Native Sun News: Indian family cites KKK threat in South Dakota

Members of the Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan participate in the 11th Annual Nathan Bedford Forrest Birthday march July 11, 2009, in Pulaski, Tenn. The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan chapter, which is based in Missouri, recently bombarded Custer residents with hundreds of “recruitment” flyers. PHOTO COURTESY/SPENCER PLATT, GETTY IMAGES

KKK infiltrates Custer
By Jesse Abernathy
Native Sun News Editor

CUSTER — The Ku Klux Klan has made its presence undeniably known in Custer.

In recent weeks, the so-called white supremacist organization that purports to be based in Christianity and American loyalism has randomly and anonymously distributed flyers to members of this Paha Sapa, or Black Hills, community. Under the cover of night, the single-sheet, one-sided paper flyers – which can only be described as recruitment literature on the part of the Ku Klux Klan – have been hurled apparently unsuspectingly and indiscriminately into the yards of hundreds of Custer residents. The flyers come rolled up in small plastic bags for protection and anchored with small stones for weight and staying power.

The KKK incarnation seeking inductees in Custer is formally known as the “Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” according to the logo imprinted at the bottom of the flyers. The national, though disjointed and variably named, organization’s most recent wave of somewhat low-key recruitment efforts in Custer were initially noticed in early September and continued through at least Oct. 15, with one Native American family and one mixed African American-white family, among others, having thus far been targeted by the Klan’s active “outreach.”

The flyers, which are boldly headed “What is a Klansman?,” have sent an unsettled wave of murmuring throughout this relatively quiet, secluded and predominantly white community with a population of just over 2,000.

Nestled on the southern edge of the Paha Sapa and lying some 40 miles southwest of Rapid City, the small city was named after the infamous George Armstrong Custer, the revered U.S. Army general and “Indian fighter” who lost the “Indian Wars” and his life in one fell swoop at the Battle of the Greasy Grass (Battle of the Little Bighorn) in Montana in 1876.

In rather vague yet grandiose terminology and in 10 paragraphs, the KKK flyer outlines the purpose of a “Klansman,” a label the organization ascribes to both men and women. The opening paragraph states that a “Klansman” is someone “with a definite purpose in life, and he is unyielding in his devotion to that purpose. He has sworn to cast away his own selfish desires in order to provide the needs of others, to fight until victory against all forms of tyranny is won, to preserve our Race, Heritage, Values and True Americanism and to defend the helpless, the widows and the children.”

The Klan flyer also lists a Park Hills, Mo., mailing address, toll free, 24-hour contact number, or “Klanline,” and website and email addresses, as well as an apparent rallying slogan: “Fighting today for your future tomorrow!”

A recorded message at the toll free number cordially thanks the caller for calling and says: “We at the Traditionalist American Knights are unapologetically committed to the interest and values of the white race. We are determined to maintain and enrich our cultural and racial heritage. We are growing fast and strong because we have never compromised the truth.” The congenial male voice then instructs callers to leave a name and number if a callback is desired.

According to three-year Custer resident Melaine Stoneman, who is Sicangu Lakota (Rosebud Sioux), the KKK is planning a parade in her hometown sometime in the near future. Stoneman believes the organization’s recruitment quota hasn’t been met so a parade is in the works to potentially attract more proselytes.

The mother of six and her husband have been the recipient of not just one Klan flyer hurled into their yard, but three. Stoneman says her family may have been specifically targeted by the organization simply because they are Native American – that the Klan, which she describes as a cult, may be sending them a message.

“Why would (the KKK) throw so many (flyers) in our yard? We got three of them; why did everyone else get one?” she said.

Stoneman says the wave of KKK recruitment flyers lends to an aura of not feeling safe as a Native American in the isolated, mostly white community of Custer. “But I’m here to stay,” she added.

She said she was surprised when the school called her recently to inform her that school officials would be addressing the issue of the KKK flyers. “I asked if they had called other Native American families or even just other families, and they wouldn’t say.”

There are at least four other Native families residing in Custer, according to Stoneman.

Custer Junior/Senior High School Principal Dr. L. Paul Anderson was concerned by her son’s reaction to the Klan flyers, said Stoneman. “My son made mention of the American Indian Movement when he heard about the flyers at school,” she said. “But he didn’t really know what the KKK is. It was an offhand remark that was taken too seriously.”

Stoneman said she received a call from Anderson regarding her son’s AIM comment, but doesn’t know if the school official called white parents when he initially heard of KKK activity – which would be a comparable response to the one he gave her son.

