It had been a long time since the city of Des Moines, Wash., had a run-in with white supremacists.
A decade ago, a group of self-proclaimed skinheads would stand on a corner and deliver racially-charged propaganda, recalled Sgt. Doug Jenkins of the Des Moines Police Department.
“They actually lived here, and they’d stand up at 216th Street and the highway and pass out flyers,” he said. “They’d wear their uniforms and everything.”
“But,” he said, “we haven’t heard from them in a long time.”
So, when residents woke up to find flyers from the United Klans of America on their doorsteps one morning in late July, no one was really sure what to think.
Folded and tucked in a Ziploc bag full of small, white rocks, the flyers read: “Neighborhood Watch: You can sleep well tonight knowing the UKA is awake.”
A 60-year-old woman who lives in one of several neatly-kept condos in a quiet neighbored along 20th Avenue South said she discovered the flyer when she walked onto her porch around noon on either July 20 or July 21.
“I immediately got kind of a cold shudder,” said the woman, who described her neighborhood as racially diverse. “It occurred to me that they were saying that white supremacists are among us, and they’re ready to act when they feel threatened.”
“Why did they target my block in my community?” she said.
Police received one 911 call and two other reports from residents who received the flyers and were concerned. According to police records, an officer was dispatched to the area and collected one of the baggies, which was placed into evidence.
“The bottom line here is no crime was committed. There wasn’t any malicious harassment,” Sgt. Jenkins said. “It just didn’t rise to the level of criminal activity.”
A few weeks after the flyers were left in Des Moines, KIRO Radio began to exchange messages with a member of the UKA Northwest, who said the flyers had been misunderstood. He wanted to clear up what he believes to be misperceptions about the group and what it stands for.
Eric, a 37-year-old lifelong resident of Tukwila, said he became involved in the white pride movement in high school and founded the UKA Northwest two years ago.
The United Klans of America, which has its roots in the Klu Klux Klan, was one of the largest Klan organizations in the United States in the 1960s and 70s. Eric said he was prevented from disclosing the number of members in the UKA Northwest, which he said includes individuals in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
The group’s website has a series of statements about white pride such as, “There is a sickness that has affected White Americans for quite a number of years the lack of PRIDE! We can help find the cure.”
Eric said the UKA is about white pride, not white power.
“(The UKA is) truly about America first, about our people, our county and just putting pride back in our country,” he said during a recent interview at Crystal Springs Park.
Currently on disability, Eric said running the UKA’s Northwest chapter has become a full-time job for which he receives no pay. The married father of one hosts a two-hour radio show on Tuesday evenings, during which listeners can call in to discuss current events and issues of race.
“Good evening, racial greetings brothers and sisters. Thank you for joining us for Klasp KKountry, brought to you by the United Klans of America,” he opened a recent episode.
Earlier this month, the UKA used the radio show to declare war on the Westboro Baptist Church and its members, saying the group, known for protesting at the funerals of soldiers, is made up of “true hatemongers.”
Eric said the UKA is guided by the phrase, “Non silba, sed anthar,” which is Latin for, “Not for self, but for others.” He said members support various charities, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House, and Feeding America.
“Back in the day, Klansmen would bring blankets and food to colored families,” he said. “It happened, it’s real, the photos exist.”
One such photo serves as the backdrop for his personal Twitter page.
“We don’t hate anybody,” Eric said, when asked if he would consider himself to be racist.
“Black people?” he was asked.
“Absolutely don’t hate them at all,” he said.
“White? Hispanic? Asian?”
“If they’re a legal, law-abiding citizen, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “There’s plenty of white trash and white scum out there, too.”
Eric claimed the flyers were not intended to carry racial undertones or to scare residents, but rather to comfort them.
“What did you mean by, “Sleep well tonight, the UKA is watching?” he was asked.
“That means you don’t have to worry about it. We’re doing our duty to uphold the Constitution and protect and defend the people of this country,” he said.
“Do you understand that someone could perceive that as being something a little more cryptic?”
“If you look at our flyer, there’s nothing intimidating or hateful on it,” he said.
Eric said he wants the public to give the group a chance, and hopes the Klan’s public image will change over time.
“I would hope that they would have an open mind since that seems to be what they’re pushing and actually look into our organization and listen to us, see what we do and then go from there,” he said.
The woman who received one of the flyers in Des Moines said she could never be convinced to support the group.
“I don’t think there’s any amount of convincing that could happen that I wouldn’t think there’s something racist behind this,” she said. “Certainly, with the name Klan, you’ve got to distance yourself from that. There will never be a positive Nazi organization ever again, either. It carries way too much baggage and I don’t’ think there’s anything they can do to repair their image.”
“If you truly are not racist, prove it,” she said. “Prove that you have no ill will towards other people.”
Eric said the group will continue to do public outreach, including more flyer drops. The Des Moines Police Department said such activities are protected under free speech and cannot be stopped, despite how it might make residents feel.
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