Klan leader says organization is growing
By Abbey Gingras, News Editor
Bob Holzworth was an Oxford Police Department (OPD) lieutenant in April 1990 when the Ku Klux Klan came to Miami. He was in full riot gear that day, tasked with protecting the Klan members as they marched - standing between them and the hundreds of protesters. Holzworth remembers rocks, hurled from the crowd, dinging his helmet.
"They were whipping them at the Klan and they were bouncing off our helmets," he said. "We marched them all the way up High Street."
Holzworth, now OPD's chief, recalled other things launched at the police officers and Klan members that day - spit, garbage and profane language from a furious mob of residents.
"We saved them from the crowds," Holzworth said. "They were very heated and aggravated by the comments and the whole position of the Klan."
The march was spurred by an incident at Talawanda High School months earlier, in 1989. Two students came to school in the days before Halloween, dressed in KKK robes and spewing racial slurs. Other white students from the school cheered their support, according to news reports at the time. When the students were suspended, the Klan organized a march in protest.
An article from this newspaper's Nov. 17, 1989 issue quoted Joe Gosciniak, an Imperial Wizard for the Klan at the time. He hyped the march, saying 500 to 1,000 Klansmen would unite in Oxford. The march, which was scheduled for December, was canceled due to bad weather and rescheduled for April during Miami's Bridges Weekend.
When the Klan finally arrived, Holzworth recalled just 30 to 40 members and supporters making the procession through Oxford.
While many consider the Klan a relic of the past, the organization is still highly active today. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) places membership in various KKK groups between 5,000 and 8,000 members, with organizations in 25 U.S. states.
However, Richard Preston, an Imperial Wizard for the Confederate White Knights of America based in Maryland, said their numbers far exceed estimates.
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"Let's just say people have a misconception of how many Klan members are out there," Preston said. "We are uniting the groups slowly into a family of Klans. We are not small. I don't want my numbers known."
Preston declined to share an exact number of members for the Confederate White Knights of America, one of many Klan organizations, but said his group is active in at least 12 states - including Ohio.
Last week, hacktivist group Anonymous released the information of hundreds of accused Klan members in the United States.
Many could not be reached for comment, but one from Ohio claimed to have no connection to the Klan. He said his friends were moonshiners and bikers, but not Klansmen.
According to Preston, many individuals claim connection to the Klan to gain notoriety and end up hurting the image of what he describes as a white Christian organization.
"It sickens me that we're living in a time where people are lying and saying that they're something they're not in order to hurt an organization that wants to be there for its country," Preston said.
Preston's Klan and other factions stand behind many different beliefs today. Their most common points of contention are against race mixing, illegal immigration, banning of the Confederate flag and gun control laws. Preston expressed disapproval of Barack Obama, and said the Klan would fight if the government attempted to take away gun rights.
"The Klan isn't an organization who will back down," Preston said. "We will stand our ground and fight. It's what we're supposed to do. We're a militant organization."
Preston also said many times that the Klan was not against black people, but rather the group was in support of white people, the Bible and Christianity.
But Miami sociology professor Othello Harris said Preston's words won't be true until Preston and other Klan members stop putting down others and focus solely on bringing themselves up.
"You can't possibly say that you're not opposed to other people and that you're only trying to uplift yourself if what you have to do is step on somebody else in order to make yourself look better," Harris said.
Bob Holzworth said in his 42 years with OPD he has never experienced anything quite like the 1990 Klan march, when Butler County police had to arrive with police horses to help maintain the crowd of people eager to harm the Klan.
Although OPD has no communication with nearby Klan organizations, the KKK remains active in the surrounding area. In October 2014, fliers were passed around in Hamilton, Ohio attempting to recruit members for a KKK faction.
Harris, who is black, said the racial tension on campus has decreased since he first arrived in the 1980s but, he said, it's still present at Miami.
"There's less tension, but I think there's still tension here," Harris said. "You can find a lot of resistance - sometimes students don't want to listen to you, they don't believe you, they'll ask about your credentials. It can be hard to be taken seriously."
Harris said he wears a suit to class most days, especially when he first started, because he has to distinguish himself as someone who earned his position.
While Miami continues trying to attract minority students and improve campus culture, Preston said the Klan will continue attempts to recruit and work to unite disjointed organizations.
"The Klan is the one organization that, if it comes down to that, will fight for the rights of our Christian white children," Preston said.