In an emailed response to whether or not he called white parents when he first heard of the Ku Klux Klan flyers being distributed in Custer, Anderson said, “Several parents of students were spoken to based on their children’s reactions to the KKK leaving information in town. These contacts were based solely on our students concerns and no other factors, such as ethnicity, group-affiliation or religion.”

The Ku Klux Klan is classified as a hate group by at least two national nonprofits: the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish rights organization based in New York City, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization headquartered in Montgomery, Ala.

According to the U.S. Constitution, however, the beliefs upheld by the Klan – hate-filled though they may be – and the free expression of those beliefs through literature, private sessions and public rallies are protected under the First Amendment so long as expressions are limited to speech or, by extension, written material.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, estimates the KKK has between 3,000 and 5,000 active members nationwide. And – though the number of hate groups, or so-called Patriot groups of the radical right, has been on the rise in recent years – the KKK saw its overall number of chapters plummet from 221 in 2010 to 152 in 2011, according to the SPLC, which equals a decrease of over 30 percent.

Originating in the South almost 150 years ago as a secretive vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan was formed primarily in violent reaction to the emancipation of black slaves following the end of the Civil War.

Throughout the 20th century, the Klan existed in one form or another, though its perhaps most frightening and powerful reign of terror came during the 1950s and 1960s, when it very publicly raged against the black Civil Rights Movement and desegregation.

For many Americans, both white and non-white – and especially black Americans – images of burning crosses, white-hooded figures with flowing white robes and unmerciful scenes of violence against blacks are conjured up in the mind when the Ku Klux Klan is brought to the fore of any discussion. Such mental phenomena are, for the most part, historical residue from the not-so-distant, overt behavior of the KKK.

However, this is no longer what the Klan is about, according to Frank Ancona, imperial wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is headquartered in Park Hills, Mo.

The imperial wizard said his title is “the fancy name for ‘president’ of the organization” and that he is the national leader of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

“A lot of people probably have misconceptions of what the Klan is about or what a Klansman is about. I believe one of the flyers put out (in Custer) is titled ‘What is a Klansman?’ and it tells people what we’re about – not the BS put out by the media or the agent provocateurs with the FBI that want to destroy or discredit organizations like ours, just like they did in the 1960s with the Black Panthers and with other organizations, like the American Indian Movement. For some reason, the stigma still sticks with the Klan.”

A lot of people think the Klan is going out and lynching and hanging people, Ancona said, and that’s just a complete lie. “And they think we hate all other races, and that’s a complete lie,” he added.

“We don’t burn crosses in people’s yards. We have a cross-lighting ceremony, and it’s a Christian ceremony. We don’t go around terrorizing blacks.

“There were some bad Klan members in the past committing rogue acts, but this (modern-day KKK) is a completely different thing,” he noted.

One of the main goals of the Ku Klux Klan is to destigmatize itself and encourage white Americans to not be ashamed of their heritage, according to Ancona.

The Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan does have what it calls a “realm” in South Dakota, he says, which is aligned with the boundaries of the state.

However, Ancona would not disclose the number of Klan members living in the state, but did say western South Dakota has a “fairly large presence of members that have done some good for needy individuals by way of donations of food, clothing and school supplies.”

Distributing the recruitment flyers in Custer is a First Amendment right, he says, it’s not littering as Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler told other media outlets.

“We’re a law-abiding organization,” he countered. “We don’t want to do anything that’s illegal. And I contacted the sheriff and a deputy, and they couldn’t say if any laws were broken. They just collected the evidence (recruitment flyers) and turned it over to the state” for possible prosecution.

Ancona’s KKK chapter didn’t specifically target Stoneman’s family for being Native American – to intimidate them or otherwise – and he says there are no plans to hold a parade in Custer.

“There were some flyer drives planned, but when the comments were made by the sheriff” the plans were terminated.

He says the main requirement for being a Klan member is that a person be a “native-born individual of America. We have some members who might be part Cherokee or some other Native American because they are native-born Americans.” He admits, however, that the KKK doesn’t actively recruit Native Americans or other non-white ethnicities because of its core principle of upholding the “way of life of white Americans and their families, which comes above all else, whether I like your (non-white) family or not.”

Ancona said it was never the intent of his organization to scare, threaten, intimidate or harass anyone living in Custer, and that the modern-day Ku Klux Klan has a different message than that.

“It’s not a message of hate, it’s a message of love, really. We love our nation, we love our race, and we like to keep our history and heritage intact.”

(Contact Jesse Abernathy at

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