I'd purposely dressed as anonymously as possible: white shirt and jeans, with an 11-day beard, glasses and a ball cap for a university I never attended. My partner for the evening, Adrian Trentadue, was a bit more noticeable, thanks to his T-shirt with a cartoon gladiator declaring war against the hordes of uncircumcised Edomites (a biblical people who went to war with the Jews). I was clutching a thin stack of fliers. Trentadue had the staple gun in his pocket. At each telephone pole we came to, I would hand Trentadue a flier, and he would post it with a staple in each corner.
The front of the flier gave only half the intended message. Under the heading "Grizzly Bloody Murder" was a description of a young, white Tennessee couple allegedly raped and murdered by a gang of five black men. Walking past it, you might assume that it offered a reward for evidence in the case. The point was on the back side of the page, which was the side against the post. It directed you to a white-power online news broadcast and the national mailing address of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, or the Knights Party.
Trentadue looked back at the woman who had passed. "I don't think she's reading it," he said. "You get a lot of people that just walk right by and don't read it."
Trentadue, 28 years old, father of two, is a fully accredited Knight. Though only two years older than me, he kept calling me a young guy. He had the type of slim, fit physique you often see on farm kids or anyone who has spent his life working outdoors. His scalp was recently shaved, and beneath the dark stubble I could see an S.S. tattoo on one side and what looked like a motorcycle on the other. His only other visible tattoos were the words Italian on one forearm and German on the other — representing his heritage, he explained, from his grandfathers.
After papering utility poles on a few blocks, we went to the other side of the street and headed back toward the car, which we had left in a Walgreens parking lot. We had started distributing literature almost three hours before, and the sun had set. The utility poles were the final bit of the routine. Trentadue always began by putting the fliers in boxes of the Pitch.
"See, if we'd have done this when the sun was out, we'd be dead by now," he explained. "That's why you hit the Pitch boxes first."
I agreed. I was tired, and the initial adrenaline rush was ebbing. I was sweating profusely in the heat, and none of my clothes felt like they fit right anymore.
"They don't understand that I'm not trying to attack their paper," Trentadue said. "I'm just using it to spread the message."
I looked across the street at the woman again. She was walking back, and she paused at one of the fliers. It had been six months since my Knights Party orientation package came in the mail, and I knew that Trentadue had copied the flier off a design sent from the home base.
So you must have them all thinking that there's all these racialists running around Olathe," I said. "They see fliers from all these different groups, and they probably assume that the different groups are putting out each flier. But really, it's just you."
"Well, I have a few other guys that have helped me out once in a while."
Then he paused, and it occurred to me that he had never considered who people think is behind his work.
He laughed. "Yeah, it really is just me." Fliers for white-supremacy groups have been appearing around Olathe for almost five years. They appear erratically, though Martin Luther King Jr. Day seems to bring them out reliably. They lecture on topics from the near-genocide of the Aryan woman to the communist agenda of Rosa Parks.
Based on the fliers, it's easy to assume that there's a secret society of organized racist groups on the Kansas side of the metro. The photocopies promote three hate groups, mostly the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan but sometimes the lesser-known National Socialist Movement.
According to Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, the National Socialist Movement is the largest neo-Nazi group operating in the country, with 81 chapters, including a group in Kansas City, Kansas. The local National Socialist Movement chapter made headlines in May 2005 when it held a meeting at the Berliner Bear, a German restaurant in Waldo that has since closed. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan regained most of its notoriety back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when founding member David Duke ran twice for president. Today, they're in paltry eighth place, out of 34 Klan organizations, with six chapters, none of which are in Kansas or Missouri. They're headed by an Arkansas preacher named Thomas Robb, who believes that Eve was impregnated by the serpent and gave birth to "the Jewish race."
For years, the fliers have troubled everyone at the Pitch. The paper has fielded calls from people who assume wrongly that the Klan has paid the Pitch to print the inserts.
So in January, I assumed an alias — Bobby Rudd — and signed up for the Klan. I sent the required $30 on March 8 to the address listed on a flier stuffed in a copy of the Pitch in January. My membership card, newsletter and orientation DVD arrived later that month.
