Law Enforcement Bulletin, Issue #14 Winter 1995 A periodic update from the Anti-Defamation
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
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
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank