Leaders of the Wyoming NAACP chapter and a Montana-based Ku Klux Klan group met recently to discuss hate crimes and other issues in what one participant described as an "opening dialogue" to help end violence.
It is believed to be a first for both organizations.
The meeting — held in a Casper, Wyo., hotel room — ended with a Klan organizer paying $30 to join the NAACP and making an additional $20 donation, according to The Casper Star Tribune.
Casper NAACP President Jimmy Simmons and three other chapter leaders met John Abarr, the Montana-based organizer for the United Klans of America, Saturday under tight security. It took months of negotiations over ground rules and topics to be covered, the newspaper reported.
Among the items on the meeting agenda: a discussion about the distribution of KKK literature across Wyoming and reports that black men were the target of hate crimes in the town of Gillette, located 130 miles north of Casper.
Abarr, according to the Star Tribune, denied any knowledge of KKK literature being spread across the state or the targeting of blacks in Gillette. But he apparently pointed out to Simmons that the distribution of literature was not considered illegal.
The leaders also discussed the Klan's effort to have northwest states — including Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon — secede from the union in order to preserve the region as a primarily white enclave.
Abarr suggested that Georgia secede to form a black-only state.
"I don't know if we accomplished too much," Abarr told The Associated Press
afterward. "We're not about violence. We're about being proud to be white."
Simmons told AP he thought the meeting went well, but he remained skeptical and shocked at Abarr's claims that the KKK now is peaceful, even though it still might have a few bad groups here and there.
"It's about opening dialogue with a group that claims they're trying to reform themselves from violence," Simmons said. "They're trying to shed that violent skin, but it seems like they're just changing the packaging."
Abarr apparently presented a different picture of the Klan, describing it at one point as an organization that treats everyone equally, just as it wants its members to be treated, the Star Tribune reported. In some parts of the country it serves as a neighborhood watch organization so communities can sleep peacefully at night.
Abarr, who said he considered a run for Congress in 2011 from Montana as a Republican, told the NAACP leaders that he had married a liberal woman and had raised his children to be liberals "so they could choose their own path" in life, according to the newspaper.
The paper quoted him as joking about being in the Klan.
"I like it because you wear robes and get out and light crosses and have secret handshakes," he says. "I like being in the Klan. I sort of like it that people think I’m some sort of outlaw," he said, laughing.
As the meeting wrapped up, Abarr told the NAACP group that he may have sacrificed a lot by meeting with them.
"People are going to call me names for coming down here," he reportedly said. "You know, I might not even have a group when I get back."
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