MY LIFE IN THE KLAN by Jerry Thompson


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Nashville Tennessean publisher John Siegenthaler chose night city editor Thompson to infiltrate the Klan because he looked like a ""perfect redneck."" That, and judicious reserve about discussing his concocted background as a retired army man, helped keep Thompson alive during 16 tense months undercover in Alabama. In fact, he joined not one but two Klans, whose rivalry is a major part of the story: the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, run by David Duke and Don Black (a low-key group, who avoided using ""nigger"" in public speeches), and the Invisible Empire, run by Bill Wilkinson (a wilder, gun-happy bunch). What he found were oddballs and crazies, some of them potentially dangerous, including one successful north Alabama organizer given to wearing jungle fatigues and carrying a rifle and briefcase. ""Could I mingle in a crowd of such people,"" Thompson asked himself, ""dressed in a robe and hood?"" He did, and mostly it was boring--sparsely attended meetings in basements or barns, and ineffectual protests designed to lure media coverage. Though bedrock support was slim (especially for the Duke-Black faction), the degree of ""latent sympathy for the Klan movement among many so-called respectable citizens"" surprised and troubled Thompson. The further in he got, the more anxious he became for his own safety--didn't the Klan oath promise ""direful consequences"" to a betrayer? He always felt humiliated at having to associate with ""insensitive, rude and unfeeling people""; he feared the random violence of some Klansmen; he dreaded being unmasked as a reporter; and he suffered through difficult family problems as his assignment dragged on. Like all good reporters, he became obsessed with his story, despite the personal risk. Toward the end, it seemed like every day was ""one more roll of the dice""--and the Tennessean's presses were cranking out his first story before he got back across the state line on his final night in the Invisible Empire. All in all: few new insights about the Klan but, without doubt, courageous reporting.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1982
Publisher: Putnam