Klansman turns back on hatred

Convicted racist 'sorry': Former wizard says it's time 'to burn the robes'

National Post/July 15, 2002
By Stewart Bell

Merritt, B.C. -- A former white supremacist leader has described how he headed a chapter of the secretive Ku Klux Klan from his ranch in the B.C. Interior, where he hosted gatherings of white-hooded racists until his arrest last year for weapons offences and hate crimes.

In a lengthy interview following his sentencing for promoting hatred against Jews and non-whites, William Patrick Nicholson explained for the first time how he entered the warped world of the Klan and quickly rose to a leadership role in a group with members in Canada and the United States.

He admitted that members of the KKK splinter group, called Knight Riders International, would visit his grassy acreage on a plateau above the Coldwater River to discuss their concerns about race and immigration, and pose for photographs wearing Klan robes and holding shotguns.

Nicholson, who served in the Canadian navy, also said police knew about the gatherings as early as 1999, when a photo shop employee went to the RCMP after developing a film shot at a Klan event, but did not search his home until two years later.

The search turned up illegal weapons, dynamite and KKK paraphernalia that led to his conviction on firearms charges. Late last week, he pleaded guilty to promoting hatred against an identifiable group, becoming the first person to be convicted in B.C. for a hate crime.

He said he decided to talk about his involvement with the white power movement after becoming disillusioned with its extremism. He said he now wants to became an anti-racism advocate, and is hoping to be invited to speak about his experience at schools.

"I'll do anything I can."

The only thing he will not do, he said, is reveal the membership of the Knights. He refused to say how many members there were, but said they were mostly from between Vancouver and Calgary, and added that had he not been stopped, he could have easily attracted 1,000 members. One Knights membership card entered as evidence by the Crown was numbered 0069, suggesting there were at least that many members.

"There's 100 Klansmen out there that I know of that their own wives don't know they're Klansmen," Nicholson, a gaunt man with ornate tattoos covering his arms and neck, said in an exclusive interview with the National Post.

White supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nations have had a toe-hold in Canada for several years. RCMP intelligence reports have described a small but persistent presence of such right-wing extremist groups in the country.

The confession from such a high-ranking leader provides rare evidence of the workings of the underground Canadian racist movement, which is closely affiliated with its U.S. counterpart and is monitored by the RCMP's national security section and Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Nicholson, 43, was born in Niagara Falls, Ont., and served in the military from 1978 to 1982, working aboard a flagship in the NATO fleet, he said. He later went to cooking school in Toronto and made his way to Merritt, the self-proclaimed "city of opportunity," a cattle ranching and lumber town three hours east of Vancouver.

It was in his downtown tattoo parlour that Nicholson began to feel the need to stand up for the white race. He said he was angered that a South Asian gang was pimping drug-addicted white Merritt girls in Surrey and Vancouver.

After being arrested for assault, he went into a legal aid clinic and was initially turned away because it was for aboriginal people only. It seemed all the jobs at the mill went to South Asians, he said. Later, he began to see a parade of politicians coming to town to woo the city's various ethnic groups.

"But nobody was going to the white guys," he said. "I thought doesn't anyone represent me?"

It was on the Internet that he first encountered the Ku Klux Klan. He said he received an e-mail inviting him to visit a Web site that was linked to Klan sites "and of course once I was there I started flipping through them."

Articles on the sites complained about immigration, the Asian drug trade and the perception that while ethnic minorities were encouraged to celebrate their cultures, whites were called racist for doing so.

He eventually joined the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Missouri-based group, headed by Rev. James L. Betts, which a hate-group expert said combines the extremism of neo-Nazis with the symbols and traditions of the Klan.

But when Mr. Betts began advocating such notions as a whites-only city, Nicholson left and helped form Knight Riders International [Knight Riders is a name used historically by the Klan].

Nicholson assumed leadership of the group, becoming its "imperial wizard." He ran the Knight Riders Web site and began hosting Klan meetings at his 160-acre ranch, where chickens, goats and dogs roam beneath a fluttering Canadian flag. They expanded rapidly, handing out "passports" to members.

"When I got to be imperial wizard, it just snowballed from there. We went from a handful of Canadians and Americans to multinational, worldwide," he said. White supremacists from Australia, New Zealand and Britain joined the on-line discussions. Many of those who contacted him about the Klan in Canada were youths, he said.

He admitted the Web site "used a few derogatory words that are tasteless, worlds like nigger or chink, which are derogatory but not illegal." There was also a guest book where "a lot of people left comments that promoted out-and- out hatred. And I created that forum, therefore I must take the blame for that."

Although photos taken at Nicholson's ranch show men in white robes holding firearms, Nicholson said he never advocated violence. He said he challenged those who sympathized with "baby killers" like Timothy McVeigh, telling them that once they resorted to violence their message of advancing the plight of whites would be lost.

On April 26, 2001, RCMP officers arrived with a search warrant and seized Nicholson's small commercial marijuana operation, a half-dozen unregistered rifles and an illegal sawed-off shotgun. They also found a few sticks of dynamite that Nicholson said were planted by a police informant. "I'm a big gun guy," he said. "I just like them."

Police also found two KKK robes in his closet, photos and a computer filled with Klan material. Nicholson was sentenced to nine months imprisonment for the weapons offences, and is banned from owning guns for 10 years.

Nicholson said he was "still a pretty pissy guy" when he went to prison. "I felt even more singled out as being punished because I was white."

But he claimed he began to change when he befriended a fellow inmate named Vince, who was part black and part aboriginal and was dying of kidney failure.

"I thought how can I single out a group of people and say anything derogatory about them when I like this guy so much? It makes me the biggest hypocrite in the world." He said his time in prison allowed him to reflect on his Klan life.

Following his release, he met with two native elders at the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt. He said he apologized to them and the institute asked him to take part in an anti-racism panel. He said it was not until last week's preliminary hearing that his wife found out he had held such a senior position in the Klan.

Anti-racism activists such as David Lethbridge, director of the Salmon Arm Coalition Against Racism, have questioned the sincerity of his apology. Nicholson invited doubters to let his actions speak for themselves.

As part of his sentence, he is not allowed to use computers or have contact with the KKK or other racist groups, so he said he is not sure what has happened to the Knight Riders. But he said he is done with the Klan, and urged others to walk away as well. "I call for everybody to burn their membership cards, burn their robes and get on with their lives.

"Leave it alone. It's over."

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