Film-maker Dan Vernon spent seven months filming and getting to know members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a branch of the white supremacist organisation, headquartered in Missouri, which claims to reject violence and hatred. According to Inside the Ku Klux Klan(Channel 4), they also claim to be the fastest growing KKK chapter in the US, thanks to a resurgent interest in white rights brought about, perversely, by the shootings of black people. I’m not taking their word for that – they look pretty small-time to me. One woman, Linda, still makes all the robes by hand. And there can’t be many people who, like Jeff, would drive 400 miles just to attend a cross-burning.
“We’re not bad like everybody thinks we are,” said Jeff. This notion of being terribly misunderstood permeated the membership’s thinking. “Most of us are in it for the fraternal brotherhood aspect of it,” said Frank Ancona, delivery driver and Imperial Wizard of the Knights for the past six years.
Former lumberjack and ex-hard-partier John reckons that the Klan actually keeps him out of trouble. His wife, Heather, highlighted the benefits to their relationship. “It honestly has helped my marriage,” she said.
It’s unclear whether all this dissembling is a by-product of being a 21st-century racist, or whether it’s just a condition of membership in the Traditionalist American Knights. To hear them tell it, the KKK is just a club for white folks who like dressing up and hanging out in the woods. Do they bother lying to themselves like this when the cameras are off?
They’re certainly wary of bad press. When Rick, the Grand Kludd (sort of like a chaplain, but racist), was out raising his Confederate and KKK flags, he attracted the attention of a passing young racist who was predictably off-message. “White power, how you guys doin?” he said, going on to pose for a picture while giving a Nazi salute. Rick was visibly uncomfortable. “That’s Nazi, I don’t like that,” he said, before demonstrating his much less Nazi left-handed version and sending the kid off with a cheery “Have a nice white day.”
There is of course something indelibly comic about the Klan, and this film was not shy about playing it up – filming Ancona shovelling snow in his purple robes and pointy hat. The health-and-safety briefing just before the cross-burning (“Don’t turn your back on the cross, ever”) was also amusing, but the viewer was left in no doubt that these people are dangerous: they’re armed to the teeth, motivated by twisted logic and chillingly indifferent to evils perpetrated by fellow racists. While Vernon was filming his documentary, three members of the KKK – all corrections officers – were arrested in Florida for plotting to kill a black man. “Every organisation has bad people,” said one Knight in response.
That event – along with a cyber-attack by Anonymous that hacked and published Klan members’ Facebook profiles – seems to have cut short Imperial Wizard Frank’s PR offensive. Chances are he would have undermined himself anyway. The film finished with him playing electric guitar and singing a patriotic song of his own devising: “Time to take our country back my friend/No more bowing to the faggots in DC/Goddamn them all/I always will be free.” Then he smiled as if he’d just finished a verse of Kumbaya.
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen – Cracking China (BBC2) followed the former Changing Rooms star as he tried to extend his homeware range, House of Laurence, abroad. The title was a bit misleading – fully half the programme was about Mexico – but you were free to turn off halfway through if you felt hard done by. I wasn’t.
Llewelyn-Bowen’s company has suffered some unspecified reverses of late, and he sees overseas expansion as his “last chance”. If things didn’t work out, he said, he’d be forced to “do Strictly, or eat kangaroo testicles in the jungle.” Llewelyn-Bowen was mostly his usual public self: brash, confident, imperious, gauche. When he says a thing, it doesn’t seem terribly important that he believes it first. “This is exactly the sort of look that Victoria Beckham, Princess Kate, everybody now in the UK is very much into,” he told the Chinese sales force on training day.
Whether you find him engaging or irksome as a presenter, LLB is terribly compelling as a subject. His face hides nothing: boredom, confusion, sadness, despair. He’s a tragic hero awaiting a tragedy. Unfortunately things seem to be going rather well for him in China.