REGIONAL— An unknown number of residents from Ely to Virginia and other communities on the east end of the Iron Range found racist literature, distributed by a group calling itself the Loyal White …
REGIONAL— An unknown number of residents from Ely to Virginia and other communities on the east end of the Iron Range found racist literature, distributed by a group calling itself the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, placed near their mailboxes or doorsteps on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The literature appears to have been an effort to recruit new members, and referred people to a website and urged them to call two different phone numbers, one based in North Carolina, the other located in or around Richmond, Virginia.
The North Carolina number reached only a recorded message that repeatedly referred to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as “Martin Luther Coon” and advocated that the country should celebrate Confederate general Robert E. Lee instead of King.
The bags were distributed across a wide area, including the communities of Ely, Tower, Embarrass, Virginia, and Britt, although it’s not clear how many residences were actually targeted. Law enforcement officials received scattered reports of the literature, although it’s not clear whether the literature drop violated any laws. St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said the only report he had came from Ely and that the matter is not something he plans to investigate.
While whoever distributed the literature might have intended to attract new members for the KKK, it appears they succeeded mostly in angering those who received the material.
“We’ve never had to deal with stuff like this,” said an Embarrass resident, who asked that her name not be used. She had found the literature inside a sandwich-sized plastic bag placed in the snow near the base of a set of mailboxes for her family and neighbors along Wahlsten Road. The bag had small blue rocks inside, most likely to keep the bag from blowing away. She said her husband, who is Native American, found a second baggie near the mailboxes the following day. The literature described Rev. King as a communist and a sexual pervert, repeating unsubstantiated smears that have circulated in white supremacist circles for years. A second piece of literature encouraged whites to celebrate their white heritage.
“This isn’t something I see any good coming from,” the Wahlsten Road resident added. “We’re very Christian people and I don’t like anything like that said about anybody, no matter what race or religion they might belong to.”
City officials in Virginia have also reacted to the literature showing up in their community. The city’s Human Rights Commission held a meeting on Monday to draft a statement expressing the city’s displeasure with the action.
“It’s just intolerable,” said Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe. “This is nothing but hatred, and it spews disrespect. It’s just garbage.”
The city of Virginia offered up more than just the mayor’s denunciation of the fliers. The city council and the Virginia Human Rights Commission approved a resolution, on Jan. 23, that reiterated the city’s support for the Minnesota Human Rights Act and declared that the fliers did not represent community values in Virginia.
The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are based in Pelham, N.C., and the group has a reputation for extremist views. The group took part in the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year and its leader, James Allen Fields, Jr., later stated that he was glad that a young woman, Heather Heyer, a counter-demonstrator in Charlottesville, was killed by one of the white supremacists.
While often referred to as white supremacists, the group’s leaders claim to be white “separatists,” believing that the races should be kept separate.
In addition to the fliers, KBJR reported that pro-KKK signs were erected along Hwy. 169 north of Virginia.
While often associated with the southern U.S., the Klan did once have a strong presence in Minnesota. According to Elizabeth Hatle, author of “The Ku Klux Klan in Minnesota,” the organization once boasted 51 chapters across the North Star state, including chapters in Duluth and on the Iron Range. While the group has long been known primarily for its hostility to African-Americans, the group has also long espoused a nationalist ideology that also targeted Catholics, Jews, labor unions, and recent immigrants, particularly the Irish.
Many of the Klan members were considered prominent in their communities at the time, and many held elected office, including in St. Louis County.