An organization that tracks the Ku Klux Klan claims the hate group has an active chapter in Rutland and in Hardwick.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which became famous for successfully bringing lawsuits against hate groups whose members commit violent crimes, publishes a list of active hate groups across the nation each year.
The list of groups operating in 2006, released this spring, has two entries for Vermont. Rutland and Hardwick, according to the SPLC, are home to chapters of the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Mark Potok, who runs the center’s Intelligence Project, said each entry on this list is an organization that was active during 2006. “Activity,” he said, must go beyond merely running a Web site–the group must be holding rallies, distributing leaflets or at the very least be open to new members.
The Rutland chapter was listed with a post office box as an address in a now-defunct Web page for the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, according to Potok. The URL provided by Potok redirects to a different Web site for the same group with no listings of any chapters in Vermont.
“When a group claims chapters in a given place, we list them unless we have a reason to believe it is false,” he said. “Our listings say that at some point in calendar year 2006, this group was active.”
But how active?
Hardwick Police Chief James Dziobek likewise said he had not heard anything about the alleged chapter in his town, and he had never seen any bias crimes in the area.
Potok countered that just because the Klan, which refers to itself as the “invisible army,” can’t be seen, that does not mean it isn’t here.
Detective Sgt. Kevin Stevens of the Rutland City Police said the first he heard of the supposed Klan chapter was when a reporter contacted him. He said he doubted such a group operated in Rutland, saying militant groups like the Klan frequently have more active existences on paper than in real life.
“Very frequently, authorities in a given community are surprised to find a hate group operating in their town or operating a mailbox, especially if it turns out to be a drop box,” Potok said. “Especially in a state like Vermont, where the Klan is not very popular, you won’t see your local Klan in public. Just because local police and local anti-racism groups don’t know about it does not make it not true.”