Once, while jogging through Balboa Park, I came upon a Klan rally. No white sheets for these guys. They wore T shirts emblazoned with their emblem. The modal type was young and burly with longish hair and a drooping mustache. As I circled the perimeter of the gathering, a tall one in a straw cowboy hat stepped apart from the others and followed my movements with cold, suspicious eyes. I smiled, gave him a friendly nod, and stepped up my pace. The American Nazi Party often held rallies in the park; this was the first time I had seen the Klan there.
I was up in Chino visiting my brother Henry during the divisional playoffs. Uncle Arbria called that Saturday night. He wasn't certain, but he just might be coming to Los Angeles soon. Aunt Viola had never had much of a chance to travel. He wanted her to see the West, the Rocky Mountains, the California desert, Pasadena, Ambassador College, Garner Ted Armstrong.... The trip depended on the Dodgers beating the Phillies in the playoffs. I told him that I was looking forward to seeing him soon. He said he hoped so, but you never knew how things would work out. I told him not to worry, I knew. He hoped so.
The Ku Klux Klan began making headlines in the San Diego papers a few days after my uncle's call. David Duke, the national leader of the Klan, had taken a tour of the border area and later announced the institution of a Klan Border Patrol to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico. There were accounts of Klan-involved bombings and shootings in San Diego County. A coalition of Mexican-American, black-and white-activist groups was planning an anti-Klan rally at the border. There was talk of widespread violence and bloodshed. Editorials and letters to the editor were written.
At my school, San Diego State, someone carved " KKK," and "Kill Niggers and Wetbacks" on the walls of my favorite lavatory stall. Within a few days the erotic art and kinky sexual entreaties that regularly adorned the walls of the lavatory stalls of the social science building were in danger of being overrun by racial slurs and counterslurs.
A Klansman appeared on campus. The school newspaper, the Daily Aztec, published excerpts from his speech. Concerned faculty members and student activists angrily questioned the propriety of a Klansman on campus, and the judgment of the
editors. Shortly thereafter, the
carried a series of articles by a visiting professor, dealing with past Klan atrocities. Leaflets announcing the date, time and location of an anti-Klan demonstration were hurriedly passed out around campus.
All in all, however, the Klan's activities caused hardly a ripple in the sunny, placid flow of life at San Diego State. The campus is rightly known as an apolitical, very mellow, very kicked-back place. The pennant playoffs generated a lot more passion and excitement.
Not long after my conversation with Uncle Arbria about his trip, I was sitting in my office after lunch one day, talking about nothing with a couple of colleagues, when I got a call from a reporter from the Sentinel, an East County paper in El Cajon. He had heard that I taught a course in minority group relations. He was putting together an article on the Klan, and had recently interviewed Tom Metzger, head Klansman in California. He wanted to know about the Klan's origins, its history, the social-demographic characteristics of its members, and my professional explanation of its seemingly growing appeal these days in Southern California.
"Hell, you should just go and interview Metzger yourself," one of my colleagues joked after I had hung up the phone. "Aren't you and Jim doing something on social movements? Here's a chance to get firsthand data on an ongoing, contemporary social movement. And you can get it from the horse's mouth."
"If I knew how to get in touch with him, I would," I said. Then I recalled a recent conversation I'd had with someone who could put me in touch. The idea appealed to me. I had met James Venable. Why not Metzger? It would be interesting.
"Somebody must have his phone number," my colleague chided. "Surely a researcher of your skills...."