Klan youth camps Where kids have 'good segregated fun, learn KKK philosophy, how to use guns;NEWLN:'A threat that can't be ignored'

By KURT FRANCK, United Press International   |   July 26, 1981
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A 10-year-old boy listens attentively to his white-robed elder, then joins in a pledge of allegiance to the American flag -- and the Ku Klux Klan.

Klan leaders claim such scenes are common in 'Youth Corps' camps that are springing up in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisana, Texas and as far north as Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

But the size of the KKK's 'Youth Corps' is hard to determine because Klan officials refuse to discuss numbers.

'We are striving to make the Klan 'Youth Corps' an alternative to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts,' said Bill Wilkinson, Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the KKK.

'Most of the camps are informal affairs at someone's summer place. They are all day camps -- no overnights -- where kids can go just to have some good, segregated fun,' he added. 'We teach patriotism -- they are forced to pledge allegiance to the flag. We teach Christian values and they are required to say prayers before meals.'

Wilkinson, an electrical contractor from Denham Springs, La., formed an adult commando training camp near Cullman in northern Alabama last fall. Members of the adult camp carry guns, wear army fatigues and prepare for what Klansmen believe is an inevitable race war.

The youth camps are run differently than the adult 'Special Forces' camps, Wilkinson said. Both groups are instructed how to use guns, but Wilkinson claims the youngsters do not get paramilitary training.

'This is purely gun safety, how to handle a gun, how to hit what you're shooting at -- a target,' said Wilkinson, who is known to take a pistol to Klan rallies. 'Every kid loves guns. We are not out to teach them how to shoot people.

'These are not Hitler youth camps. We are not preparing these kids for a race war. We just have a place for kids to play in a segregated atmosphere where they can fish, play ball and roast wienies.

'We are not brainwashing them.'

While Wilkinson says his faction does not promote paramilitary training, a Texas Klan leader says his group does teach youngsters guerrilla warfare tactics.

'Instead of playing baseball or being out kicking a football around, they are learning how to survive,' said Louis Beam, Texas grand dragon of the rival Knights of the KKK.

'We are training them for that possibility of a collapse, but we're also training them for urban survival because they have to live until the collapse.'

Beam said the Knights of the KKK operate three youth camps in Texas -- one near Houston, another near Dallas and a third near San Antonio.

'I'm not going to give numbers,' Beam said. 'How many were on the Mayflower? It doesn't take a lot. When God's on your side, you don't need a lot.'

Both Klan groups operate weekend day camps every four to six weeks. Beam said his faction also has a four-night encampment once a summer.

Wilkinson refused to say who foots the bill for his camps. Beam said campers pay no fee because adult Klan 'members pass the hat around for gas money for the instructors.'

Beam said his recruits are given firearms training with at least two kinds of rifles and at least three types of hand guns, including a .357 magnum.

Wilkinson, however, said the Invisible Empire's youth gun program is 'straight out of the Boy Scout merit manual.'

Both Klan leaders declined to allow interviews with any of the young recruits and their parents. They said the media has presented a distorted picture of the effort.

'The media is chopping up the story and taking it out of context. They seem to be giving a biased report and emphasizing what is done with the guns,' said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said the average day at one of his faction's camps begins with swimming, volleyball, softball or horseshoes. Lunch is followed by a short lecture on the Klan philosophy and a brief class on gun instruction.

'We teach them patriotism and they learn segregation is Biblically correct,' he said. 'We do not teach them to hate other races but that they should segregate.'

Wilkinson said the youth learn an oath 'that goes something like: 'I pledge allegiance to the flag and the white race that made it great.'

'They are also taught not to socialize with other races, and if they have to, to keep it on a business-like basis.'

While the Klan is tight-lipped about its recruitment, foes of the white supremacy group are outspoken in their opposition.

The National Education Association, fearing the KKK is mounting a recruiting drive to draw schoolchildren into its hooded ranks, has unveiled a new curriculum guide to promote classroom discussion of the white supremacist group.

'We do not believe we are over-reacting to the reports of KKK youth recruitment,' said NEA President Willard H. McGuire. 'A resurgent Klan represents a threat that can't be ignored.'

The NEA Reporter, the labor organization's magazine, recently featured a cover picture of a hooded and grim-faced Klansmen holding hands with a little boy. The display was illustrated with the headline, 'The KKK wants your students.'

'The Ku Klux Klan is back,' the magazine said. 'In nearly every part of the country, Klansmen are burning crosses, hiding under sheets -- and targeting youngsters as young as age 10 for the new KKK 'Youth Corps.'

'Your students could be among the next recruits.'

In Texas, Attorney General Mark White recently asked a federal judge to order all Klan paramilitary training camps shut down on grounds they violate a state law that forbids private armies.

'This is in violation of state law,' White said. 'I want to make certain this state stands forthrightly in defense of the right of individuals to be free from that type of threat and that type of activity.'

U.S. District Judge Gabrilelle McDonald ruled in June that White could intervene in the case to shut the Klan camps down.

School officials in Clarksburg, W. Va., passed a resolution last summer unanimously opposing the KKK and its activities. The Harrison County Board of Education passed the resolution after armed Klansmen organized a rally and recruitment drive for a Klan youth group.

The rally, education officials said, supported segregation of classes and schools.

'Some of the objectives of the Klan are contrary to state and federal law, and contrary to county board policy,' said Jim Bennett, Harrison County School Superintendent. 'They (the Klan) specifically would have school classrooms segregated by race with the ultimate goal of having all schools segregated.'

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., told a House subcommittee last December the government has done an inadequate job in investigating the causes of racial violence and suggested Klan youth camps contribute to the problem.

In Alabama, state Rep. Alvin Holmes, who is black, introduced a resolution during the last regular session of the Legislature calling on the governor and attorney general's office to seek means to dismantle armed Klan camps, including the Youth Corps camps. The resolution was overwhelmingly defeated.

'This (the youth camps) is one of the most awful things today since we live in a country of violence,' Holmes said. 'For any group, black or white, to train young people to kill or impose violence is one of the most inhumane things ever to occur on American soil.

'I can say one day American people will hang their heads in shame,' he said. 'Some people might brush it off as not being a serious threat, but look what Adolph Hitler did. If the NAACP was doing this, it would have been put out of business a long time ago by the government.'

In Montgomery, Ala., a private civil rights group has begun compiling dossiers on KKK members and is monitoring the activities of the Klan.

'It is not like the government spying on the Klan,' said Morris Dees, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center's 'Klanwatch.'

'We are gathering information on what we feel is a terrorist organization that has the potential to be violent.'

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