I played the DVD, expecting to see burning crosses and maybe some hellfire and brimstone about mixed races from a white-robed preacher with a Southern accent. Instead, it was a four-hour home movie about the group's Arkansas headquarters and campgrounds. Robb came on occasionally to say that he hoped I would join the Klan for the right reason: to form a viable Christian political party dedicated to helping the poor, downtrodden white man. Robb cautioned that the group does not condone violence. He also gave a series of tips about KKK affiliation, including a warning to keep it from friends and co-workers unless they could absolutely be trusted.
My membership in the Knights Party allowed me to access its Web site, including the member chat room. In April, I signed up with the screen name "baldeaglejesus." I hoped to find a contact in the vast white-supremacist movement implied by the fliers.
I began exchanging e-mails with another local member, called Turk. I never got his last name, but when I told him in my first e-mail that I was new to the metro, he sent me a guide to Kansas City.
Actually there's lots of great things to do here in KC. The downtown area has lots of high-class events that are attended largely by whites, such as the ballet, the Lyric Opera and the Quality Hill Playhouse. My favorite area is Westport, which is a largely Irish community and has lots of places to eat, drink and be merry. There may be heathen and aliens in some of the clubs, but on the whole they are well-kept by bouncers and the KCPD patrol the area well on weekends. Lee's Summit has less to offer but is also a predominantly white area. A word of caution: its lakes are becoming increasingly polluted by heathen and aliens, so travel at risk.
The Swope Park area (the Zoo, Starlight Theatre) is overrun by heathen and aliens, be careful there.
Outside of the area, Weston is a great white community with a wine garden and excellent Irish pub. Overland Park in Kansas is a nice area, only it was built by Jews, who welcome heathen and aliens, so again be cautious. Traveling down the I-70E, Columbia is a nice town but being infested by heathen and aliens. St. Louis is lots of fun but infested even worse than Columbia.
And, if you're overly allergic to heathen and aliens, avoid the casinos everywhere, they're breeding grounds.
So when he called me a month later to ask if I wanted to go grab a beer, it was no surprise that he asked to meet in Westport. Sunday was his free day, though he had to reschedule his Bible study group. We agreed to have lunch that afternoon at Chili's. Turk said he would wear a black hat and a black shirt with an iron cross. I arrived half an hour early for our 2 p.m. meeting.
The hostess took me to a booth behind two distinguished-looking black women. I asked if she could move me. She tried a booth next to a Hispanic family.
"If it's possible, could I get that seat in the back?" I asked. It seemed better to avoid anyone overhearing us, and I wanted a spot where I could watch the door.
Forty minutes, one nacho platter and four Cokes later, Turk called my name from over my left shoulder. He must've come in from a side entrance I didn't know about. It wasn't until then that I realized how wired I was; I had to suppress the urge to throw my drink in the direction of the voice.
The oddness of the situation was compounded by having to answer to a name that wasn't mine. He thought I was serious about fighting for white supremacy. He'd even suggested that the two of us should found a Klavern — essentially a local gang with Robb's blessing. I immediately regretted ordering the nacho platter.
Turk was short and fat, and the black hat he wore was stitched with a skull and bones. The visible sides of his head had been shaved, but when he turned, I could see the end of a limp mohawk. He giggled when he said "nigger" or "Jew," like a little kid with a pornographic picture, not quite understanding what he sees but sure it's something naughty. His face swelled up like a bullfrog whenever this happened. He ordered a glass of beer.
"Independence used to be real Klan-friendly," he told me. "People would just pick up the phone book and randomly call people, asking them about joining the Klan or telling them about us. And they wouldn't hang up. I go down to the Apple Market there once a month or so and put up some literature on the community bulletin board. Most times when I go back, it's still there. Maybe people don't notice it."
"So how'd you decide to join up?" I asked.
"I used to live in San Antonio until five years ago, and we just had all these wetbacks moving in. And I couldn't get a parking spot on my own street, they'd bring so many of them to live with them," he said. "Then one day, I saw chickens in one of their yards. I think there was even a fucking goose. That was it for me."
"Wow, a goose?" I marveled that someone would join a hate group based on a lack of parking.
