Representatives of the NAACP and the KKK met for an unprecedented sit-down last Saturday (Aug. 31) in Casper, Wyoming. Jimmy Simmons, president of the NAACP’s Casper chapter, organized a discussion with John Abarr, a Montana KKK organizer. The two communed at a Casper hotel under tight security, one of several ground rules established in advance.
Simmons’ reasons for initiating the meeting were to address the distribution of KKK literature in Gillette, just 130 miles north of his home chapter. The NAACP leader also sought to discusse race relations in general, including alleged racially-charged beatings of African-American men in the state. Abarr attested to no knowledge of any of Simmons’ concerns.
Chuck Deaton, a Gillette police lieutenant, countered Simmons’ claims of violence with a statistic that there had only been 10 reported hate crimes in the city in the last five years, none of which he says were violent.
"In the 21 years that I've been here, that's the first I heard of the Klan in Gillette," Deaton told the Associated Press.
Abarr, who describes his KKK branch as non-violent and politically focused, filled out a form for NAACP membership by the meeting’s end. He noted this as a means to receive the civil rights group’s literature and to gain insight into its point-of-view.
"I don't know if we accomplished too much," he said. "We're not about violence. We're about being proud to be white."
Expected opposition of the meeting was also expressed. Mark Potok, a senior fellow at a small civil rights group called Southern Poverty Law Center, told the AP that he believes the meeting sent the wrong message.
"I think it's outrageous and counterproductive," he said. "It gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to."
Simmons, however, deemed the conversation very necessary.