“I can go just about anywhere, and I never have to worry,” says a robed and hooded man. “If I get in trouble, I can make one phone call, and immediately I’ll get help.… People, guns, anything I want. I could even get a tank if I wanted. But I haven’t needed that yet.”

“When do they burn the cross?” he is asked.

“We don’t burn crosses, we light them,” he clarifies. “We light the cross because Christ is the Light of the world.”

From a makeshift stage in the middle of an Alabama hillside, a local band blares country and rock tunes as white-robed and hooded figures stroll about, laughing and talking informally. Many of the men have brought their families. Proud mothers pull out their pocket Instamatics® to grab a snapshot of Daddy, all decked out in white, holding Junior. Some of the mothers themselves wear robes and hoods. Other families man the refreshment stand, selling hot dogs, hamburgers, and RC Cola. (No beer or liquor is permitted.)

In a nearby booth, a bearded man in a KKK baseball cap displays Klan belts, buckles, bumper stickers, hats, wallets, knives, and helium-filled KKK balloons for the kids. Quite a few teenagers and college students roam through the crowd, some clad in white, others in jeans and plaid flannel shirts.

Strings of bare bulbs, not yet lit, surround the gathering. And beyond the lights, off to the far side of the field, stands a cross, wrapped in burlap and soaked in diesel fuel. It seemingly goes unnoticed by all but a few third-graders, who play touch football in its lengthening shadow.

The air is quickly cooling from afternoon temperatures in the 70s. Dusk has settled in, and darkness is about an hour away. The crowd numbers three or four hundred at most (a disappointing turnout, someone said), about ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.