Three sailors clad in Ku Klux Klan sheets and hoods triggered four racial incidents during the Labor Day weekend on the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier Independence, Navy officials said yesterday.
A spokesman for the service's Atlantic Fleet command said special court-martial proceedings have been ordered for three white sailors who supposedly prompted the disturbances by entering one of the carrier's berthing compartments in Klan robes. A black sailor reportedly pulled a knife on the three -- two of whom are admitted Klan members, the spokesman said.
Lt. Cmdr. James Lois yesterday described the incidents aboard the ship, currently in the Mediterranean, as part of a pattern of racial confrontations involving Klan members who are serving on three Atlantic Fleet ships.
The racial conflicts led last month to an order from Adm. Thomas Hayward, chief of naval operations, which directed commanding officers to stop behavior that "creates a clear danger to the loyal discipline or morale of a military person."
Navy spokesman Lois said yesterday that while the Navy cannot prohibit a sailor from belonging to the KKK, it can punish them for wearing KKK uniforms while aboard ship, for conducting KKK meetings aboard ship or for distributing inflammatory literature.
"We are concerned with behavior," Lois said. "Any behavior which advocates superiority of one race or ethnic group over another is totally disruptive and repugnant."
The trouble on board the Independence began when the ship was in port at Athens. Lois said the trio of white-clad sailors confronted two blacks, one of whom pulled a knife before the other persuaded him to put it away.
Lois said that confrontation served as the "trip-wire" for a second incident aborad the carrier, which has a crew of 4,500 -- 15 percent of whom are black. On Saturday a white sailor was struck on the arm with a steel pipe when black sailors accused him of belonging to the KKK, Lois said.
On Monday, Lois said about 50 blacks participated in a 10-minute demonstration aboard ship during which they waved a "Black Power" flag. Later that day, blacks on the carrier interrupted their duties to meet in small groups and discuss the Klan, Lois said.
The names of the three white sailors and the charges against them are not available, the Navy said yesterday. The black sailor who pulled the knife faces charges for wielding a deadly weapon. The charges facing the black are "considerably less serious" than those facing the sailors who wore the KKK robes, according to Lois.
The leader of the KKK in Virginia, Lewy Williams of Hampton, said yesterday he is urging the national KKK organization to bring a class action suit against the Navy for infringing upon the rights of sailors who are Klan members.
"It seems the blacks get a slap on the wrist and our people get transferred to some kind of garbage scow to make life uncomfortable," Williams said.