Ku Klux Klan leader 'desperately piggy-backing on populism'

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Harrison in Boone County, Arkansas has an unenviable reputation.

It is home to the head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In reality, Thomas Robb is living on the outskirts, but as you approach the city, a divisive dynamic is painfully apparent. 

A bright yellow billboard reads, “Diversity is a code word for white genocide.” Another above is torn where the words once read, “Welcome to Harrison. Beautiful People.”

A short drive away, down rough, uneven roads, we find the HQ of the KKK. The entrance is marked by a tall wooden frame and some flowers. It almost looks like the gates to an eco-lodge.

But at the top of a steep hill, the pathway is lined with the flags of America’s oldest hate group.

Mr Robb greets us, not in his Klan robes, but a shirt and tie. He has a polished facade and he’s unnervingly polite.

Cordelia Lynch interviewed Thomas Robb at KKK headquarters

In the 1980s, he took the title of “National Director”, instead of “Imperial Wizard”. He’s tried to market the group as Christian, family orientated, pursuing a noble cause of saving people from being undermined by immigration.

But as soon as you walk in his building, you’re greeted with the haunting images of hooded men, women and children.

This is a family enterprise for him. His daughter Rachel shows me around their merchandise room and TV station. They won’t disclose figures, but their online audience seems strikingly small. The KKK may feel emboldened, but it’s deeply fractured.

There were four million members in the 1920s. Now it’s estimated there are thousands.

In his church, Robb tells me the reaction to the far right in Charlottesville has ensured more violence will come, because people refuse to equally condemn Antifa and Black Lives Matter. He believes the popularity of Donald Trump is proof his message has gone mainstream.

The President has repeatedly condemned the group though and Robb seems like an isolated extremist trying to desperately piggy-back on populism.

Down the road, I meet a group that’s spent 15 years trying to counter his push for a “white paradise.”

Kevin Cherie, from the Harrison Task Force on Race Relations, says: “He gets his mail here. That’s it… and I’m speaking as a black man who has been happy, successful and productive here.”

They know he doesn’t represent the community, but they’ve had to fight him publicly. The rest of the county is only just starting similar battles.

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