KKK leader disavows violent past, declares Trump 'best' for president

12 Investigates: 'Hate groups' in Virginia
Hate crime report (Source: NBC12)
Hate crime report (Source: NBC12)
Victims and offenders of hate crime (Source: NBC12)
Victims and offenders of hate crime (Source: NBC12)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) said the group is not a hate group, but a new study has identified them as one of 32 active in Virginia.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) said there has been an "explosive rise" in the number of hate groups nationwide, including dozens in Virginia. The SPLC included groups that "have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

The Ku Klux Klan has earned the dubious distinction of being named America's oldest hate group.

"To this day, they have not disavowed themselves as being domestic terrorists," said Marty Jewell, who is the education chairman with the Richmond NAACP. "That's who they are. They are still present with us today, and they keep secret. Everything is done in secret. You don't need to be secret if you have good intentions."

The Imperial Wizard for the Rebel Brigade of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is now breaking his silence. He agreed to a no holds barred interview, but it had to be on his turf. My photographer and I followed the Imperial Wizard into Jefferson National Forest. Deputies accompanied us just to make sure things remained peaceful.

When we arrived, we were greeted by men wearing shirts that read "Straight out of Dixie" and "the original boys in the hood."

We shook hands, and the interview was soon underway.

"Does the KKK hate? Is it a hate group?" I asked the Imperial Wizard for the Rebel Brigade Knights of the KKK.

"No, we are not a hate group. We hate no one." replied the Imperial Wizard.

"You don't hate blacks?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

"You don't hate gays?" I asked.

"No. We don't like what they do, but we don't hate them," he replied.

"And what about those infamous burning crosses?" I asked.

"It put fear in people for years," noted the Imperial Wizard. "The lighting of the cross symbolizes that through God's light there is no darkness in this earth. That's the light of God."

However, Jewell had a different theory.

"When they start burning those crosses on their own damn lawns, then I'll believe that this has something to do with Jesus Christ," said Jewell. "They light those crosses for purposes of intimidation and to signal to other like-minded racists to come join us because we are having fun over here."

"Society today is more racial than we are!" exclaimed the Imperial Wizard, who wants to set the record straight on what some call a symbol of hate.

"This flag right here is the Confederate Battle Flag. This is not the flag of the Ku Klux Klan," said the Imperial Wizard, who then pointed to the American flag hanging behind him. "That is the flag of the Ku Klux Klan. This all started over a little punk thug who went in a church and murdered a bunch of innocent people. That was wrong."

Pictures surfaced of Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof waving a Confederate flag before killing nine black church members.

"He was a Nazi-Skin Head," said the Imperial Wizard. "Neo-Nazis and Skin Heads are socialist. We are not socialist. We are patriotic American citizens standing up for our God family and country. We are not white supremacists. We are white separatists. We choose to stay within our own race. We are not the big bad hate group that everybody thinks we are. A lot of people, as soon as they hear the words Ku Klux Klan, their mind automatically goes back to the 50s and 60s. It was a pretty bad time, but that was the 1950s and 60s. We are living in a different century now."

The KKK's violent past is well documented.

"It's not the organization of the 50s and 60s. It's better today," said the Imperial Wizard. "We are not here hollering kill, kill, kill. We don't want to harm no one [sic]."

However, Jewell was not convinced.

"Liar. Liar. Pants on fire," said Jewell. "I don't buy it."

Jewell recalled the four little girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. It was an area known as Bombingham thanks to groups like the KKK.

"They probably did a lot of stuff that should not have been done," said the Imperial Wizard. "It should have been handled in a different way. People are scared of change. That era in our life was a big changing time."

Some might say we are that same type of era now.

Here in Central Virginia, Black Lives Matter protesters shut down streets in response to the killings of young black men at the hands of white officers.

There were Confederate Flag runs that snaked down area streets with sympathizers declaring confederate symbols are signs of heritage and not hate.

All of this happened during the era of the nation's first black president.

"He has been a very good recruiting tool for this organization," said the Imperial Wizard of President Barack Obama. "And it's not because he's black. We are more political than racial."

That's one of the reasons the group is sending recruitment flyers to neighborhoods near you. It appears they hoping to identify like-minded individuals in hopes of wielding political influence across the country.

"We are recruiting in the Richmond, Tri-Cities, and Henrico County area," said the Imperial Wizard.

"You're paying attention to the presidential elections this time? In your own personal opinion, who is best for the job?" I asked the Imperial Wizard.

"I think Donald Trump would be best for the job," said the Imperial Wizard. "The reason a lot of Klan members like Donald Trump is because a lot of what he believes in, we believe in. We want our country to be safe."

The Imperial Wizard said he supports Trump's calls to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States.

"If Donald Trump d ropped out tomorrow I would support Kasich before I would Ted Cruz because he is not an American citizen," said the Imperial Wizard. "Even if I agree with some of the things that Ted Cruz says, I would not support him because he was born in Canada. He is not an American citizen."

Jewell felt there is a deeper issue.

"It's very clear that they are attracted to Donald Trump because he's xenophobic," said Jewell. "It doesn't hold water. They hate other people who are not white, and until they take off the robe and until they atone for their sins, nobody is going to believe that they are kinder or gentler."

Still, one has to admit times certainly have changed when a black reporter from a town once known as Bombingham, now working in the capital of the Confederacy, sits down to chat with the Ku Klux Klan.

"It's rubbish," said Jewell. "However, I'll meet anybody. I'll meet with the Klan if there is a stated goal that we are really trying to pursue a new pathway."

Copyright 2016 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.