At the time that he was allegedly masterminding an espionage ring for the Soviet Union, John Anthony Walker Jr. was recruiting sailors to join the Ku Klux Klan, according to a note he sent in 1980 to Klan Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson.
Jim Blair, the current Imperial Wizard, said a check of Klan records revealed a note from Walker to Wilkinson in which Walker discussed his difficulty achieving Klan recruiting goals.
Although Blair said last month that a check of the membership records of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, did not show a listing for Walker, he said yesterday, "I feel sure that he was a member."
Walker also belonged to the conservative John Birch Society, according to spokesman John McManus. He said Walker joined the group in Charleston, S.C., in 1964 and was dropped from its rolls in 1968 after lapsing from active membership.
"It's not impossible that the man joined the society as a cover" for his alleged espionage activities, McManus said.
Debbie Aiken, a former radio talk show host in Portsmouth, Va., said yesterday that when she interviewed Walker on her show in 1980, he identified himself as the Klan's new state organizer.
Aiken, now an assignment editor for a Portsmouth television station, said Walker arrived for the interview accompanied by two armed bodyguards who patrolled the wooded area around the station while he was on the air.
Citing security concerns, Walker permitted only his first name to be used in the interview. But Aiken said a check of her appointment calendar for that period showed that the man she had interviewed was John Walker.
Irwin Suall, factfinding director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which first uncovered Walker's Klan link through a check of its files, suggested that Walker's involvement with the group may have been a cover or a means of gathering sensitive information.
"I think it's reasonable speculation that he was using his recruitment of sailors for the purpose of locating potential new sources to join his spy ring as well as for the purpose of gathering information merely from talking with his sailor members and contacts concerning ship and naval matters that he could pass along to the Russians," Suall said.
Navy spokesmen said their files showed no record of Walker's participation in the Klan. Although Walker had retired from the service in 1976, Naval investigators during the late 1970s kept a close watch on sailors involved with the Klan, particularly in the Norfolk area, where there was an upsurge in Klan participation.
Imperial Wizard Wilkinson said he and Walker served together on the submarine Simon Bolivar during the mid-1960s.
"The man had been, in my opinion, a tremendous patriot," Wilkinson said in a telephone interview yesterday. "He was just my type of fellow. I can recall on numerous occasions when we would sit around and cuss the Communists together."
Wilkinson said he and Walker lost touch after they left the service, but became friendly again when Wilkinson came to the Norfolk area for several rallies during the late 1970s.
Wilkinson said that he once stayed overnight at Walker's Norfolk house, and that Walker stopped by his home in Denham Springs, La., while visiting his daughter Laura Walker Snyder, an Army communications specialist then stationed at Fort Polk, La.
According to an FBI affidavit, Walker tried to recruit his daughter to join the alleged spy ring during that period.
Wilkinson said he called Walker's lawyer last week and offered help in selling Walker's assets in order to pay his legal bills.
Also yesterday, Walker's partner in his Virginia Beach private detective firm, Confidential Reports Inc., said she had bought Walker's share of the company after his arraignment June 4.
"He wanted me to have it anyway," said the partner, Laurie Robinson. "This was in the making for months and months and months." She said the sale was not designed to help Walker raise money to pay his legal bills.
She said Walker was "in good spirits and realizing the seriousness of the charge" against him.
In another development, the government yesterday asked U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II in Baltimore to issue an order in the Walker case designed to prevent the disclosure of sensitive documents.
Under the proposed order, members of the defense team who want to handle classified documents would have to receive clearance from the court security officer. Federal prosecutors already have such clearance. Those who violate the order would face criminal penalties.