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ADL Law Enforcement Bulletin:
Klan in Disarray

Law Enforcement Bulletin, Issue #14 Winter 1995
A periodic update from the Anti-Defamation League

Recent defections from the Arkansas-based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the nation's largest KKK faction, have set off a competition for the allegiances of members and potential recruits. The chief issue in the formation of two splinter groups is the Klan's tactical direction.

To stem membership losses and make the Klan more palatable to a larger potential base of supporters, the Knights' leader, Thom Robb, 48, has attempted to clean up the Klan's rhetoric - "we don't hate blacks, we just love whites" - and has renounced violence. He has staged rallies around the South and the Midwest, instructing followers to leave their guns and robes at home and dress respectably. The upshot: some new recruitment, but also restiveness among hard-core members who believe Robb's watered-down tactics betray Klan traditions and purposes.

Despite Robb's efforts, he is swimming against the current. The Klan has always drawn to its ranks hard-core racists who favor an extremist message and tactics, so that even cosmetic attempts at moderation are difficult to pull off. Two recently formed breakaway groups have promised a return to more traditional Klan militancy.

Last April a split from the Knights was led by Chicagoan Ed Novak (true name: Ed Melkonian). Novak was Thom Robb's Illinois Grand Dragon (state leader), national Nighthawk (security chief), and a member of the Knights' Grand Council. Novak is known in the Klan as an advocate of secrecy, and of being well-armed.

Novak's group - the Federation of Klans, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan - drew away a sizeable portion of Robb's followers in Illinois, Alabama, Kentucky, Colorado, and elsewhere. His group is promising less talk and more action. Novak began his extremist career in the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of America, and his neo-Nazi beliefs have stayed with him.

More recently, in August, Klan leaders from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois led a second walkout from Robb's organization, claimed the Knights' name for themselves, and pronounced Robb deposed as national director. (Robb responded by tossing them out of his Knights.) In a sign of a return to the old ways, the new faction held a rally in Lafayette, Ind., in which members dressed in full Klan regalia, showing little trace of moderation.

The man tapped to lead the mutinous outfit, David Neumann, 40, of Michigan, has reportedly said: "Thom Robb is a poor example of a Klansman. He comes off as a young Republican, not as a racialist."

Yet another problem facing Robb is some grousing in the ranks about the designation of his daughter, Rachel Pendergraft, to fill the seat on the Grand Council vacated when Novak bolted. (Robb's two sons also play prominent roles.) Some Knights are rankled by the nepotism, but others seem more angry over the presence of a woman in so high a position.

The mutinies in the Robb organization are part of a larger pattern of disarray in the Klan movement, which is more splintered now than ever. Membership in all factions combined has slipped from approximately 10,000 in 1981 to about 4,000 today. As time passes, fewer Americans seem receptive to the Klan, making the survival of new groups such as Novak's and Neumann's uncertain.

As yet, the splintering of the Knights of the KKK has not led to violence. But the strong resistance to attempts to paper over the Klan's historic reputation for militant white supremacy suggests that the Klan movement continues to warrnat the scrutiny of law enforcement.

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