"A fucking goose. I couldn't take it anymore. So I joined up. My wife wasn't too happy about it. I'm divorced now. But then she'd tell me to take my Knights diploma down because I kept that up on the bedroom wall. And I have a bloodstained Confederate flag wallpaper on my computer, and she'd get nervous her parents would see that when they came to visit."
Turk worked occasionally as a substitute teacher. He planned to get a teaching degree and work in education full time. But his day job was in customer service at a drug company in downtown Kansas City.
"You mention starting a Klavern, and people think you're driving around in a costume with a rope hanging out the back of your truck," he said. "It's such hypocrisy. Why can't I celebrate my racial heritage?"
As enthusiastic as Turk was about putting a Klavern together, he'd never managed to recruit the three other guys needed. It seemed that most Klan activity was taking place online among people who had never met.
Later that week, Turk started a group on Yahoo.com for local Klansmen, and he named me moderator. I started getting e-mails from people with screen identities such as "kneegrowslayer" and "pure_race_ blood_warrior." They pleaded to me for membership so they could help "save our white race." When one sent me a particularly sinister request, I sent a message back, half-hopeful, half-petrified, fishing for details of unsolved hate crimes to forward to the police. None responded. The few members who bothered to post mostly linked to news stories about migrant workers and wrote warnings of an impending Hispanic takeover of the economy. After the initial ghoulish fascination, I generally ignored the site.
Turk and I talked for almost two hours before I excused myself. At the end of the meal, he picked up the check. In April, another flier appeared in the Pitch, again in Olathe. This one was for the National Socialist Movement, and it listed a post-office box at the end. Using my Klan ID, I sent a letter the day after it appeared. A week later, I got a reply.
Racial Greetings from the NSMKC,
The NSM works with many different Klan groups. The "knights party" happens to be one of the more prominent ones. You were wise to choose them, they are some of the best, one of the biggest, and one of the oldest surviving Klan factions that can legitimately trace their roots back to the original KKK. I particularly work with them a lot. I can tell you much more that might surprise you so give me a call and I look forward to working with you. 88!
In Christian Bonds,
KC Unit Leader — Adrian Trentadue
There was a phone number at the bottom of the letter with a 913 area code. I called that night.
"This is Bobby from the KKK," I said. "I just got your letter."
"Hey, good to hear from you! Give me one second. I'm just taking care of my kids." I heard some fumbling in the background and Trentadue's voice, firm but not exasperated. Then he was back. "So how'd you find me, anyway?"
I explained that I'd seen his flier in the Pitch.
"The whole paper's run by gays," he said.
"Yeah, I love screwing with them," he said. "Hey, I got to run. I've got my kids here, and my wife works third shift. Is this a number I can call you at?"
I told him it was.
"All right, man. Maybe we can get together sometime," he said. I was surprised by how friendly he was, considering that he hadn't asked anything about me.
"I think I can tell you a lot of stuff that's going to surprise you," he said. "It was good talking to you. I'll call you soon. White power!"
I was at a loss about what to say in response. I thought about my lunch with Turk at Chili's. I wondered what the hostess thought when I kept asking to be moved away from the minorities. Before I'd even met my first Klan member, I'd begun noticing race more than I ever had. Would I get used to reciting Klan slogans in an effort to convince them that I was one of them? I wanted to keep some things taboo, at least in my own mind. But I needed to say something back.
Finally, I blurted, "Yeah, high towers!" Another month of phone calls passed: small talk with Trentadue and muttered noncommittal statements whenever he talked about the Hispanics overrunning Kansas. Eventually, he agreed to meet me at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Olathe.
He met me at the door. He wore a black shirt that had a picture of a man smoking a pipe. Later, he said it was George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party and a personal hero of his.
We sat at a table not far from the bar. A young white couple sat to our left, and a white family with a baby ate behind me. Our waitress was black, and whenever she returned with a fresh beer, I wondered how much of our conversation she could hear. If I were her, I would've spit in our drinks.
