ACLU to represent KKK group

The American Civil Liberties Union will champion a Ku Klux Klan outfit's right to "adopt" a section of highway in Union County, an ACLU official said Tuesday — on the same day that key members of the KKK group acknowledged they live in a neighboring county.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation rejected an application filed May 21 by Harley Hanson, who calls himself the exalted cyclops of the Georgia Realm of the International Keystone Knights of the KKK, and his wife.

In the application, Hanson said he could deliver at least six volunteers for road cleanup. He listed the group's address as a post office box in Blairsville. He didn't list any other names and has refused repeated requests by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to say how many are in the group.

Reached on Tuesday, he referred all questions about the lawsuit to the ACLU, but admitted that he does not live in Union County.

Instead, he lives in Morganton in Fannin County, which he described as "a mile or two from the Union County border." But he said the KKK's headquarters is in Blairsville. He said it also has a physical headquarters there but would not provide specifics.

"That's one of the secrets we do have," he said, adding that the fact that he lives in Fannin has no bearing on the Adopt-a Highway application. "It doesn't matter where we live, it's irrelevant to the case."

But it's not irrelevant to some in Union County.

"We don't know why they picked Union County," said Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, a native of the county and the top elected official for a dozen years. "They could have easily chosen the last mile of Fannin County as opposed to the first mile in Union County."

Paris said he was "not aware of any members of the KKK now or in the past being from the county."

Debbie Seagraves, executive director for the ACLU of Georgia, said she was "not sure it is an issue" where Hanson lives.

"It has not been a matter of discussion as far as I am concerned," she said, confirming that her group would assist the Klan in what it considers a First Amendment case.

A likely precedent was established in 2005 when a federal court ruled that Missouri had no right to ban the KKK from the Adopt-a-Highway program based on the Klan's political beliefs.

Seagraves declined to discuss the case in detail.

"Yes, we are representing them, but we are still working on the strategy," she said Tuesday afternoon.

Seagraves said the Klan reached out to her organization last week after the DOT struck down its application to participate in the statewide highway cleanup program.

In rejecting the Klan, which has a history of violence against blacks and minority groups, DOT said the highway cleanup program was open only to "civic-minded organization in good standing."

Paris said the Klan's help is definitely not wanted. "We have a great county and a good infrastructure," he said. "We don't need a controversy from a group who is claiming to want to pick up our trash. We are fully capable of picking up our own trash."