Residents began noticing the little plastic bags Tuesday afternoon in Washington, Va. They carried bird seed — and a flier promoting racist and anti-Semitic messages.
The Rappahannock County sheriff received a call about 1 p.m. Tuesday from a woman who found one of the bags on her driveway. The message inside denounced Black Lives Matter and urged recipients to join the Ku Klux Klan. A flier found by another resident attacked "Jews and their synagogues of Satan." Both fliers listed addresses and a phone number for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is headquartered in Pelham, N.C., near the Virginia border.
"I thought it was kind of bizarre," said Megan Smith, who found one of the bags in front of her house. "Why are they just picking on Little Washington?"
Washington, the county seat of 270-square-mile Rappahannock County, has just 150 or so residents but is known for The Inn at Little Washington, a Michelin star restaurant that attracts diners from all over the world.
Sheriff Connie Compton said law enforcement quickly canvassed the tiny town 70 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and collected 50 to 60 similar plastic bags on the driveways of residences and businesses. This is the first time the community has been targeted, Compton said, but other nearby towns have been the subject of Klan recruiting this fall.
Similar Klan material delivered in bags turned up in Gore, Front Royal and Strasburg in September. More than two dozen such bags were delivered to homes in Winchester on Halloween night, the Winchester Star reported.
Chris Barker, 38, who describes himself as "imperial wizard" of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said in an interview Tuesday that his group is responsible for the fliers in Washington, Va., and the other communities. He said the group has been recruiting members across Virginia and several other states, and in Canada. Last week, he attended a ceremony in Danville at which 12 new members were sworn in, he said.
"White people are being discriminated against, and the Jewish-controlled media is trying to make us feel guilty," Barker said. "Americans need to see there is another option. We are a civil rights organization for white people. We do not promote violence."
The Klan distills its tenets on one of the fliers encouraging people to join.
"We are not a hate group or openly show hate," it reads. "We are Christian-based and uphold the Bible."
In August, Barker threatened to burn a black Colombian journalist who met him at his home for an interview. During the interview with Ilia Calderón, an anchor for Univision, Barker referred to her by a racist epithet.
"Are you going to chase me out of here?" Calderón asked.
"No, we're going to burn you out," he replied.
When the reporter asked how Barker would burn out 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, he answered, "We killed 6 million Jews the last time. Eleven million is nothing."
Barker's offshoot of the Klan, which formed in 2011, made headlines in July when it protested the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park in Charlottesville.
About three dozen members turned out that day, many wearing Klan robes and most carrying sidearms. The rally was short-lived, as several hundred protesters drowned out the speakers, and the Klan members soon exited the park through a phalanx of local and state police. That event was followed a month later by the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a gathering of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Klan members that exploded into violence. A counterprotester was fatally struck by a car, and two police officers were killed when their helicopter crashed.
Although Barker's chapter has attracted attention this year, the Klan continues to be in decline because of infighting and competition from other white supremacist organizations that view the group as outdated and long past its prime, said Carla Hill, an investigator and expert on the Klan for the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.
The Loyal White Knights, Hill said, have turned to fliers as a way to generate publicity and compensate for their lack of membership. The group is responsible for 34 of the 71 flier incidents reported this year in 13 states, according to the ADL's tracking of extremist groups. Despite the recent efforts in Virginia and elsewhere, Hill doesn't see the downward trajectory of the Klan's membership and influence changing.
"The Klan persists," Hill said. "It's the longest-standing terrorist organization in the United States. And the Loyal White Knights are actively distributing this material. But if you map where they do this, you can see that it is in clustered areas. This fliering is probably the work of a very limited number of individuals."
When communities respond by reporting and denouncing the Klan's recruiting efforts, the message gets through, Hill said.
"They are still out there spreading hateful rhetoric," she said, "but they can see that they're not accepted and appreciated by the vast majority of Americans, and then the activism wanes."
Compton, the Rappahannock sheriff, said so far, no witnesses have reported seeing the packages dropped off. The sheriff said she believes the bird seed was probably used to keep the fliers from blowing away.
While Compton thinks a littering charge is probably the most serious citation anyone could face, she said she is disturbed about the Klan announcing its presence in the county.
"We don't have gangs here, and we don't need anything like this starting problems here," she said. "We are a quiet, quaint little area. I guess somebody is just trying to get people to join the Ku Klux Klan, but we don't have these problems here and we don't want them."