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Longtime klan foe miffed by critics

Some say he falsified details of his crusade against the group.

Published February 11, 2007


ST. AUGUSTINE - Stetson Kennedy still gets threatening phone calls, six decades after he gained fame for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan and other domestic terrorist groups.

Kennedy, 90, is miffed at allegations that some of his writings about the klan were fabricated or exaggerated.

He began his crusade during World War II, serving as director of fact-finding for the southeastern office of the Anti-Defamation League and as director of the Anti-Nazi League of New York.

Using evidence salvaged from the grand dragon's wastebasket, he enabled the Internal Revenue Service to press for collection of an outstanding $685,000 tax lien from the klan in 1944, and he helped draft the brief used by the state of Georgia to revoke the klan's national corporate charter in 1947,

Kennedy infiltrated the klan by using the name of a deceased uncle who was a klan member.

In the late 1940s, Kennedy took his fight against the klan to a national stage when, while working as a consultant to the Superman radio show, he provided information to producers about the klan from its rituals to secret code words.

"Exposing their folklore - all their secret handshakes, passwords and how silly they were, dressing up in white sheets" was one of the strongest blows delivered to the klan, said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

He testified before a federal grand jury about the klan in the bombing death of Florida NAACP leader Harry Moore and bombings aimed at black, Catholic and Jewish centers in Miami. He also presented evidence in federal court in Washington, D.C., of klan bombings aimed at preventing blacks from voting in the 1944 and 1946 elections.

He published I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan, later renamed The Klan Unmasked.

Recently, Kennedy had to deal with allegations from the co-authors of Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, that he misrepresented portions of I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan.

Kennedy critic Ben Green, a Tallahassee writer about the civil rights era, agrees that some of Kennedy's work was falsified.

"Stetson has felt compelled to exaggerate and embellish what he actually did and, in some cases, make up or take credit for things he didn't do."

Kennedy acknowledges that some material came from another man who also infiltrated the klan, but did not want his name used. He said he intermingled their experiences in a narrative to make them more compelling.

Bulger said Kennedy was always candid about his combination of two narratives into one and his purpose was to expose the klan.

"It was common at the time to embellish," she said, "but he actually did infiltrate the klan to do this work. He was always upfront; he never lied."

[Last modified February 11, 2007, 01:15:30]

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