Trentadue explained that he had a wife and two children, both boys under the age of 10. He worked for his younger brother, who owns a landscaping business. He said he had always been a racist. It was his brother who pointed him toward the Knights. Trentadue wasn't very computer savvy and rarely used the Internet. His brother researched hate groups for him online and recommended the Knights as the best fit. Trentadue later joined the National Socialist Movement and was now serving as the head of the Kansas City chapter. There were only three other guys, though, as near as I could tell.
"The great thing you get out of the Klan is the books," he told me. "When I was younger — and I was an open racialist then, too — people would argue with me. And sometimes you don't know what to say. The books will help you understand why you're feeling that way and why you're right. So then I had some arguments."
His parents disapprove of his views. His mother runs a home business and has a commercial-grade copy machine. When his parents aren't home, he sneaks into the house to run off a batch of fliers. Sometimes he goes into clothing stores and slips them into the pockets of jeans. Sometimes he staples them to telephone poles. Above all, he uses the Pitch. And he is sure the editors are conspiring with anti-defamation associations and lawyers to get him. It was as if he imagined himself as a lone force of good against a massive race-mixing conspiracy headed by my employer.
The waitress brought us a third round, and I realized that I was getting a little tipsy. It could be tricky if he started asking questions about me, and I needed to control the conversation. I asked him about his brother. As he explained, I watched him pay the $12 check, and when he told her to keep the $3 in change, I was surprised that he would leave a tip.
He described his brother: "He's always telling me to watch it. Sometimes I wear a wife-beater at work, and you can see these." He lifted his sleeve to expose a swastika made of bloody scythes tattooed on his arm, along with an iron cross. He pulled down his shirt, and I saw what looked like random slashes tattooed across his collarbone. "That's druidic rune for Aryan. He thinks it's better if I don't show it off too much at work. I'm always getting in people's faces, though. I argue about stuff a lot."
"You need to learn to keep your mouth shut," I said. "It's going to get you in trouble someday." Trentadue called me the first week of August to ask if I wanted to distribute fliers. His parents had recently been out of the house long enough for him to use the copier. He'd made 150 fliers, half of them about the murder and the rest promoting a presidential candidate for the Knights Party. I was at his curb at 7 p.m.
Trentadue lived in a duplex on a cul-de-sac. I parked around the corner from his address so he wouldn't see the license plate. I was halfway across the street before I remembered to run back and tear the Pitch employee parking tag off the rearview mirror.
There was no way to tell that Trentadue's half of the house was home to the family of a white supremacist; there were no swastikas on the windows, no portrait of Hitler in colored chalk on the sidewalk. The only sign of children was the miniature basketball hoop in the driveway. I rang the bell.
Trentadue had shaved his head since our meeting at Buffalo Wild Wings, and the tattoos on his scalp were now visible. His parents had taken the kids for the evening, and his wife was at work.
He shook my hand, and I followed him inside. There were no Nazi flags on the walls. It was the underwhelming house of any parent of two on the lower end of the economic scale. Stacks of paper stood askew. I could smell the earthy odor that so often accompanies young children, signaling chaos kept only just at bay.
"What size shirt are you?" he asked. "I've got a couple of spare Klan shirts, and I thought you might like them."
He handed me the shirts. One was a white sweatshirt with a Klansman and a Christmas tree and the slogan "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." The other featured a Knight reared back on a horse. I remembered my Klan training video: Always wear something over your Klan wear when you go to work or out in public. It's better to keep a low profile.
"Thanks, these are great," I said before dropping them onto an armchair.
"We should get going," he said. "It's better to do it when it's light out. People don't really watch you then."
I followed him down to the garage. I was around to the passenger side when he turned back to the house. "I'll be right back. I have to get some staples," he said. He shut the door behind him.
Standing there in the garage by myself, I felt the first creep of suspicion. Had I given myself away somehow? Had he traced my cell-phone number? I hoisted the garage door and let the light in. If he was going to come back waving a gun, at least he'd have to shoot me in public.
He returned holding the staples and a CD case. As we drove away, he asked me if I knew much racialist music. "You should try this," he said. The CD case he handed me, for a band called Day of the Sword, included an illustration of a butchered pig wearing a yarmulke.
