Ku Klux Klan
Date: January 17, 2005 01:09AM
>From this week's New Yorker:
January 16, 2005
COLD CASE DEPT.
VISITING PREACHER KILLEN
A sign on the narrow road that leads to Edgar Ray Killen's house, in
the low hills southeast of Philadelphia, Mississippi, reads "If You
Don't Believe in God, the Hellfire Awaits You." On the morning that
I visited him, a few years ago, Killen, a reputed Ku Klux Klansman, was
waiting for me, a shotgun in his sunburned arms. "I told you I
ain't talking with you," he said, superfluously. Killen is known
around Philadelphia as Preacher. He used to preside over a small church
nearby, where he taught the inerrancy of the Bible and the superiority
of the Caucasian race, but that day he was apparently caring for his
weapons. "My gun's clean and ready," he said.
We had spoken by telephone earlier, and I had already come to his house
once that day, but his dogs, their teeth bared, had surrounded my car.
I returned an hour later with a bag of hamburgers from McDonald's. As
the dogs ate, I quickly moved up Killen's walk, where he and his
Remington intercepted me. He was leathery and bent over, but his arms
were roped with muscle. He seemed to be living proof that time does not
temper rage. He was seventy-six when I saw him.
"I told you I don't want to talk about those boys no more," he
said. The "boys," Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James
Chaney-"two Jews and a black," in the shorthand of the
civil-rights martyrology-were Freedom Summer workers (Schwerner and
Goodman were from New York; Chaney from Mississippi) who were executed
by a posse of white racists. (Schwerner and Goodman were shot in the
chest; Chaney was beaten to death.) The killings took place on Rock Cut
Road, a short walk from Killen's house, and it has long been alleged
that Killen, who, according to the F.B.I., was a founder of the local
Klavern, organized the murder party. He was indicted on federal charges
not long after the killings, but he benefitted at trial from a
deadlocked jury. A holdout juror said she could not convict a preacher.
Killen escaped state charges until last Thursday, when Mississippi
indicted him for the murders. (He pleaded not guilty on Friday.)
Prosecutors promised that more indictments would be coming. There are
eight suspects who are still alive.
At the time I saw Killen, Mike Moore, who was at that time the attorney
general of Mississippi, was reinvestigating the murders, and I told
Killen I was seeking his opinion about the new attention the case was
He looked up and down the road. "You don't have TV cameras with
you?" he asked. Then he relaxed a bit. "It's over," he said.
"The whole thing's over a long time ago."
He'd been more talkative a few years earlier in an interview with
David Oshinsky for the Times Magazine. "I'm a right-winger who
supports the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers," he'd
said. When Oshinsky asked him about the murders, he replied, "Those
boys were Communists who went to a Communist training school. I'm
sorry they got themselves killed. But I can't show remorse for
something I didn't do."
He explained to me that he was wary of the press. Oshinsky, he alleged,
had misinterpreted his views. "I believe he's Jewish," Killen
He was resolute about not addressing the case against him, but he
hinted that he was the victim of a conspiracy organized by newly
powerful African-Americans. "There are people in the government who
wouldn't have ever been allowed in the government before," he said.
It was pointless to ask him about issues of guilt and innocence.
Instead, I mentioned a conversation I'd had with Stan Dearman, who
was then the editor of the local paper. Dearman had told me that some
people in the town were thinking of building a memorial to the murdered
This prospect sent Killen into a rage. At first, he didn't even
understand. "A memorial?" he asked. "To who? The dead guys?"
"Never!" he shouted. "It'll never happen."
After a moment, he asked me to leave. He said, "I'm not a man of
violence, but if you don't get off my property right now, I'm going
to shoot you dead."
I went to my car. The dogs gave chase, and I tried hard not to run them
over. Killen came out to the road. In my rearview mirror, I saw his
face, contorted in fury, slowly disappear.
- Jeffrey Goldberg