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Former KKK leader eyes politics

July 09, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The longtime leader of a state Ku Klux Klan faction resigned and ended his membership Friday, saying he may seek the governor's office.

Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard of the Invincible Empire, left the organization to focus on his family and pursue politics. The Rocky Ridge, Md., resident said a Hancock resident will replace him until a November election.

He declined to reveal the new wizard's name.

Kelly is not new to politics or publicity. In 1990, he ran unsuccessfully for Frederick County Commissioner and joined the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The 45-year-old bricklayer has held several Klan rallies on his property, but now he says his views have changed. "You get a little older, you get a little wiser," he said Friday.

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Kelly said his group opposed skinheads and Nazism. He said he used to considered himself a separatist, not a white supremacist, despite past public statements claiming blacks are genetically inferior.

Now, the former wizard says he believes in equal opportunity for all. He decided the Klan isn't making a difference in society. "They want to complain but they don't want to do anything about it," he said.

Kelly could make positive changes as governor, he said. He doesn't believe in affirmative action, but he wouldn't alter civil rights laws, he said. Part of his platform involves abolishing property taxes for seniors.

He formed an exploratory committee and will make a campaign decision by September, he said. For now, Kelly is spending more time with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. He is turning over paperwork to his successor this weekend.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy was surprised to hear the KKK's new leader lives nearby. "I'll wait to see what the reality of that is," he said.

Police Chief George Gossage said there has been more Klan activity in Hancock this year than in the past. "We are not pleased with any of the activities or beliefs of the KKK," he said. "They do have a strong presence up here."

The organization has been distributing leaflets around town, according to Gossage. "They have been trying to recruit younger people into the organization," he said.

"We're trying to educate people what their real desires and goals are. We've been working with the school to accomplish that." In some cases, youths have joined the KKK and later renounced the organization, Gossage said. "We have made some successes."

Gossage said the KKK held at least two rallies in Hancock just before he became police chief. Residents taunted the Klansmen and officers attended the demonstrations to prevent violence.

"People do have the right for freedom of expression, even though we don't care for their views," Gossage said. The group also has a right to assemble, but Hancock officers will not allow them to break the law.

"The police department will not tolerate any criminal acts by the KKK," Gossage said.

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