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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

KKK celebrates Trump victory with brazen parade

The movement's display of triumphalism is a symptom of what many in this divided America fear: that Mr Trump's shock win has unleashed unstoppable forces of hatred.
A pickup bearing the Confederate flag and emblems of the Ku Klux Klan drives up Main Street in the small North Carolina town of Roxboro. Natalie Allison Janicello for The National
A pickup bearing the Confederate flag and emblems of the Ku Klux Klan drives up Main Street in the small North Carolina town of Roxboro. Natalie Allison Janicello for The National
Roxboro, North Carolina // First came the rumble of engines. Then the honking of horns invaded Main Street.

Then, as the Kalvacade (as the Klansmen call it) swept through the small North Carolina town of Roxboro, two black-shirted men leaned from the windows of their pickup cab, raised their arms in a Nazi salute and shouted above the roar of engines, "Hail victory."

This is what passes for the modern face of the Ku Klux Klan.

After 150 years of fighting for a white America, on Saturday some 30-odd vehicles drove through country roads and town streets to show their support for Donald Trump, the right-wing populist who has stunned the world by winning the US election on a ticket marked by prejudice, misogyny and bigotry.

News of the rally brought out hundreds of protesters at dozens of counter-demonstrations held elsewhere in the southern state, dwarfing the size of the KKK's event.

"No hate, no fear, the KKK's not welcome here," chanted protesters in the tiny village Pelham, rumoured at one time to be the site of the pro-Trump rally.

The movement's brazen display of triumphalism is a symptom of what many in this divided America fear: that Mr Trump's shock win has unleashed unstoppable forces of hatred.

Earlier in the day, Amanda Barker, one the organisers, said Mr Trump shared many of the values of the KKK.

"We actually kind of have the same views. A lot of white Americans felt the same way about the wall, immigration, terrorism," she said.

"Donald Trump is going to do some very good things and turn this country around."

Sending home Mexicans, she added, would help Americans find work more easily.

Mr Trump's win has already come at a cost, according to watchdogs, who report a surge in hate crimes since he claimed victory in the early hours of November 9.

The sensitivity of the issue meant KKK officers gave contradictory information about their plans, describing different locations and times for the drive-by.

Eventually they appeared in a convoy of pickups and cars flying Confederate flags, a symbol used by the far right for its historical associations with slavery and racism.

Many wore black shirts emblazoned with patches declaring their lifetime membership of the "Invisible Empire". They rode in vehicles sporting their insignia of a white cross on red background. The weather was too cold for a march, organisers said.

One woman leaned from her window, twisting her face into a shout. "White power," she screamed.

The display is a reminder that America remains a country divided by race, politics and power, despite electing its first black president in 2008.

The KKK has campaigned for a white and Christian America since it emerged from the defeated South after the Civil War. Its bloody history includes lynchings and racial violence.

Not far from the protest is a memorial to the day in 1979 when five anti-racist protesters were shot dead at a KKK and American Nazi Party rally.

In recent years, its activities have disappeared from public view. At times it has resembled a rump movement, splintered and moribund, with opponents suggesting only a small core of members were left, posting in online message boards and delivering flyers.

But the emergence of the so-called Alt-Right - a chaotic collection of internet trolls, white supremacists and fellow travellers - suggests a new era of confidence for the far right, according to Manzoor Cheema, the founder of Muslims for Justice who helped organise a counter demonstration in the North Carolina city of Raleigh.

"These are very dangerous times and this was exactly how fascism grew in Germany," he said.

For her part, Mrs Barker, who goes by the title Imperial Kommander, claimed to have seen a surge in membership of the North Carolina chapter, although she declined to give numbers.

"And now it seems like these people are kind of waking up, saying, 'I'm not held down and now I can actually feel privileged and feel proud to be white once more'."

She added that they planned to hold an awards dinner after the rally followed by a cross burning ceremony - if the wind died down to a safe level.

She brushed off accusations of racism, saying the group's aim was in line with mainstream policy from the recent past, such as Operation Wetback in the 1950s to deport Mexican illegal immigrants, a policy later condemned for civil rights violations.

She also raised concerns about the presence of Indians and Arabs in the US.

"We don't know who's here as sleeper cells," she said.

Her words follow an extraordinarily bitter election campaign, during which Mr Trump threatened to ban foreign Muslims from entering the country and said Syrian refugees represented a "great Trojan horse".

His rhetoric won the endorsement of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK, as well as the group's newspaper, The Crusader.

As a result, many Muslims and immigrants in the nation fear a backlash.

Mr Trump has since made a number of calls for unity and said he wants to govern on behalf of the whole country.

"We condemn bigotry and prejudice in all of its forms. We denounce all of the hatred and we forcefully reject the language of exclusion and separation," he said during a victory rally in Cincinnati on Thursday.

But the words do not impress Mr Cheema who said urgent measures were needed to fight back.

"Our goal is to build a long-term movement to fight back against the racist policies, the policies that impact workers, that may impact immigrants, that may impact Muslims and that may cause more wars abroad," he said.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae