A police helicopter hovered over Port St. Lucie last week, and cop cars lined all the roads in a five-mile radius. Officers, both uniformed and plainclothes, combed the area for clues and witnesses. The Washington Mutual Bank had been robbed.
Not long after the robbery, an African-American cop came to the door of a lime-green, ranch-style house that was located across the tree-lined street from the bank. He was looking for clues; perhaps a neighbor had seen something unusual. When the policeman entered the home, he saw things that were decidedly out of the ordinary, though they had nothing to do with banks or crooks. Three flags hung in the living room -- the Union Jack, the Scottish Dragon, and a Confederate battle pennant -- along with two portraits of Robert E. Lee, and a red cross with black rectangles was painted on the interior of the front door. The visitor didn't say anything, but it was obvious he was thinking along the lines of What the hell?
In this house lives a man who some people consider a beast. He holes up here studying history, reading the news, and fighting for his cause. The 46-year-old speaks softly and in a deep, gravelly voice. His cheeks are somewhat fleshy, and his hair is thinning and graying. He's a little hunched over, and a Benson and Hedges cigarette serves as his sixth finger -- there's always one in hand. This man does not appear, at least at first, as an immediate threat.
Read related New Times story, "The Heart of Whiteness"
But he has sinister eyes. If it weren't for them, he would look more like someone's father than evil incarnate. And while he used to be the frontman for all things hateful, he has recently changed his image.
Meet J.D. Alder, former Imperial Wizard of the Templar Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Until two years ago, all the Grand Dragons and other Klan members in the southeastern United States reported to him. During the last three decades, he has been embroiled in all sorts of controversy and has been a talk show whipping boy.
Remember Jerry Springer's "Christmas with the Klan" in 1996? Maybe you recall the white-hooded guest's opening statement: "We're all gathered here tonight to celebrate a white Christmas, a Ku Klux Klan Christmas, a Christmas with multicolored lights instead of the damned Jew product of light bushes that we've got in the department stores. And Klana Claus will be here to give all the good Klansmen some real nice stocking stuffers and lumps of coal for the little nigger kids because we're having a white Christmas."
Or maybe you recollect another Springer show, when a Klan member dressed in full regalia was attacked by a black father-and-son combo?
Or how about in 1994, when an "archbishop" baptized children into the Klan on Geraldo Rivera's "Kids in the Klan"?
If you think hard and call upon your long-term memory, you might even remember the time the country was introduced to the Klan via a TV talk show; it was on Donahue in 1993.
That was all Alder. He was, in some ways, the Klan's public face. He recalls the Springer appearance most fondly. "It was a free trip to Chicago, and Chicago's a great city," Alder says. "We wanted to get our message out and let people know that we were here."
What was the message? "White people need to wake up."
But these days Alder is a Klan ex-pat, as it were. And he's preaching a whole new genre of hate. No longer does he burn crosses and attend rallies in a white hood; he officiates at church services and plays politics.
He's in constant contact by telephone and e-mail with fellow members of the American Friends of the British National Party (AF-BNP), a fringe political group that advocates white power and white preservation. It calls for closing the borders of the United States and Great Britain to immigrants and informs white people that this land is theirs, so they should stand their ground.
The Klan just wasn't tough enough for Alder. "I saw the Klan as a dead end," Alder comments. "It's not political, it's just meetings and ceremonies. We could never get beyond that point of, well, what do you do when you get the members and they're all robed up and you have a cross-lighting?... And you can't keep doing that forever and ever."
Born in North Carolina, Alder grew up outside New York City. Alder says he has been a proponent of separation since the seventh grade. His involvement in white-power propaganda began in 1968 during the George Wallace-for-President campaign, then throughout the 1970s he dabbled in the now-defunct states'-rights movement in New York.
During the 1980s he rose quickly through the ranks of the Klan. Alder was and remains an easy conversationalist who lives and breathes white rhetoric. But by the mid-1990s he began to believe the Klan had become more of a joke then a threat.
