DENVER (AP) — A weekend meeting between the Wyoming chapter of the NAACP and an organizer for the Ku Klux Klan over the weekend is believed to be the first of its kind.
The meeting between Jimmy Simmons, president of the Casper NAACP, and John Abarr, a KKK organizer from Great Falls, Mont., took place at a hotel in Casper, Wyo., under tight security, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the United Klans of America said Tuesday that the meeting is a first.
Abarr told The Associated Press that he met with Simmons Saturday and ended up filling out an NAACP membership form so he can get the group’s newsletters and some insight into its views. He said he paid the $30 fee to join, plus a $20 donation.
But Abarr said he didn’t ask anybody at the meeting if they would like to join the KKK.
“You have to be white to join the Klan,” he said.
Simmons asked for the meeting following reports that KKK literature was being distributed in Gillette, about 130 miles north of Casper, and that African-American men were being beaten while out in public with white women.
“It’s about opening dialogue with a group that claims they’re trying to reform themselves from violence,” Simmons said in a telephone interview Tuesday, saying the meeting went well. “They’re trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they’re just changing the packaging.”
Abarr said he knows nothing about any beatings or the literature that was distributed in a residential neighborhood in October.
Gillette police Lt. Chuck Deaton said there have been 10 hate or bias crimes reported in the past five years that involved name-calling, none of them assaults on African-Americans. Deaton said any beatings may have happened outside of city limits and were not reported to Gillette police.
The literature said, “save our land and join the Klan,” Deaton said. He said police were unable to speak with the “young man” who was distributing the material, and he was chased away by neighbors.
“In the 21 years that I’ve been here, that’s the first I heard of the Klan in Gillette,” Deaton said.
Abarr said he agreed to meet with Simmons as way to open a dialogue between two race-based groups. United Klans of America imperial wizard Bradley Jenkins of Birmingham, Ala., said in a telephone interview that he sanctioned the meeting and called it a first between the KKK and the NAACP.
“I don’t know if we accomplished too much,” Abarr said. “We’re not about violence. We’re about being proud to be white.”
NAACP officials in Washington, D.C., requested questions in writing but did not immediately respond.
In 1989, Abarr worked as campaign manager of William Daniel Johnson, a white separatist, who ran for Dick Cheney’s U.S. House seat when Cheney became Secretary of Defense. Johnson proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution calling for citizenship for whites only.
Abarr, a former motel worker who is now pursuing a degree in business administration, said he hopes a block of states stretching from Wyoming to the Oregon and Washington coast can be carved out as a place for whites.
Abarr gained notoriety in the 1990s when he tried to support Eastern Montana College Young Republicans in Billings, and the re-election campaign of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., but they disavowed his work because of his ties to the KKK.
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said previous meetings between white and African American separatists groups have taken place before, but none between the NAACP and the KKK.
He called the United Klans of America a “copycat wannabe” group that’s not the same one responsible for violence during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including the death of four girls at a Baptist church in Birmingham. The original UKA was dismantled in the 1980s following a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I think it’s outrageous and counterproductive,” Potok, a senior fellow at the center, said of the meeting. “It gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to.”
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