ELKHART — He’s 74 and won’t live forever.
Indeed, over his breakfast of biscuits and gravy at a diner here, Railton Loy — international imperial wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — takes a short break from the conversation, eases out the morning’s cocktail of prescription meds and pops a few pills. Diabetes, it seems, is one of his woes.
“I don’t know what the little one is,” he says, eyeing one of the tablets.
Don’t count him out as a rickety old man, though, even if he will be retiring from the wizard post at a ceremony this summer after nearly 52 years as a Klansman. The waitress spills Loy’s glass of water as she serves him, seemingly flustered by his garb — black shirt, black pants, Klan patch on hat, KKK belt buckle — and he says such responses are typical.
“You think I made her nervous?” he laughs.
Moreover, even if he will be taking a step back from his duties with the KKK — the group known for its burning crosses, pointed hoods, bigotry and hatred — the Mishawaka man won’t be abandoning it. Loy used to live in Elkhart and worked as a railroad conductor, and his group has been a lingering source of annoyance, discomfort and disgust for many in the area over the years.
Rather, he’ll take on the title of emperor and help the man who’s to become international imperial wizard — Jon Welch of upstate New York — ease into the position.
It’s no piece of cake running a KKK group. Loy’s got a “prison ministry” of around 50 inmates he tends to and he helps mediate all sorts of problems among the members of the National Knights, one of many KKK groups scattered around the country.
“It’s a family,” Loy says. “I’m a father, professor, the one they turn to all the time.”
It’s been several years since the KKK made a big public splash in the Elkhart area — on Aug. 3, 2002, to be exact. That’s when Loy’s son, Richard Loy, also active in his father’s Klan group, sponsored what was billed as a white pride festival on land he owns along Ash Road in St. Joseph County, right on the Elkhart County line.
“In the evening, festival-goers burned a wooden swastika in addition to a cross estimated to be at least 25 feet tall,” according to an account of the event in the Aug. 4, 2002, edition of The Truth. “During the burnings, the crowd loudly chanted ‘Seig Heil,’ ‘white power’ and ‘RAHOWA.’” RAHOWA, according to the Anti-Defamation League, stands for racial holy war.
Another Indiana Ku Klux Klan group, the American Knights of the KKK, held rallies in downtown Elkhart on Nov. 11, 2000, and April 11, 1998. The group held another in Goshen on Aug. 17, 1996, and one in LaGrange on April 27, 1996.
To be sure, in each case, groups opposed to the KKK held their own large counter-demonstrations. The Goshen KKK rally, in fact, led to creation of Diversity Day, the annual celebration of the city’s varied races and ethnic groups.
Still, the KKK has had a lingering presence here, and it seemed particularly pronounced in the 1970s, according to old yellowing articles from the Truth archives:
Ÿ A cross burning by the United Klans of America on Sept. 20, 1975, at the old Osceola drag strip off C.R. 1 in western Elkhart County drew about 100 people. The picture accompanying a Sept. 22, 1975, article shows the large burning cross and a hooded Klan member in front of it.
Ÿ A U.S. District judge on Sept. 18, 1973, sent three KKK members from Elkhart to prison for three years in connection with the placement of a pipe bomb the previous April outside the Monroe Street apartment of a black Elkhart woman. The woman kicked the bomb down a staircase and it exploded, though no one was injured.
Ÿ A classified ad in the Feb. 28, 1973, Truth encouraged those seeking information on the United Klans of America to write to an Elkhart post office box. Loy, who then lived in Elkhart, belonged to that KKK group at the time and in a letter to the editor in the March 8, 1973, Truth, he defended the newspaper’s decision to allow the ad, which had sparked controversy.
Three months after the ad ran, Loy was sentenced to two years imprisonment by a U.S. District Court judge for making false statements to a firearms dealer and possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. He had prior convictions for carrying a concealed weapon in Michigan and being an accessory to the theft of a vehicle in Indiana.
Loy said he was later released from the sentence and indicated that the judge mistakenly gave him prison time, though court records from the time weren’t immediately available.
Ÿ Between March 1972 and March 1973, Elkhart authorities reported the discovery of six burning crosses, placed variously in people’s yards, at two schools and even the Benham Avenue underpass.
Ÿ William Chaney, identified as the KKK’s grand dragon in Indiana, reported at a Feb. 26, 1972, press conference in Elkhart that Elkhart County lagged only behind Marion, Lake and Vanderburgh counties in terms of KKK membership. Loy was at the meeting, held at a Holiday Inn, and in a photo accompanying the resulting Truth article he was pictured in a KKK robe, hood and mask.
