When I learned that the man accused of shooting innocent bystanders Sunday at a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas, was a former Klansman named Frazier Glenn Cross, I shuddered.
Thirty-three years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Duke University, I read a small item in the Raleigh News & Observer that mentioned Cross, then the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Cross, it turns out, ran a paramilitary training camp in rural North Carolina.
I couldn’t understand how, in late-20th-century America, the KKK could operate in the open less than an hour from our elite, ivory-tower campus. I was an editor of Duke’s daily newspaper, The Chronicle, so I did what any reporter would do: I called Cross and asked for an interview.
Always looking for publicity, Cross readily said yes, but he had one condition.
“We ain’t no equal-opportunity employer, you know,” he said.
“So don’t bring down no blacks and no Jews.”
I am Jewish. But buoyed by the bravado of youth, I decided to lie and agreed to Cross’s condition. To be safe, I got a crew cut, put a cross around my neck, arranged for a fake press pass in the name of Robert Statler Jr. and asked our crack photographer- reporter Shep Moyle – a tall, blond, good-looking guy – to go with me.
The following Saturday morning, Shep and I drove past the town of Angier and down dusty Route 1312 near the intersection of Johnston and Harnett countries, arriving at Cross’s 27-acre (11-hectare) farm.
A bunch of guys, mostly in combat gear, were milling about, many holding guns. I also saw a pregnant blond woman with two little kids, playing with a toy rifle.
When I met Cross, his first words were, “Are you a Jew?” No, I said. He went on: “I don’t let Jews on my land, so you’d better not be lying to me.” I held my ground and we started the interview. For about 10 minutes, I asked typical background questions: Hometown, education, military experience, etc. I thought we had pulled it off.
Suddenly, a man with a medium build wearing a Nazi uniform motioned to Cross. They went off for a discussion in the kitchen. When Cross returned, he began to sniff. “I smell a Jew,” he said. Again, I denied it. But his mind was made up.
For the next 2.5 hours, I was kept under armed guard, locked in a steaming car in the blazing sun, as Shep continued the interview. Three men, sometimes four, vigilantly watched me, led by the uniformed Nazi. Every half-hour one of them would come near the car to wave a pistol at me and check on whether I was taking pictures.
For Cross, I was a lost cause, but he tried to recruit Shep. “I bet those Jews up there at Duke don’t associate with you whites, do they?” Shep reported Cross had asked. “And those niggers up there think they’re really something.”
For a $5 “donation,” Cross had one of his minions put on the Klan hood as Shep snapped a photo.
At 5:30 p.m., Shep came out of the one-story wooden house and we were told to leave. We drove straight into town to talk to locals and find out what they thought of the Klan living right next door. Sgt. Randy Cooke of the nearby Benson police department summed up what we heard about Glenn Cross: “I’d call him the good-neighborly type,” he said.
At the time, I didn’t think these sorts of things still happened in the United States. I was wrong.
The articles Shep and I wrote made for a great story; they even hit the wires. After this weekend’s events, I dug through boxes in my garage on Monday to find the yellowed copy of the newspaper that I filed away long ago. It is dated April 15, 1981.
Cross was a rabidly violent, racist anti-Semite when I met him 33 years ago, and apparently he never changed. He always had a gun. Sadly, this time he used it.
Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.