Residents in at least seven states have reported finding Valentine’s Day-themed Ku Klux Klan recruitment literature in their neighborhoods in recent days, triggering concerned calls to local law enforcement and fears about a potential rise in the hate group’s activity.
The pamphlets, tucked into plastic sandwich bags weighted with rice or rocks, include racist and anti-gay slogans inside hearts and contact information for the North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the KKK, once among the largest Klan offshoots.
Local police have mounted investigations in some jurisdictions, and officials have said they don’t believe the culprits were targeting specific families. No arrests have been reported. Authorities say it’s unlikely they’ll be able to press charges against the people responsible, since the fliers are constitutionally protected political speech.
“Again, we don’t take lightly the offense and anxiety this may cause residents,” Tamara Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, told the Raleigh News & Observer after residents reported finding the fliers outside their homes. “Unfortunately, it would be very challenging to criminally charge or cite the distributor if they’re ever identified.”
The Loyal White Knights of the KKK is active in more than 20 states, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups and hate crimes. A recent SPLC report found that various Klan groups had distributed white supremacist fliers 117 times in 26 states last year, with the Loyal White Knights responsible for more of the leafleting campaigns than any other KKK organization.
This particular method of recruitment suggests KKK groups are struggling for relevance and cash, said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the SPLC.
“This is not a sign of strength, and in a way, it’s a sign of weakness, because when you think about what’s involved in leafleting, it’s a high-impact and extremely low-effort way of getting attention,” Potok told The Huffington Post. “I’m not saying that they’re not committed racists, but on some level it’s a scam to make money.”
In recent years, the Loyal White Knights of the KKK has attempted to rebrand itself by shedding historic images of lynchings and cross-burnings. The organization now sees itself as a “non-violent pro-white civil rights movement,” as Will Quigg, grand dragon of the group’s California chapter, told Vice News in 2015.
But in an interview this week with WNYT, an NBC affiliate in New York, Quigg did little to hide the racial animus that still motivates him and his fellow klansmen.
“The last eight years with [former President Barack] Obama as president, he has been doing nothing for the white Christian person,” said Quigg. “He’s been helping the Negroes.”
The latest KKK recruitment drive comes amid reports of growing hate group activity over the past year, a trend many believe has been fueled partly by President Donald Trump and his embrace of white nationalists and the alt-right.
Former KKK leader David Duke gave Trump a passionate endorsement last year, and then-candidate Trump was initially slow to disavow Duke’s support. KKK groups also engaged in an impromptu get-out-the-vote effort ahead of November’s election, encouraging people to cast ballots for Trump.
Quigg once revealed himself to be a Trump fan, though he told media outlets last year that he was supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton in an apparent effort to drum up bad press for her.
When WNYT asked Quigg for his thoughts on Trump this week, he said he wouldn’t call the president “an ally,” but admitted he agreed with “some of [Trump’s] ideals.”
Although some hate groups may be flourishing in the age of Trump, the Loyal White Knights of the KKK has been unraveling recently. The North Carolina chapter of the Loyal White Knights had planned to hold a “victory parade” for Trump in December, but was forced to scale back the event when two of its leaders were arrested for stabbing a fellow klansman. The men now face felony charges that could destabilize the organization.
“My guess would be that the Loyal White Knights will fall apart in the coming months,” said Potok.
Although KKK activity understandably commands attention and concern, Potok said the rise of other, less conspicuous white supremacist groups presents a more serious threat.
“These are groups that eschew the Klan robes and the Swastika armbands in favor of suits and ties, and try very hard to look like they’re actually serious intellectuals considering serious matters,” said Potok. “Klan groups in many ways are the weakest sector of the radical right, the most dysfunctional, the worst-led, and the groups having the very least inkling of political power.”