In honor of the upcoming Jewish Baccalaureate ceremony, we sat down with Dr. Robert Satloff (T’83) who spearheaded the tradition here at Duke. In his interview , Dr. Satloff discussed his experiences as a Jew in the south. He noted that one of his most memorable experiences was when working as a journalist for the Chronicle brought him face to face with Glenn Miller, Grand Dragon the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Miller was arrested recently for the fatal shooting for three people outside of a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas.
Jewish editor locked in car, guarded by armed Klansmen
[Originally published in the Chronicle on April 15, 1981 -- click on the images to enlarge]
On Saturday, April 4, two Chronicle - reporters journeyed to a farm in Johnston County, N.C, to interview Glenn Miller, Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Ten minutes into the interview, Editorial Page Editor Robert Satloff was expelled on "the suspicion that he was Jewish and locked within an automobile for the duration of the afternoon. Associate News Editor Shep Moyle was permitted to stay,' continue the interview and take photographs.
Today's Aeolus features reports by Moyle and Satloff, plus an in-depth look at how local residents view the Klan in the" small towns of Angier and Benson.
When we set up the conditions for an interview, Glenn Miller, Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, made himself quite clear.
"We ain't no equal opportunity employer, you know. So don't bring down no blacks and no Jews."
Nevertheless, Shep Moyle, associate news editor, and I were resolved to interview this man who has made running this racist organization his sole purpose in life. I am Jewish. Moyle is not.
People had warned us not to go down to Angier. They said I was a dead giveaway, if you'll excuse the morose pun. Perhaps I didn't believe them. Perhaps I didn't think that such close-minded, violent, intolerant people still exist. Perhaps I am naive. I'm not any more.
I was certainly not beyond taking advice from my friends. Scott McCartney, Chronicle editor, forged a press pass for me. "Robert Statler Jr." would be my assumed name. As any good Klansman knows, no self- respecting Jewish boy would have a "Jr." following his name. And I was told that my hair and my beard epitomized the stereotypical Jew, so Friday I got a haircut and a shave that would have made a Marine recruiter proud.
"We ain't no equal opportunity employer, you know. So don't bring down no blacks and no Jews."
But still, I feared what could happen. Without suggestion from anyone, I searched for a cross to wear around my neck. I had never worn a cross before; I thought I never would have to. I thought I never would want to. But if there was one sure way to convince the Klan you're not a Jew, I thought, wear a cross.
It took us about an hour to drive to Angier. We took Moyle's car; it would have been too easy to trace a Rhode Island license plate and since I was going under an assumed name, I didn't want to arouse suspicion. We were instructed to call Miller to get directions out to his farm once we reached "downtown" Angier.
As could be expected of two city boys trying to find their way around in the country, we got lost. Very lost. After an hour and a half of searching through Johnston and Harnett counties for Route 1312, we landed up in Coats, N.C. We called Miller again; he had suspected we were lost, and within 15 minutes we were driving up 1312 and parking the car on the dirt lawn in front of the lone structure on Miller's 27-acre farm.
We didn't really know what to expect. There were*- rumors of a Klan rally to be held on the farm that afternoon. It was the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. We'd heard stories of a paramilitary camp that Miller was purported to have established. We'd read some of his speeches and tape- recorded messages; they were full of the typical anti- black, anti-Jewish, Klan-type sentiment. What we didn't know was how much of that was rhetoric and how much was reality.
Miller's greeting set us straight. The first words that came out of his mouth were, "Are you a Jew?" The press pass, the haricut, even the cross — it wasn't going to do any good. But there wasn't much that I could do. If I admitted being Jewish, I was free game. I didn't know what he would do to me. If I maintained my claim to Christianity, at least I had the chance of making it through this ordeal. It was my word against his, and at first, I won.
Twice more before the start of the interview Miller questioned my religion. "I don't let Jews on my land," he said, "so you'd better not be lying to me." Still, I By Robert Satloff maintained my position.
The interview began with I asking Miller for the usual background information: hometown, education, military experience, family, occupation. Immediately he got defensive, wondering why we were even asking such questions. But after explaining the need to give some "color" to the interview, he settled down. For the next 10 minutes, all went well. I thought we had pulled it off. There was some rumbling from the kitchen were several armed men seemed to be talking about Moyle and me. But there didn't seem to be any sign of trouble.
