The following article was published in The Inquirer on Aug. 20, 1984. The author, who is now a staff writer at the Washington Post, interviewed Glenn Miller, a North Carolina Klan leader at the time. Also known as Frazier Glenn Cross, he is charged in Sunday's fatal shootings outside Jewish centers in Kansas.
One hundred torches held high turned night into day as the flame crawled up a towering wooden cross and trickled out its limbs.
A chant rose from circled Ku Klux Klansmen.
And then the flames roared higher and the night turned still, save for the voice of a toddler in her mother's arms.
"White power," the tiny voice cried.
In rural North Carolina, heavily armed Klansmen have rallied almost every weekend since Memorial Day - preaching racism one weekend in a rural hamlet north of Raleigh on the same night that a cross burned 200 miles away in a pasture west of Charlotte.
Backlash to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential candidacy, to Michael Jackson's enormous popularity among young whites and predictions of a "race war" by Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan have heightened white fears, driving new members to Klan groups that already had been growing faster here than anywhere in America.
"We've doubled in the last nine months," said Glenn Miller, who heads the militant Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "White people just gettin' fed up."
While anti-Klan groups consider statements such as Miller's a bit exaggerated, they sense a Klan resurgence.
"It's not a minor thing," said Randall Williams, director of the Klanwatch project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. "North Carolina is the most active state in the country. "
Dozens of violent or intimidating acts have been attributed to Klan groups in North Carolina within the last 18 months.
Klan leaders deny committing violent acts. But they readily acknowledge that some of their robed members showed up outside the jailhouse in Statesville last year, offering to bail out a black man charged in the rape of a white woman.
And uniformed Klansmen turned up outside at least two schools this year after a Klan leader vowed that 1,000 "armed white men" would begin patrolling the schools to protect white children.
Growing membership and the formation of new Klan units have brought Klan activity to regions of the state where robed nightriders had been purely the stuff of history books.
The new generation of Klansmen is thick with Vietnam veterans, who bring a militant edge and greater political savvy. Miller, a Green Beret sergeant who served two tours in Vietnam, says he is building an elite "white Christian army" within Klan ranks.
A suit filed in federal court in Raleigh by Klanwatch this summer alleges that Miller heads an illegal paramilitary army of more than 300 members with units in 11 counties.
Though Miller, who ran for governor in the Democratic primary in May, received just 1 percent of the vote, Klansmen have been conducting voter registration drives and talking about running Klan candidates for state and local offices next year.
Observers of the Klan, who perceive an evolution in Southern viewpoint since the turbulent 1960s, doubt that avowed Klansmen will have much success at the polls. "In the '60s the Klan was speaking for the white South," Williams said. "Now, I don't think that's true."
But that shift in sentiment has led anti-Klan activists here to fear that moderates and liberals no longer take the Klan seriously.
"Our concern is that people don't realize what's going on," said Leah Wise, executive director of Southerners for Economic Justice in Durham. "This escalation over the past four years is alarming. It's a serious problem."
The Piedmont has been awash with summer rain, bedeviling farmers and pelting the white satin robes of the Klan. Downpours have held down the turnout at a half-dozen Klan gatherings to below 500; a rally outside Louisburg last month drew just a handful.
But members of the revitalized Klan have been up to more than rallying and recruiting in the last 18 months, according to law enforcement agencies and anti-Klan groups.
Among the Klan activities:
Fifteen robed Klansmen marched on the Iredell County Jail in Statesville in January last year, offering to post $50,000 bond for Milton Mayfield, a 20-year-old black man charged with the rape of a white girl who was walking home from school. Mayfield declined the offer.
Two weeks later a black minister who had publicly denounced the Klan's jailhouse visit was awakened just after midnight to find a cross burning on his lawn and 19 windowpanes shot out in his living room. A federal grand jury investigation into the two incidents, both of which happened in the western part of the state, is continuing.
Last fall, heavily armed Klansmen wearing combat fatigues allegedly massed outside the home of a white store owner near Sanford, burning a cross and shouting racist slogans to dissuade her from hiring or associating with blacks.
A robed Klansman repeatedly appeared at the rural home of Bobby Lee Person, a black prison guard, burning a cross and shouting threats, after Person attempted to win a job promotion.
More than a dozen cross-burnings have taken place outside the homes of blacks or interracial couples. Though the Klan is suspected, the burning cross also has been used by nonmembers and teenagers to intimidate.
"We didn't do none of it," said Klan Grand Dragon Virgil L. Griffin. "I mean, some of it might have been done by the Klan. I'm not gonna say it was, I'm not gonna say it wasn't. I got members all over the state. I can't hold their hands. I'm not gonna say they not gonna do no violence. I'm gonna try to stop 'em, try to keep it down."
This spring, Klan leader Miller promised that "armed white men will patrol schools throughout the state" this year to protect white schoolchildren. Subsequently, sources said, robed Klansmen stopped two school buses in Rowan County to distribute Klan literature and later appeared across the street from West Rowan High School. Miller led 15 Klansmen in combat fatigues to an elementary school in Sanford, the sources said.
"The main thing we're trying to do is focus attention on black racial violence in North Carolina," Miller said.
Leah Wise's view: "It was just intimidation, pure and simple."
"We're building a white Christian army. We don't make any bones about that," Miller said.
Miller, a taut, muscular man, is sitting in the small frame house that serves as home to his family and headquarters of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Miller quit the Nazi Party to organize the Carolina Knights in late 1980, he says, because the swastika wouldn't sell.