Over the weekend I attended the National Faith and Freedom Conference, an annual event thrown by a prominent faction of the Ku Klux Klan in Zinc, Arkansas, a tiny town just (population: 103) outside the city of Harrison (population: 12,943). I was accompanied by Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan to document the fringe gathering for sheer, morbid curiosity.
Among the 50 or so attendees—-not counting the young kids—-were Charity and Shelby Pendergraft, sisters who formed a musical group called Heritage Connection. The Pendergraft girls are also the granddaughters of Pastor Thomas Robb, the “National Director” of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan or as the organization prefers to be called, the Knights Party. The duo has been singing at this function and others like it for the past several years. It’s a family thing apparently, as their mother Rachel, happens to the be the Knights’ spokeswoman.
To attend the conference, I had to sign a contract that stated I wasn’t allowed to photograph the people attending, even with their permission, unless they were sanctioned by Pastor Robb, which made for tricky shooting. Keep in mind, this particular Klan offshoot only dons the hoods and robes once a year at their annual Klan Congress and that is the only time you’ll catch them “lighting” the cross.
Although considered to be largest of the more than 100 white power groups utilizing the KKK name and the only one with a “national office,” you couldn’t tell by both their modest compound or for that matter, membership, which was so low that Pastor Robb refused to disclose the numbers. Imagine how low it would be if members couldn’t mail-in applications, a practice that attracts a fair amount of criticism from other Klan factions, whose average membership tends to between 6-10 people and is extremely local. For some reason, I had expected at least 100 people, but this was a meager showing, a testament to a once powerful brand of hate that is now barely clinging to life (or relevance) while other white supremacist groups are flourishing. Damn, thats gotta sting.
Click through the gallery of photos with captions for a sampling of the event and read Hamilton’s long-form account here.