The 21st Century Ku Klux Klan
James Edward Bates
The Klansman loomed closer and said over and over, “I’m going to kill you if you don’t give me that film.” So went my encounter as I shot photographs one day at a rally near Pulaski, Tennessee, the recognized birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Klansmen had gathered to vent their frustration about immigrants taking their jobs, their distrust of the federal government and other issues. Some vented frustration over the fact that I was taking photographs.
I stood my ground with the irate Klansman and, as always, Imperial Wizard Ricky Draper’s men came to my defense. I have followed the Klan for more than five years across the southern United States, documenting the movement at marches, rallies and cross-lighting ceremonies.
The relationship I formed with Draper quickly became the key to success in my documentary project. I believe I have made good on my promise to treat him fairly.
I record the truth of his beliefs and his followers through film, audio and video.
Through the respect many Klan organizations have for Draper, the highest-ranking Klansman in America’s Invisible Empire, I have been given access to many groups.
First organized as a social club after the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan became a vigilante group protecting war widows and orphans. It quickly became known as a terrorist movement that used fear as a control device. The KKK has been resurgent at various times throughout history and many people think since the 1960s era of the civil rights movement in the U.S. that the Ku Klux Klan faded from the American landscape. Such is not the case.
Its explosive growth, especially since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on Washington and New York, has allowed the movement to spread into countries that include Australia, England, Russia, as well as Austria and Germany, where it is seen as more accepted than is the Neo-Nazi movement. Members from around the world travel to the United States for proper training in the culture and belief system of the Ku Klux Klan.
Regularly attending the rallies and marches organized by America’s Invisible Empire, the self-proclaimed fastest growing KKK group, I have seen membership triple in size over the last three years. Often, a full third of the attendees are children and teens. My work will allow you to look into the eyes of these children and hear the message being preached to them. Through the development of relationships, I have been granted virtually total access to the ceremonies of America's Invisible Empire and other Klan groups. I have attended their rallies throughout many states and have conducted interviews with leaders and followers. This project has come with a number of threats, but many members trust me enough to allow me onto their land and into their homes and churches. I have been given this access for a purpose I cannot deny. As you look into my project on the Ku Klux Klan, perhaps you will find a better understanding of the men, women and children behind the masks. Maybe you will come closer to understanding the passion that they feel and why they feel it. If nothing more than a step, perhaps this project will bring us closer to cultural understanding among all people.