Self-identified members of the Ku Klux Klan tell NBC 4 New York's I-Team the hate group's momentum is growing on Long Island, buttressed by support from white people who feel they have been disenfranchised by Jewish, black and immigrant residents in their neighborhoods.
The hate group started a chapter in Suffolk County Hamptons Bay, a town of about 15,000 people, about two years ago after getting a flood of interest from community members, according to James Moore, the Imperial Kludd of the Loyal White Knights.
"There were calls coming in from the area, lot of emails about the gang activity, people not feeling safe in their own communities and homes anymore and that influenced the Klan to take a stand," Moore said.
The Hamptons Bay location has become the headquarters for the KKK in New York, he said, and estimated that about 50 to 70 people are members of the chapter. Actual numbers are difficult to track because the group doesn't let outsiders in and many may shield their membership.
News reports about KKK recruitment on Long Island were common last year. One day in September, homeowners on several streets in Wantagh and Rockville Centre reported finding at least a half dozen fliers on their private properties, police said. That came less than two weeks after a dozen similar leaflets papered private properties in West Babylon and Shirley, officials have said.
The Suffolk County Hate Crimes Unit tracks incidents of intolerance. In 2013, Suffolk police recorded 83 such cases, from swastikas spraypainted on train stations to bias against black and Latino people. The number increased 5 percent to 87 in 2014. But these cases aren't always reported, authorities say, and even when they are, that's not always sufficient to make an arrest.
“You have the right to free speech so you can go out and flier. You can stand on a corner and say things, but while you're distributing fliers you can't commit a crime against a person's property or a person," Suffolk Det. Sgt. James Brierton of the Hate Crimes Unit explained.
One Long Island man who claimed to be a member of the Loyal White Knights told NBC 4 New York he believes white, Christian people are superior, but that religious and racial minorities have nothing to fear from him. The man, who asked not to be identified because he says he faces retaliations for his beliefs, said he has been involved in the KKK flier distribution, defending it as free speech.
He said the number of people interested in joining the KKK is "growing by the day." Neither the man who asked to remain anonymous nor Moore would allow the I-Team to attend a meeting or speak with other members, so the I-Team could not verify their KKK membership.
Though the men say interest in the Klan is growing, experts say hate groups are more prone to distribute fliers when membership is down; handing out pamphlets takes only one person and a printer. Experts say rallies are more common with strong membership.
Still, at least one local Jewish leader said it only takes one person preaching hate to pose a threat. Beth Sholom Chabad of Mineola hired armed security guards for the High Holy Days and equipped the temple with digital security cameras, said Rabbi Anchelle Perl.
Perl said other local synagogues maintain even tighter security for all services.
"Our response was just recognizing the dangerous times that we live in, and also in response to our own members who were saying, ‘What we’re going to be doing about these things?’” Perl said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are between 5,000 and 8,000 KKK members nationwide. At its peak in the 1920s, the organization had more than 4 million members nationwide. Data on how many members there are on Long Island or in New York state was not available.