When I learned that the man accused of shooting innocent bystanders Sunday at a Jewish community center and Jewish retirement home in Kansas City was a former Klansman named Glenn Miller, 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 Miller, then the grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Miller, 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 Miller and asked for an interview. Always looking for publicity, Miller 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 Miller’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 counties, arriving at Miller’s 27-acre 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 Miller, 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. I thought we had pulled it off.
Suddenly, a man with a medium build wearing a Nazi uniform motioned to Miller. They went off for a discussion in the kitchen. When Miller returned, he began to sniff. “I smell a Jew,” he said. Again, I denied it. But his mind was made up.
For the next 2½ 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 Miller, 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 Miller had asked. “And those niggers up there think they’re really something.” For a $5 “donation,” Miller 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 police department in nearby Benson summed up what we heard about Glenn Miller: “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.
Miller was a rabidly violent, racist anti-Semite when I met him 33 years ago, and apparently he never changed.
Robert Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He wrote this article for the Washington Post.