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GAYLON WAMPLER Imperial Wizzard of the Texas Confederate Knights, James Stansfield, left, and Klansman Don Hartless JOURNAL New Life for the Klan CHANNELVIEW James Stansfield hadn’t had an excuse to light a cross at least publicly in more than a decade. But what David Duke’s run for the White House couldn’t do this past spring, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling did. It brought Stansfield, once one of Texas’ most active Ku Klux Klan organizers, back into the fold. On June 22, the high court ruled that cross burning was a protected form of free speech and that it is unconstitutional for state legislatures to single out hate crimes for special prosecution. The occasion was enough to bring tears of joy to Stansfield’s eyes. The Imperial Wizard of the Texas Confederate Knights spent an entire Saturday afternoon in his swampy back yard, known as “Klan Island” in this Houston suburb, crafting a 25-foot cross for a celebratory lighting. Several hours before he donned his hooded red satin robe and lit a torch, Stansfield stood on the deck of his double-wide trailer and took a moment to reflect. As he gazed out over his private lake at the petrochemical plants of the Houston Ship Channel, he confessed that the big event was giving him a case of the jitters. “It’s, like going on your first date or something,” Stansfield said. “The emotions are great. I’m nervous. I don’t know who will show up.” While Stansfield didn’t exactly get stood up, his highly publicized rally for “whites only” turned out to be a bust. Only about 20 supporters, mainly curious onlookers, showed up. The local media outnumbered spectators two-to-one. The event appeared absurd at times. A Rottweiler pup, unaccustomed to seeing his master in such a getup, yapped and ran in circles during the solemn proceedings. Stansfield and two other robed Klansmen seemed to lose their places several times during the ceremony. Beads of sweat could be seen dripping from their brows as they posed, for what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time, in front of the flaming cross. Throughout the state that same weekend, Klan members staged similar cross lightings to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling. In one of the biggest cross burnings, about 200 white sumpremacists gathered on a private ranch near Hico to witness a Klan wedding and an address by National Knights director Thom Robb. Michael Lowe, Grand Dragon of the Texas Knights of the KKK, said the Hico gathering was initially planned as just an annual rally and membership drive. The Supreme Court ruling made the celebration more festive, he said. While some observers were quick to blow off the spectacles as innocuous dog and pony shows, anti-defamation officials and professional Klan watchers say the events have insidious implications. “What you’re seeing is a recruitment effort,” said Joe Roy, chief investigator for the Klanwatch Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. “These people who are marching around and acting silly may not seem like a threat to you when they are out there in front of you where you can see them. When they go underground is when this country has a real problem.” Covert activity is nothing new for the Klan. The organization has been cloaked in secrecy since its inception more than 125 years ago. The KKK, like 50 other white supremacist groups that Klanwatch has identified in Texas, thrives under the cover of darkness. Even duespaying members are not always privy to “innercircle” meetings where paramilitary activity and strategy is planned. For that reason, membership is difficult to quantify. But based on intelligence gathering efforts from law enforcement officials, Klanwatch estimates there are 6,000 KKK members nationwide, with the most active groups in Gulf, North Carolina, and Harrison, Arkansas. Klanwatch, however, is careful not to use membership figures which they say the Klan frequently inflates to gauge a particular chapter’s potency. Criminal activity, they say, is a more effective barometer. If lawlessness is one benchmark of power, then Stansfield, in his heyday, was a force to be reckoned with. In 1981, Stansfield and former Klan Dragon Louis Beam led one of the state’s most aggressive KKK chapters in a violent effort to keep Vietnamese immigrants from fishing in Galveston Bay. The demonstrators, many of them trained in KKK psychological warfare, ambush and reconnaissance patrol, harassed the shrimpers by manning armed boat patrols around Kemah and Seabrook and displaying weapons and effigies of Vietnamese fishermen.. While Beam and Stansfield were ultimately acquitted of numerous civil rights, racketeering and seditious conspiracy charges, both men dropped out of sight for more than a decade. Stansfield, however, said he felt compelled to come forward again because he senses a new national mood, a disenchantment with the status quo. Hence the Confederate Knights in Channelview was born. “The Supreme Court ruling is enough to bring me back,” Stansfield said. “It’s like CPR. It’s a new breath of life.” Barbara Harburg, director of the AntiDefamation League of B’nai B’rith in Houston, says the nation’s grim economic indicators will likely spawn more KKK chapters and more people like Stansfield will come out of the closet. “When there are hard times people look for somebody to blame,” Harburg says. “That’s when Klan membership seems a bit more attractive.” As the unemployment figures swell, typically so does membership in KKK supremacy movements said Roy at Klanwatch. and Ross Perot but anyone else who professes to have the answers,” Roy said. “The real danger of people like Stansfield right now he’s probably THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19