It happened all of a sudden. In the middle of a question, a medium-built man in a Nazi uniform, complete with a black kepie on his jet-black hair, motioned Miller over. After a short kitchen discussion, they had reached their decision.
"You're a Jew," Miller said. "Yup, you're a Jew." Once again I denied my ancestry.
Once again I showed him my press pass. I didn't know for sure whether or not he'd seen the cross.
"Mr. Miller, you told me no Jews and no blacks. I'm not Jewish," I said.
Miller asked an older man standing near the refrigerator if he thought I was Jewish. The man nodded.
"Where're you from?", Miller asked.
"I was born in Providence, R.I.," I answered.
To Miller that seemed to confirm my Judaism.
"Get out of here," he said. "Get the hell out of here right now, you spy. Get off my property or I will forcibly remove you. You hear?"
Miller gave me three alternatives. I had the choice to leave and forego the interview all together, stay and face the consequences or submit to incarceration for the remainder of the afternoon so that Moyle could finish the interview and take the photographs. My first impulse, I must confess, was to get as far away from that place as quickly as possible. These people had rifles, pistols, automatic weapons — they were not fooling around.
'We ain't no equal opportunity employer, you know. So don't bring down no blacks and no Jews.'
And the second option was definitely out.
It was when Miller repeated his offer to let Moyle continue the interview while I remain elsewhere that it finally dawned on me that that was what our contingency plan was in the first place. In addition to recruiting Moyle for his fine journalistic capabilities, there is one undeniable fact: Moyle does not look Jewish.
"OK, Shep, take care and finish up the interview. Try to take those photographs," I said.
I was then led outdoors and locked inside Moyle's car. For the next two and one-half hours I was under armed guard. Three men, sometimes four, vigilantly kept watch. Every half-hour, one of the men would come over to my side of the car and ask if everything was all right. He said he was checking to see if I was taking pictures or operating a tape-recorder.
Their faces were four I will never forget. Two were dressed in Army fatigues, complete with polished boots and military belts. The older one of the two, about 35 years old and a heavy smoker, wore wire frame glasses and had a slightly hunched back. A floppy fatigue hat fell over his brow. From what I could gather, he was a family man. His blond, pregnant wife and at least two of his children also were spending the afternoon at Miller's farm. His little boy played just 25 feet from the car I was in. His toy was a rifle.
The other man decked out in fatigues looked like one of those "few good men" Marine recruiters are always bragging about. He was young, no more than 19 or 20. He was strong, very muscular. His hair was in a crew cut, and he strode back and forth with the minaret strut of a military man. He seemed to be the messenger, ferrying messages from Miller to the guards outside. Moyle later told me Miller regularly ordered the changing of the guard from inside the house.
Another guard was tall and thin; he conjured up thoughts in my Yankee mind of the stereotypical Southern farm boy. It looked like he had never shaved in his life; he had a scraggly red beard but no mustache. He reminded me of a character out of James Dickey's Deliverance, the type of guy who would put a bullet through you for trespassing on his property. He arrived in the middle of my incarceration, and it seems that right after he showed up, the guards turned their attention from shooting the breeze to practicing rifle shooting.
The leader of the guard was the uniformed Nazi I had encountered inside the house, the instigator behind my expulsion from the interview. Looking at him was like reliving a nightmare. He was of medium height, with jet-black hair. He was dressed in Nazi regalia — white shirt, black shoulder belt, spit-black boots and the ever-present Nazi headpiece. An expensive-looking gold watch was conspicuous on his wrist. One could tell that he made an effort to appear the clean-cut, ail-American man.
His mustache made his visage all the more disconcerting. It was a short, finely cut line of hair that extended no further than the edge of his mouth and fell no lower than the top of his upper lip. Without meaning to sound melodramatic, his mustache had the air of Hitler's.
The Nazi had a strange aura about him. When he stood guard over me, I knew he was in charge. When he asked for a beer, a subordinate ran inside to fetch one. When he told a Jewish joke, everybody laughed. When he decided to show the rest of the guards how to handle an automatic rifle, they all listened intently.
