America unmasked: the KKK of 2009

The Sydney Morning Herald/February 28, 2009

The United States has a new president but an old problem - and nothing typifies it better than today's Ku Klux Klan. Anthony Karen, a former US Marine and self-taught photojournalist, gained unprecedented access to the "Invisible Empire", capturing Klan folk as they want to be seen - scary and secretive and waiting in the wings for Barack Obama and his colour-blind vision for America to fail.

His scenes also portray a gentler Klan. They include a 58-year-old, fifth-generation seamstress running up an outfit for the Exalted Cyclops, head of a local KKK chapter. She used the $US140 ($217) pay to help care for her quadriplegic daughter, 40.

Consciously or otherwise, the Karen portraits do double duty as propaganda for the extremist right, much as Leni Riefenstahl did for the Nazis.

The Klan is a mere shadow of its past, with perhaps 6000 members. But the economic crisis is swelling its ranks and already, a month after the inauguration of the first black president, the tidal wave of interracial harmony that greeted Obama's election is starting to recede.

More than 400 hate-related incidents, from cross-burnings to Obama effigies hanging from nooses, have been reported. "There is a tremendous backlash to Obama's election," says Richard Barrett, the leader of the white supremacist Nationalist Movement.

"Many people look at the flag of the Republic of New Africa that was hoisted over the White House as an act of war."

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