Trentadue's methods of literature distribution were simple. At 7:30 p.m., we parked next to a Subway restaurant, and he pointed at a Pitch box. "I'll hit this one," he said. "If you do it in the daytime, no one pays any attention. People normally don't pay attention to things, and you use that." He walked to the box, pulled out every Pitch and walked back to the car in less than 20 seconds. Exactly as he had described, no one even looked at him. The two of us sat in the car and stuffed the issues with Nazi propaganda. Then he reinserted the tainted copies.
Half the time, he would pull the passenger side of the car a foot away from a box. Without any reasonable cause to refuse, I got out and brought back the papers, then replaced them with fliers inserted. We hit five more boxes before Trentadue decided that we should staple the remaining fliers onto utility poles.
During all of this, Trentadue kept a running commentary on the Pitch. If I wasn't being paid to lie to the guy, I'd have thought he was paranoid. All this talk about my employer added to my fear that he somehow knew I worked for the Pitch and was just messing with me for the moment.
At the same time, I had to admit that there was a certain adrenaline rush to it all. During those few seconds walking between the car and the Pitch box, I wondered if anyone was going to ask why I need 50 copies of a newspaper. Trentadue was right. People don't pay attention.
Then again, neither did Trentadue or Turk. Asking me a few questions about myself might have unraveled the whole thing. But for the most part, the Klansmen had been remarkably self-centered. All except for one terrible moment when we parked at the day's last Pitch box.
"What do you do for a living, anyway?" he asked.
"I came into Kansas City on a media communications internship, then that ended. So I'm kind of between things right now." This was all true, but he never asked me which media company.
The sun went down, and we left the car in a Walgreens lot and started stapling the fliers to telephone poles. Trentadue told me that he hired Robb to drive up from Arkansas for his wedding. Robb asked only for his travel expenses, and Trentadue was married by the head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "My parents knew who he was," Trentadue said. "They weren't happy about it, but at the end of the ceremony, even they had to admit he did a nice job."
When we finished the stapling, Trentadue handed me a stack of the leftover fliers I promised to distribute in Kansas City. I did this by depositing them in a Dumpster behind a barbecue restaurant. After I left him, I retraced our steps and took down and pulled out every flier we'd distributed that night.
"You got any felonies on your record?" he asked.
"No. Why?" I already knew that, according to court records, the worst thing on Trentadue's record was a DUI resulting in some criminal damage in 2001, for which he had served 60 days in jail and 18 months' probation.
"I got some guns. Maybe we could go shoot sometime. Do you like guns? Because I could get you some, cheap."
"Like, for hunting? I've handled a rifle before."
"No, I've got a shotgun and a handgun. It's for home protection."
I pictured Trentadue, belly-down on his roof, blasting into a horde of uncircumcised Edomites.
When we got to his house, he thanked me for going out with him. "It feels good to do something instead of just sitting on your ass complaining."
He reached out to shake my hand, and I took it. And for reasons I still don't fully understand, I reached my free arm around him and pulled him into a hug. He was still for a second, then I felt his other hand on my shoulder, returning the embrace. Maybe I did it because I knew I'd be writing about all of this later, and it seemed like a good moment for some catharsis. But another part of me — still recovering from the dual tension of lying to him while trying to plant Klan literature under the noses of Olathe's residents — recognized that, regardless of my opinion of him, we'd gone through some sort of bonding experience together.
I started to leave, then remembered that my Klan shirts were still in his house. I followed him in. His wife was on the couch, curled under a blanket. She was brunette, with a piercing in her lip and tired eyes. She was clearly happy to see him.
"This is Bobby," Trentadue said. "He's in the Knights."
She smiled at me. "That's great," she said. "It's so good to meet you."
The sweet way she greeted me brought all the fear back again. Trentadue wasn't interested in my life outside the Klan or in my experience. Wives and mothers always ask personal questions. I realized how stupid it was to go back into the house. I excused myself as smoothly as I could.
Out the door and down the stairs. Freedom. I'd done it. One foot on the curb. The moon was bright. Then I heard Trentadue shout, "Hey, Bobby!"
I remembered the guns he'd mentioned earlier. I turned around. It had been a good life.
He stood there in the darkness of his porch, his arm extended in a Sieg Heil.
I thumped my chest and shook my fist at him.