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NAACP, KKK leaders meet in Wyo.; Klan organizer joins civil rights organization

By P. Solomon Banda

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 4 2013 11:59 a.m. MDT

In this Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, file photo, John Abarr, a kleagle of the United Klans of America, out of Great Falls, Mont., speaks during a meeting with leaders of the NAACP Casper branch at the Parkway Plaza hotel in Casper, Wyo. Jimmy Simmons, president of the NAACP Casper branch, spent several months attempting to organize the meeting due to concerns about reports of violence against black men and Ku Klux Klan pamphleting in Gillette, Wyo. The gathering, which took place in private under heavy security, was the first formal meeting between Klan and NAACP representatives that either side was aware of.

Casper Star-Tribune, Alan Rogers, File, Associated Press

DENVER — A secret meeting between a representative of the Wyoming chapter of the NAACP and a Ku Klux Klan organizer ended with the Klan organizer paying $50 to join the civil rights organization, participants said.

Saturday's meeting between Jimmy Simmons, president of the Casper NAACP, and John Abarr, a KKK organizer from Great Falls, Mont., took place at a hotel in Casper, Wyo., under tight security, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the United Klans of America said Tuesday that the meeting was a first.

Abarr told The Associated Press on Tuesday he filled out an NAACP membership form so he could get the group's newsletters and some insight into its views. He said he paid a $30 fee to join, plus a $20 donation.

Simmons said he asked for the meeting after receiving reports that KKK literature was being distributed in Gillette, about 130 miles north of Casper, and to discuss race relations, including what he said were reported beatings of African-American men. He did not provide details.

Abarr said he knew nothing about hate crimes or the literature, which was distributed in a residential neighborhood of Gillette in October.

Gillette police Lt. Chuck Deaton said there have been 10 hate or bias crimes reported in the past five years that involved name-calling but no assaults on African-Americans. Deaton said police also were unable to speak with a young man distributing the literature, and he was chased away by neighbors.

"In the 21 years that I've been here, that's the first I heard of the Klan in Gillette," Deaton said.

Eric Wingerter, a spokesman for the NAACP's national headquarters, told the Star-Tribune that local chapter leaders aren't required to get permission to arrange meetings.

United Klans of America imperial wizard Bradley Jenkins of Birmingham, Ala., said in a telephone interview that he sanctioned the meeting and called it a first between the KKK and the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

"I don't know if we accomplished too much," Abarr said. "We're not about violence. We're about being proud to be white."

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said there have been meetings between white and African-American groups, but none between the NAACP and the KKK.

He called the United Klans of America a "copycat wannabe" group that's not the group responsible for violence during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, including the deaths of four girls at a Baptist church in Birmingham. The original UKA was dismantled in the 1980s following a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"I think it's outrageous and counterproductive," Potok said of the Wyoming meeting. "It gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to."

Simmons insisted the meeting was worth it.

"It's about opening dialogue with a group that claims they're trying to reform themselves from violence," Simmons said. "They're trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they're just changing the packaging."

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