," he says. "I guessit gives me a power rush."

Sabers from India decorate the house, along with black-and-white prints by Escher. Jerry pauses in front ofone that is strongly surrealistic: "I like it. It's a crazy view of reality," he says.

To many county residents, Jerry's ideas of reality are more than a little warped.

Notes the coalition: "Bigotry is subtle and pervasive, and we are particularly concerned that our youth not be tainted by the message of intolerance, which unfortunatelyseeks to flourish in economic hard times."

The coalition's statement asks the residents of the county to identify, criticize and isolate those who "attempt to plant the seeds of community polarization."

Jerry argues that if the coalition "can exist non-violently in this county, the KKK should be able to do the same. When was the last time the Maryland KKK was convicted of a felony?" he asks. "We believe in violence only in self-defense."

Anne Arundel does not traditionally have a high incidence of reported hate crimes, state police say.Last year, the number of monthly reported hate crimes, including racial crimes, ranged from none to as many as 12 a month, says the Uniformed Crime Reporting Section. County police spokesman V. Richard Molloy said he knows of no incidents connected to the Pasadena Klan group.

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