Inside the Special KKK Olympics
By Not-So-Special-After-All Correspondent T.S. DeHaviland
In this place, the Missouri woods deepen into something more closely
resembling Mississippi Delta swamp. The scrub locusts droop runners
like vines from their canopy, creating a look half backwoods, half Hollywood
backlot. The hollows and the ponds formed a thick fog this humid evening,
bespeaking the eerie calm. A gravel road led us into a clearing, and
already I could smell the hot dogs and the cigarettes and the cheap
beer as their scents wafted through the open windows of the beat up
F-150 we rode in.
I had been allowed to get this close to the Special KKK Olympics by
gaining the confidence of a local, whose name has been changed to protect
my life. Marcus McKabee, the
local in question, was at the wheel. Stout of body and dressed in bib
overalls and a DeKalb Feed cap, he guided the hard-sprung Ford along
the curving road into a track that ended at a cattle gate which he promptly
jumped out to open.
"I first became aware of the Special KKK after my brother's accident
with a rabid sow," Marcus had told me as we met over coffee before
the event. "Knocked him clear to the ground and onto a squeegee
he'd been usin' to clean up wet shit. Squeegee handle went right up
his ass and somehow broke his spine."
We drove into the field the clearing created, one clearly used for
pasture under normal circumstances, and parked off to one side, next
to about 15 other pickups, a few cars, and a smattering of RVs and fifth-wheel
campers. Beyond this little mobile village rose some aluminum bleachers
and, beyond that, a makeshift racetrack in the center of which several
long, white wooden crosses lay on the ground, each of which was accompanied
by a shovel. On the other side of the racetrack was a stout oak, purposefully
drawn into the field of play with a line of white chalk. Next to the
tree folding tables were set up upon which were placed several lengths
of stout, nylon rope, buckets of firebrands, and a stack of pump-action
That was where I spotted my first competitor, enveloped in the expected
white, hooded robe, the tails of which drooped dangerously into the
radii of his chair's wheels. I asked Marcus why, given that they were
among "friends," the competitors still wore hoods.
"They're here as official members of the Special KKK. We're just
spectators. Even though we all know who they are—and they know
us—we've got a tradition to uphold. Anyway, the whole point of
the competition is to test the skills of the competitors. If they're
gonna' do it in a hood in real life, then that's how they've gotta'
do it here."
Marcus went on to explain that his brother had actually been approached
to be an initiate into the Special KKK while still recovering in the
hospital. His inductor was a redneck-turned physical therapist. After
sharing a few PT sessions mutually complaining about "them uppity
nigras," Marcus's brother was committed to the cause.
Opposite the oak, a winners' stand with ramps up to the bronze, silver
and gold levels was just being completed. Above that a Confederate flag
hung limp in the dead air, and below that, in a smaller standard, drooped
the black and red banner of the Nazi party.
McKabee and I took our places in the rickety aluminum stands and, accompanied
by the strains of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" wailing
from cheap PA speakers atop the concession stand, the contestants appeared.
We all stood (as a sign of respect? of excitement?) as they rolled in,
numbers pinned to their white robes, in wheelchairs both motorized and
manual, on crutches, humping along on unsteady legs. I found myself
unexpectedly and perhaps paternalistically worried for the welfare of
the participants. Their robes flapped and hung loose enough to trip
on or get sucked into wheels; the eyeholes in the hoods completely ruled
out peripheral vision. But they train for this, presumably, I assured
myself. Sure, they're not pros—they're racial terrorists, really—but
My worry was both proven and partially alleviated at turn two of the
parade lap by a tremendous pile up of at least 15 chairs, one of which
held the man who wheeled the Special KKK Olympic torch. The mass of
robes, wheels, crutches, and useless limbs was soon alight, and, almost
as soon, three self-appointed medics, one of whom wielded a fire extinguisher,
swooped in to douse the flames and disentangle the mess. Oddly, during
all this, the "official" anonymity of the contestants was
maintained, despite the scorching and the shrink-wrap-effect of superheated
Spandex sticking to skin. It's perhaps fortunate that many of the contestants
had no feeling in the burned limbs to begin with, but none of the injuries
were severe enough to keep the games from going on.
Traditional anonymity aside, spectators seemed to know for whom to
root, even, presumably accidentally, yelling out the names of their
Indeed, like most traditions, it appeared that the anonymity of the
contestants in the Special KKK Olympics was more of a formality than
anything practical. Small town rivalries soon became clear as contestants
were eliminated (there are losers in the Special KKK Olympics)
and audience members shifted alliances to their next-nearest representatives.
This way, nearly the whole South was reflected, as well as much of the
Midwest, most of the Plains states, a good chunk of the West, and even
a few states in New England, notably Maine and New Hampshire, with a
single and quite successful fellow from Massachusetts. The last even
brought along his own fan club with its own red, white and blue logo
and title: Romney's Raiders. When I approached them inquiring about
whether or not they were, in fact, a delegation from the presidential
hopeful's campaign, and if their presence was, in fact, an attempt to
improve their former Governor's stance among the extreme Right, the
previously chipper bunch became silent, even a bit hostile.
But here again is another example of our muddled national relationship
with our massive and ugly racist underbelly: everybody knows it's there,
and we all compensate for its emotional and moral cumbrousness; we all
know we're going to have to haul it around for a long, backbreaking
time before we burn it off; but we don't want to talk about it, often
refuse to acknowledge it is even there, puffing out, raw and white,
spilling over our country's (bible) belt.