Maybe Loy’s looming retirement — to be marked at an Aug. 18th ceremony at Brush Creek, Tenn. — means the KKK’s now-subdued presence here in Michiana will fade even more. The Southern Poverty Law Center — which tracks hate groups like the KKK, including Loy’s chapter — said in a recent report that the number of Klan organizations nationwide fell in 2011 to 152, down from 221 the year before.
The varied groups, the Montomery, Ala.-based group’s report continued, “were relatively quiet.” Loy, similarly, is vague about activities of his group, the National Knights, though he doesn’t foresee much activity in the future at the Ash Road land his son owns. He won’t delve into particulars about the size of the organization. It’s an “invisible empire,” after all. He’ll just lay claim to members in 34 states and 26 countries.
Whatever the particulars, no one really expects hate groups to go away altogether. And even if KKK activity is at a seeming lull, other groups, the SPLC reports, are there to fill the void.
At the diner, Loy — who even discusses his bowling average, 145, down from 172 before an on-the-job accident left him blind in one eye — is pleasant enough, all things considered. The meeting had stemmed from a mailing he had sent to The Truth, among other media outlets, announcing his coming retirement.
He’s open to all questions, maintains an easy-going demeanor. Here’s his wallet, which has depictions of a hooded Klansman and the Confederate flag. Here’s a photo album, which contains pictures of various cross lightings, a child in a Klan hood, a Klan wedding and Santa Claus at a Klan Christmas gathering, among other things.
As he prepares to ride off into the sunset, he seems to be on a mission to communicate that the KKK is different nowadays.
He tosses out biblical references, calls the National Knights a church and even identifies himself as reverend. He was officiating the aforementioned Klan wedding. “I call myself a Christian Identity Baptist,” Loy says.
He’s not against immigrants, if they come legally. It’s just the illegal immigrants that get his goat. “We want America for Americans,” he says.
What’s more, he doesn’t tout violence and, in fact, says he serves as an “ameliorating factor,” helping keep a handle on some of the more violence-prone Klan members. “We’re trying to get away from that stuff because it isn’t giving us good publicity,” he says. Even cross lightings — don’t call them cross burnings, Loy says — aren’t to be done rashly, to intimidate. They’re reserved for members-only Klan activities and have religious significance.
Still, the bigotry and hate come out loud and clear, even as Loy seems to soft-peddle his views for broader consumption.
African-Americans should have a subservient role in society — as sharecroppers, say. “I don’t consider them human, I honestly don’t,” he says.
He recoils at the term “hate group” and offers up this to counter such characterizations: “Do you hate a dog? I don’t hate a dog. I do not hate blacks. I absolutely do not hate blacks.”
Christian Identity, meanwhile, is hardly the sort of religion preached at the church down the street.
According to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League — formed to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry — Christian Identity is a racist and anti-Semitic religious sect that considers non-whites to be “mud peoples.” Whites of European descent, according to the sect, hold special status and can be traced back to the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”
“Despite its small size, Christian Identity influences virtually all white supremacist and extreme anti-government movements. It has also informed criminal behavior ranging from hate crimes to acts of terrorism,” says the ADL.
At the same time, others in Elkhart County remember well the Klan rallies of the late 1990s and early 2000s and don’t see anything benign or redeeming about the group.
“I’m happy the mantle is being passed to someone who doesn’t live in the area,” said Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman. He took office in 1997, shortly after the Klan rally in Goshen, and helped push through a local ordinance prohibiting use of the sort of mask that Klan members use. The measure was later deemed unconstitutional.
Kauffman can’t point to any Klan activity of late, and maybe Loy’s retirement reduces the possibility further. But he wonders if there aren’t racists among the many critics of Goshen’s growing population of Mexican and Latino immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.
Ron Davis, president of the Elkhart County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is glad Loy is stepping down. “Hopefully they’ll remain silent and not do anything. Hopefully they’ll just talk about the past and not do anything in the future,” he said.
Like Kauffman, Davis isn’t aware of any recent Klan action and, all in all, sees no major problems in race relations, aside from reports from Hispanics that they’re targets of profiling by police. “We think overall, Elkhart County is very diverse and the racial situation is pretty good,” Davis said.
Looking at it through the lens of someone who studies hate groups nationally, Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, said Loy’s Klan chapter isn’t the biggest. He’d be surprised if the group has more than 100 members.
Loy’s main claim to fame, he thinks, is that he’s stuck it out all this time, 50-some years with the Klan, ever since joining in 1960. The seemingly toned-down, less in-your-face attitude Loy presents, though, is hardly unique to his group or representative of a kinder, gentler KKK. It just reflects the reality that violence, more and more, can lead to jail time and lawsuits.
Loy’s legacy “is a half century of hate,” Pitcavage says. “That’s all he’s given the country. Just hate.”