Recent KKK Activity in Oregon: Separating Fact From Fiction

Published on Nov 19, 2015

A recent wave of Ku Klux Klan recruitment flyers that have been found throughout the Portland metro area and beyond came as a shock to local residents, leaving many asking, does the Klan still exist in Oregon? How seriously should we take the threat of KKK activities in our towns? For the last two weeks Rose City Antifa has been investigating this issue, following up on tips and leads , and otherwise piecing together a picture of what this event means. Here are our thoughts on the matter to date. Please continue to contact us with any information you may have on this or any white supremacist organizing in the region.

On the morning of November 6th, Gresham residents found themselves recipients of a few dozen flyers printed from an outdated KKK website. The flyers give old contact information for a KKK chapter in Michigan. Besides the onerous prejudicial claims, assorted grammatical issues and spelling errors, the flyers were also outdated by decades with references to prominent 1990s figures such as Rosie O'Donnell and Ted Kennedy (deceased). Since then, small numbers of the same flyers have now been found in Oregon City, West Linn, Molalla, and Silverton. Interestingly a similar KKK flyering occurred in Burlington , Vermont only weeks before the event in Gresham.

The person responsible for the local spate of flyerings seem to us to be a copycat of the Vermont action motivated by the extensive press coverage that these incidents generated both there and here. We have seen no evidence that the incidents in Oregon were performed by an active KKK chapter. In fact the individual responsible for the flyers was neither organized or motivated enough to create an updated flyer with amended spelling and references to current events. Additionally were there an emerging Klan group trying to start in the area it seems reasonable as a baseline they would create an email of their own (approximately ten minutes work) and attempt to shunt recruits towards themselves, rather than a defunct chapter in the midwest. To us this reads like a person with shared racist beliefs, that seized on the name-recognition of the Klan, and simply downloaded a document that is available with a quick google search. The Klan overall is a fragmented and shrinking organization that clings to life only in isolated enclaves primarily in the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S. They do not have a central, national organization at all any longer so it does not seem feasible that there was a recruitment effort coordinated from the Klan itself that exclusively targeted Vermont and Oregon using extremely second-rate materials.
However because of the iconic status of the KKK name, the flyers alone were enough to send waves of fear through our communities. On the evening of November 12th wild rumors circulated on social media that there were Klansmen in full regalia in front of the Nike store on Martin Luther King Jr. blvd in Portland. There was a large police response to a shooting a few blocks away which may somehow have catalyzed the story. As the rumor spread via social media it morphed into reports of the Klan marching toward downtown. When we first saw this story circulating we thought that it may have been some type of ghoulish commemoration of the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw by white supremacists 27 years prior to the day. Seraw was brutally beaten with a bat by members of East Side White Pride and left for dead on November 12th, 1988. However despite the significance of the date, we have found no credible evidence that the Klan or any racist group held a rally that day. When our people responded there were no white supremacists anywhere to be seen in the area. No one else has produced evidence of a KKK presence either. In an era when almost everyone is carrying a cell phone, it is highly improbable that an image as powerful in the American imagination as a fully robed Klan march would escape documentation on a busy thoroughfare in a historically black neighborhood. The appearance of the KKK in a public place without forewarning is inconsistent with how the Klan typically organizes. The Klan’s mystique relies heavily on their image as a powerful secret society responsible for clandestine terror. When the Klan does rally in public, they get assembly permits and police protection. They typically publicize the event to make it as big of a spectacle as possible. Menacing on a street corner to show toughness is a tactic more in line with a white supremacist group like the Hammerskins whose power is derived from macho theatrics and a reputation for street-brawling, and who is not attempting to win a broad political audience.

Even though these rumors were false there is reason for people to be concerned about the Klan in Oregon. Our state has a deep history of Klan activity. Oregon had the highest KKK membership rate per capita in the country in the early 1900s, even electing a Klan-backed governor to office in 1922, Walter M. Pierce. However since that time the mass appeal of the KKK has died out and the last known chapter in Oregon, based in Grants Pass, dissolved in 2001. Due to its dwindling popularity and internal conflicts, the KKK has disappeared across our state but its racist ideology lives on in many thriving white supremacist groups, many of which are active across Oregon today.
KKK-endorsed governor of Oregon (1923-1927), Walter Pierce
While there are no longer active KKK chapters here, Oregon is currently home to a wide variety of other white supremacist groups, even serving as homeland for white nationalists as outlined in the Northwest Territorial Imperative . These groups range from the religiously organized such as Christian Identity or Odinist groups like Wolves of Vinland , to groups striving for mainstream legitimacy like The American Freedom Party , a white nationalist political organization. There are prison-based gangs whose white supremacy is often incidental to their criminal activities (European Kindred, the Brood, the Gypsy Jokers, etc.) and intellectual crypto-fascists pushing for “tribalism” or using other coded language for their bigotry. There are groups that have latched onto the Cascadian movement to find points of entryism like The Northwest Front an organization pushing for the  Pacific Northwest to secede as a white homeland. And of course there are the stereotypical neo-Nazis ( National Socialist Movement ) and racist “skinheads” (we prefer to refer to them as “boneheads” as true skinhead subculture is antiracist) like the Stumptown Bootboys and Hammerskins .

One theory we kicked around was the possibly there was an individual or two from one of these existing white power formations attempting to break away and start claiming Ku Klux Klan instead. The much hyped #OPKKK project that anonymous launched the day before this flyering really showed the name recognition and media draw that the KKK garners, despite the KKK’s current lack of power or strategic relevance. However as we have outlined previously in the article it doesn’t seem like there was very much effort overall put into making the flyering an effective recruitment platform (no local contact for example). And the entire enterprise does not seem like something orchestrated by an experienced or dedicated organizer.

While the flyers were most likely distributed by a lone wolf attempting to instill fear in minority communities in our region, they do bring light to the fact that Portland continues to be a haven for racist ideologies and groups who would like to revitalize a white supremacist movement in our state. This unfortunate affair can serve as an opportunity to draw attention to this important issue and to have discussions about the very real hate groups that are operating here and what we can do in our communities to oppose them. Rose City Antifa is in the process of organizing educational outreach in the area to talk about local white supremacist groups, how to recognize them, and practical measures people can take to fight back. Keep a look out for more information on event specifics.

We will continue to confront and fight neo-nazis and fascists until Oregon is a safe place for all!

Let's get organized and defend our neighborhoods from racist thugs, hooded or otherwise!

If you have any information regarding any white supremacist activity in the area, please contact us  at [email protected]
Below you will find an anti-racist counter-flyer you can distribute in your local communities.
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