The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan publish comic books for the children of California. The stories tell of brave white school kids uniting to thrash bullying blacks and their timid Jewish principal.
On a fascinating documentary called "The New Klan," airing on Channel 26 at 8 tomorrow, one of the klansmen is seen worrying that none of the bad guys in the books is "brown" - that is, Hispanic. The California Klan leader sympathizes, but says, "It's a little hard to make 'em brown on black and white paper."
Such are the vicissitudes of a Klansman's life in th 1970s. Most screen treatments of the Klan focus on the bloody past, and "The New Klan" makes sure that its viewers are aware of the nooses and burning crosses. But it is at its best when it show us the contemporary Klan and its struggle to survive.
There's an interview with a white-robed 13-year-old who, when asked to described the activities of his Wlan youth group, replies, "We try to teach not to segregate the schools." No doubt, this lad will have to brush up on his dogma after his parents see this show.
Because the Klan is a small organization, with most estimates of membership numbers settling somewhere around 10,000, its attempt to cope with a changing America come off here as ludicrous or pathetic, rather than ominous. Nevertheless, "The New Klan" shows how at least one of the Klan leaders is making a savvy effort to become mildly respectable.
David Duke, a slick young leader of the not-so-slick Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, attracted a third of the votes in a Louisiana state senate race. He has appeared on many local and national talk shows. He drew 100 reporters to cover his Klan's Mexican border patrol. On this show, we go on night patrol with his Keystone Klansmen and fail to sight a single illegal alien.
Duke's is not one of the larger klans. But it has taken such advanced steps as admitting women and Catholics. Duke generally shuns robes and cross-burnings. Though his rally oratory voice is shrill, his television is calm and cool.
Duke brags that he uses television to spread word, and co-producer Eleanor Bingham was asked yesterday whether she felt uncomfortable about giving him yet another forum. No, she said, because while Duke outfoxed such interviewers as Tom Snyder and Barbara Walters, Bingham's show cuts him down to size.
She is right. Jesse Jackson scores several points on him and Duke seems floored when confronted by some unsavory details about his past that producers Bingham and Leslie Shatz uncovered. Old Klansman James Venable seems honest and courtly, compared to the new Klan leadership as represented by Duke.
The Klan, with its limited membership, is not a major threat, but Klansmen do outnumber the Nazis, who were seen on "The California Reich" on PBS recently. The Klan is much more widespread, and its American history is longer and stronger than the Nazis'. "The New Klan" is slightly out-of-date; editing was completed in San Diego subjects was arrested in connection with the murder of a fellow Klansman. But the show's detailed picture of the modernization of American hate is a compelling hour of television.