The contestants in the Special KKK Olympics, though, had no problem
hauling ass around the racetrack. The track was packed red clay, wetted
down to keep the dust from inducing asthma, and resembling that of a
circle-track car competition. This race was quieter, except for the
spectators, and the heats were divided between the two classes: motorized
and, in the local parlance, "hand-pull." The motorized chairs
had all been hopped up, modified for speed, and reached velocities of
up to 50 miles per hour. The crashes of these vehicles were spectacular
but without injury, the contestants being required to wear motocross
gear beneath their robes, their helmets keeping them "anonymous"
when they did go careening off the track. The "hand-pull"
chairs were much slower, but the level of sportsmanship was higher.
About halfway through the first heat, my view of the track improving
when the overweight Kentuckian with a hatful of plastic fruit shifted,
I noticed that these races were actually run much like those at a dog
track. A piece of "prey" was pulled along the track's course
by a mechanical armature. Instead of chasing after a fake rabbit, though,
Special KKK Olympians chased after a lawn jockey. Upon seeing this,
I threw up in the back of my throat a little.
The next event was even more nausea-inducing, and this reporter is,
perhaps, open to criticism for his lack of specificity about its outcome,
as he spent much of it puking up a partially-digested hot dog and 16
ounces of warm, frothy Coke. The "game" involved timing the
speed with which a contestant was able to tie a noose in one of the
aforementioned ropes, hoist it over a branch of the oak, loop it around
the neck of a mannequin, and, pull it up into a "hanging"
position. This "speed-lynching" event was performed on a training
dummy used for EMT and fire-rescue, 150 pounds in weight. But for "competition"
it had been painted with black spray paint and a cheap "afro"
style wig and been stapled to its head. The winning time, as nearly
as I can recall, as it was hard to barf and take notes at the same time,
was a little under 30 seconds.
The next competition was only slightly less physically revolting, but
my stomach was by then utterly empty, and the dry heaves leave one less
useless than full-on regurgitation.
Cross burning as sport involved carrying an eight-foot wooden cross
through the center of the field of play--cowflop, chuckholes, grass,
mud, and all—digging a hole to plant it in, soaking it in gasoline,
and setting it ablaze. The winning time was under one minute, thirty
seconds, a feat made even more disturbing by the fact that contestants
who are not already blind must wear dark shades to simulate night-time
and keep their activities under 80 decibels "so as not to wake
the dark interlopers on the White Man's land," according to the
Special KKK Olympics's official program. Going over that sound level
results in disqualification, as does setting oneself or another contestant
on fire, though several contenders for the cross-burning gold were still
crispy from the luckless parade lap earlier in the day.
One of the contestants, in fact, was disqualified in this way, and
I have to admit my earlier liberal paternalism had been cured in the
intervening time. The contestant, number 11-11-11, hailing from Selma,
Alabama, was forced by custom to remain robed all the way back to the
hospital at Branson after two able-bodied bigots doused him and hauled
him off the field.
The last "game" again had me heaving. It involved wheeling
(or crutching) oneself through a course in the woods adjacent to the
field, and, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, firing at popup targets of
inner-city youth dressed in hoodies or cut to resemble the profiles
of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Contestants
are judged for deadliness of aim and tightness of pattern as well as
speed through the course. Being flipped backward and out of one's chair
is not considered a disqualification in this event, and contestants
are expected to right themselves and continue through the course should
this occur, a near impossibility for those, like Marcus's brother, confined
to electric chairs. These rules are why "coon hunting" is
considered the most challenging and therefore the premiere event at
the Special KKK Olympics.
The winning time for the winding, half-mile course was about 40 minutes,
with one slight injury from ricocheting buckshot. After this event,
especially, and after the braising at the opening, and with a little
cooking in the cross-burning, the contestants, at the end of the day,
looked a little—dare I say it?—black around the edges. But
then, I often thought they doth protested just a bit too much in these
The winner of the overall gold was a slump-shouldered Grand Wizard
from Montgomery, Alabama, and, as the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd echoed
off the piss-elms and the dogwoods choked with kudzu, I climbed weakly
back into Marcus's F-150 for the ride back into town. He said his goodbyes
to his brother, who collected a bronze for the motorized wheelchair
race, and joined me at the pickup. By the time we got back to blacktop,
though, with my strength rejuvenating slightly as we drove away from
there, I felt the need and (the power) to close the journalistic distance.
"You know," I said," Hitler would have exterminated all
those gimps—your brother included."
The 20-mile walk back to Branson was a long and satisfactory one.
1) I have tried my best to change my
guide's name in a way that reflects a difficult irony for me: his
real name sounds Jewish. When I tried to politely point that out to
him, he became defensive and insisted it was Scottish and that I was
"a damn liar." [return]
2) Apparently, Barack Obama is not yet
on the racist radar screen this far to the ideological Right. This
is a phenomenon I've noticed before, especially in rural areas of
the nation's South and midsection: Conservatives are about a decade
behind the political times. I would chalk it up to simple provincialism,
but the same tends not to hold true for the moderates and liberals
of these areas. In this light, the "Sagebrush Revolution"
of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s can be seen as a rural backlash against
the counterculture of 1960s and 1970s and nothing particularly contemporary.
Just like in Iraq, conservatives are always fighting the last war.