He found an alternative two years ago, when an obscure group, a splinter of a political party in the United Kingdom, held a conference at the West Palm Beach Sheraton. This wasn't a bunch of guys in the backwoods with torches, barbecue, beer, and mangy German shepherds. It was the AF-BNP.
The group rejects the label hate group. Instead its members call themselves "white preservationists" and live by the motto, "We are the descendants of the Founding Fathers; this is our country and we are going to take it back." That's essentially it. The AF-BNP has no political party in America, no candidate, and almost no members, but it does have a publication, Heritage and Destiny. (A recent 20-page copy includes lousy pictures and fairly eloquently describes America's British heritage.)
At the red, white, and blue rally -- a national AF-BNP gathering that was held at Alder's house in February -- only about 50 people showed up. They came from all over the country but mostly from Broward County. Alder says this is because the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood area has the heaviest concentration of British transplants in the region. "Fort Lauderdale will be one of our strongholds."
Since the British National Party's founding in 1982, it has become Great Britain's largest far-right-wing party. In the June 7 parliamentary elections, the BNP captured two House of Commons seats in the borough of Oldham, where angry whites recently rioted. British papers often compare the BNP to Austria's Freedom Party, and the group's outspoken leader, Mark Cotterill, to Freedom's Jorg Haider. Cotterill describes his complaints to New Times this way: "The United States was founded by people from Britain; we've lost it, and we've got to take it back. In America in general, you've just got to look around the areas that are now multiracial to see how [minorities] have changed the country. This is not the America I knew when I came ten years ago."
Cotterill's words impress Alder. "Why would I keep spinning my wheels and going through that headache with the Klan?" he asks. "I already know the pattern of the Klan and I know what's going to happen and I know where it ends. It's just a repetition over and over and over."
When Alder announced to his brethren that he was leaving the KKK, he wasn't shunned by his hooded buddies. Many of them felt similarly, and so, Alder relates, the South Florida chapter of the Klan is now just a hazy nightmare of the past.
These days Alder shows some telltale signs that he is not the hate-spewing racist he appeared to be on Jerry Springer, Geraldo, and Donahue. Among other things he's removed a flag with a swastika from his living room because the AF-BNP is not a fascist party. "Sometimes after our meetings, we go to the Chinese buffet," Alder adds. "If I go to a restaurant and I get a black or a nonwhite waitress, they get the same tip that a white one would if they give the same service. I don't say, "I want this one or that one.' In a grocery store I don't seek out the white cashier. I go to where the line is the shortest."
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But the Anti-Defamation League believes Alder's new friends are dangerous. According to ADL assistant director Brittanie Werbel in Washington, D.C., Cotterill was a shady character when he spewed racist diatribe in England; now that he's teamed with Alder, the two could be a ruthless tandem. Indeed Cotterill has ties to David Duke, famed Internet hatemonger William Pierce, and Combat 18, a violent, neo-Nazi organization that includes convicted murderers among its members. "[AF-BNP members] mask their racism in British culture and heritage," Werbel says, "but we keep tabs on them. Definitely."
Alder, for his part, is a learned man. He's an encyclopedia of medieval and Civil War history. Since his mother passed away a few years ago, leaving him a little money, he's been living at home and caring for his 93-year-old father. When New Times showed up at his home, Alder was dressed like a reverend, complete with frock and a big, silver Cross of St. George around his neck.
He says the AF-BNP is growing in South Florida. Minions are recruiting -- but subtly, with leaflets and invitations to meetings. Alder says he won't know exactly how many members the group has until the next rally, which is scheduled for February 2002. As for the KKK, he doesn't miss the pointy hats. "Any time I've gotten nostalgic for the Klan, I think of all the headaches," he says. "One of the hardest things was finding land for cross-lighting. And if we did find it, well, would the people let us use it? And half the time it was so far out in the boonies that half the people couldn't find their way there. Then there was "Who's going to make the robes?'
"What a headache."