Before he founded the Loyal White Knights, Chris and his wife, Amanda, had been expelled from the Original Knight Riders Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in West Virginia for, among other offenses, “excessive or habitual drunkenness.” On an affidavit of indigency after his Dec. 3, 2016 arrest, Chris Barker indicated that his only employment was “landscape for side jobs in summer.”
The inception of the Loyal White Knights in early 2012 did not seem particularly auspicious at the time. Fliers tossed in the driveways of residents across the northern Piedmont region of North Carolina invited people to a “rally and cross lighting” for “white people only” on May 26 in the town of Harmony in Iredell County. Opponents drawn from a recent campaign against the May 2012 ballot referendum to limit marriage to a man and a woman, along with immigrant rights activists from the Dreamers movement, mustered about 25 people for a couple hours to hold a rain-drenched “Hatred Not Welcome Here” counter-rally in Harmony, but the Klan met on private property and remained invisible to outsiders.
Barker’s group wouldn’t make much of a national impression until the next year, when they went to Memphis, Tenn. to protest the city’s decision to remove the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate officer and the first national Klan leader, from a local park.
A post on the Loyal White Knights’ website reflects how the group used the Memphis protest to assert primacy as the most extreme and aggressive group in the Klan universe.
“We do not hide behind a mask,” reads the post, which is presumably written by Barker. “While all the other Klans hid in a field with their hands out scared of street action, we were at the front lines wanting a fight. I myself reached out to the imperial wizards asking to stand for our first wizard Nathan Forrest. They all said they were scared and we would be in their prayers. They truthfully should throw their robes into the fire and walk away with their tails between their legs.”
While the Loyal White Knights assert that they had 150 members at the protest, a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center — which monitors extremist groups — estimated that the number of all white supremacists at the protest totaled only 60, while more than 1,000 anti-racists came out to oppose the Klan.
Whatever the group’s propensity for self-aggrandizement and exaggeration, the razzle-dazzle-ready-for-battle image projected by the Loyal White Knights appeared to pay dividends. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the group grew from 16 klaverns — local chapters — in 2012 to 52 in 2013, making it the largest in the country, challenged only by the rival Traditionalist American Knights in Missouri. And judging by flier drops, which are often coordinated to happen simultaneously in different cities around the country through regular national conference calls, the Southern Poverty Law Center judged the Loyal White Knights to be the most visible Klan group in the country.
“They Loyal White Knights is the largest, most extremist Klan group in the country,” said Nate Thayer, a veteran journalist. Renowned for interviewing Cambodian dictator Pol Pot shortly before his death, Thayer has been tracking white supremacist groups for the past two years.
“They are a serious group with serious members,” Thayer said of the Loyal White Knights. “They attract the most extremist and unstable types of people in the white nationalist movement. Of the people who flock to white nationalism, their membership is disproportionately filled with people who are a real problem…. There’s a lot of meth-heads and people who are still pissed off at their mothers. These are people with long criminal histories.”
The Loyal White Knights group has periodically joined forces with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement at the most extreme end of the hard-right spectrum since 2012, but the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement distanced itself from the Loyal White Knights last year. When the National Socialist Movement joined with the Traditionalist Worker Party for a rally in Pikeville, Ky. on April 29 as part of an effort to form a National Front to organize white working people frustrated by globalization and opioid addiction, the Loyal White Knights were not included in the new coalition.
As a virulently white separatist, anti-Semitic and homophobic organization, the Loyal White Knights has positioned itself at the crux of almost every major flashpoint of racial tension in the United States over the past five years, focusing on Mexican immigration in 2014, rallying on the steps of the South Carolina State House in July 2015 in the wake of the murder of nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by Dylann Roof, and clashing with counter-protesters in southern California during the presidential primary in February 2016.
In a 2014 interview with Triad City Beat, Imperial Wizard Chris Barker described the situation on the United States’ southern border as a “land war.” (At the time he identified himself as Grand Dragon Robert Jones — a pseudonym likely inspired by another Robert Jones, who organized one the largest statewide Klan networks in the country in North Carolina from 1963 to 1969.
“I think we should have our troops there with a shoot-to-kill policy,” Barker said. “These people are obviously not getting the picture.”
In that interview, he advocated for a race war.
“We want to see America stay for Americans,” he said. “You can’t put too many races together on one continent. It’s like the melting pot has soured, and it’s about to explode. We’re going to see a racial war; a lot of us pray for it. We would love to see another civil war, and if it was to happen we believe we would win.”
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