Broward News

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Says It's No Surprise Florida Cops Were Linked to KKK

The nickname of Fruitland Park, Florida, might be "The Friendly City," but something sinister is lurking behind the Lake County city's façade of Southern hospitality.

Deputy Police Chief and Fire Chief David Borst stepped down last Thursday after the FBI confronted him with evidence that he was involved in the Ku Klux Klan -- the white supremacist group that emerged following the Civil War and is known for its conical hats.

An officer named George Hunnewell was also fired for being named in the report.

This is far from the first time that the city of 5,000 has been in the national spotlight for allegations of racism. Last year, Gilbert King won a Pulitzer Prize for The Devil in the Grove, which chronicled violence against blacks there in the '40s and '50s.

"People seem surprised that something like this could be going on in Florida, but back in the days of Jim Crow, Florida had a higher per-capita lynching rate than any other state in America," King tells the Pulp. "But Florida's brutal racist past mostly flew under the radar. It was perceived as being 'south of the South.'

"People in Lake County are not surprised at all by this news," he adds.

Although King's award-winning book chronicled a time when the third incarnation of the Klan was booming in the South, it was estimated in 2012 that the hate group has only 5,000 to 8,000 members left. Still, it seems it has a bizarre stranglehold on one particular Central Florida town. It's not even the first time in recent memory that the Fruitland Park fuzz have been caught working with the KKK. In 2009, Officer James Elkins resigned after admitting he was the leader of a local chapter.

"It's not a crime to be a member of the KKK, even if you are the deputy chief. It's not a crime to be stupid," Chief Deputy Ridgway told the Orlando Sentinel. "It's not a crime to hate people. It may be despicable, it may be immoral, but it's not a crime."

The State Attorney's Office is investigating arrests of minorities conducted by both cops, USA Today reports.

Send your story tips to the author, Allie Conti.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.