For some reason, I felt safer when he was outside watching me than when he went inside. I could tell he was smart. He was intelligent enough to know not to harm me physically; if, by some chance, I wasn't Jewish, he could have gotten himself in deep trouble. He knew his job was to scare me, keep me in suspense as to what could possibly happen. But whenever he was there, I felt secure. I didn't trust the intelligence of the other guards. The only thing I could trust was the loyalty his subordinates felt towards him. They took orders well.
At first I didn't know what I could and couldn't do in the car. I had never been held under armed surveillance before, especially by men who hated me for no other reason than my religion. After several minutes of stifling heat, I ventured to open the window on the driver's side of the car. It may not sound like much, but for me it was quite a milestone. Once in a while I would turn on the radio to check the time, but not once did WQDR report it. The entire time spent locked in the car, I didn't know how long I had been there or what time it was.
When the conversation among the guards got loud Wednesday, April 15, 1981 or when one of them raised his voice, I was able to overhear what was said. This happened on just three occasions. The first bit of dialogue I heard was a joke told by the uniformed Nazi:
"If your grandmother was Jewish, you're still Jewish. If your great-grandmother was Jewish, you're half OK. What are you if your mother was Jewish?" The answer: "You're dead."
The second piece of conversation I heard had to do with the improbability of the Holocaust. The guards all expounded in the rhetoric of the great charade of the six million Jews claimed to have been killed in Nazi Europe. As the Nazi asked, "If six million people died, then what the hell did they do with the 30 million pounds of ash?"
Perhaps I didn't think that such close-minded, violent, intolerant people still exist. Perhaps I am naive. I'm not any more.
The only other time I could hear what the guards were talking about was when a black man walked down the road right in front of the house. He stood no more than 30 yards away from the guards. As if on command, a large, black dog began chasing after the black man. The dog seemed to have been trained to seek out and attack blacks.
The guards relished watching the black man defend himself against the dog, screaming loudly and kicking the animal. The guards laughed and jeered at the difficulty the black man was having with the dog. After a few moments, one of the guards called the dog off and it strolled back toward the house. The guards stroked the dog, congratulating the animal on its fine effort at humiliating the stranger.
I spent the remainder of the time in the car jotting down notes of what I had seen and heard. This in itself was no easy task. Never knowing when one of the guards might suddenly walk over to the car to check to see what I was doing, I was forced to write in the reporter's notebook keeping my eyes focused directly on my captors. I got the feeling that my incessant watching made them nervous; it was the only type of resistance I was able to offer.
Whenever a guard approached the car, I stuck the notebook underneath the driver's seat. If the radio was on, I quickly turned it off. There was no telling what would have happened if they found me taking notes, something I figured would not be taken with much approval. After all, Miller himself would periodically look out the window to check on the situation. And I certainly didn't want to lose the privilege of enjoying the open window.
The heat was unbearable. They felt it and I felt it. When the guards decided that it was time for a break, the young Marine was sent inside to fetch the drinks. He came out with a couple of Cokes and couple of beers, Miller Lite and Budweiser. One could sense the pleasure they enjoyed, gloating over the fact that I could not quench my thirst. It was only two hours before that Miller himself had offered us drinks. We had refused.
By this time, I realized it was getting quite late and the interview must have reached its end. I saw Moyle go out back with somebody — to take pictures, I hoped. Then, a few minutes later, I saw a man dressed in the traditional Klan outfit replete with headgear go outside, too.
It was at this time that I my fear really got the best of me. I was afraid for myself. I was afraid for Moyle. I could hear running through my mind all my friends saying, "I told you so." I wanted nothing more than for the interview and picture-taking session to finish and for Moyle and myself to get the hell out of there.
This was just about the time that the Nazi officer began instructing his comrades in the proper usage of some sort of automatic rifle. He would load and re-load the cartridge and practice the proper method of holding the gun. It's at times like these that you wonder how resistant a windshield is and you start to creep lower and lower into the seat.
Daylight was slowly slipping away and I had no intention of staying there in the dark. In frustration, I started to beat my fist against the seat of the car, hoping that soon Moyle would emerge from the house and we could finally leave Miller and his farm.
At about 5:30, Moyle came out. My heart sank with relief. The guards watched as I unlocked the door, slid over to passenger side of the seat and prepared to leave that nightmare. My last image was of the guards jeering at us as we drove down Route 1312 back towards Angier.