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University public safety says investigation into KKK fliers is ongoing

Washington and Lee Public Safety shares information it has gathered about the leaflets found on campus three weeks ago.

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University public safety says investigation into KKK fliers is ongoing

Public Safety is investigating leaflets a KKK chapter left on Washington and Lee's campus. Photo by Hannah Denham, '20.

Public Safety is investigating leaflets a KKK chapter left on Washington and Lee's campus. Photo by Hannah Denham, '20.

Public Safety is investigating leaflets a KKK chapter left on Washington and Lee's campus. Photo by Hannah Denham, '20.

Public Safety is investigating leaflets a KKK chapter left on Washington and Lee's campus. Photo by Hannah Denham, '20.

Hannah Denham

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It’s been almost three weeks since Ku Klux Klan leaflets were found across Washington and Lee University’s campus, and the investigation is ongoing.

The Office of Public Safety is working with Lexington and state police to find out who distributed the fliers that demanded the university keep its name and advocated for racial segregation on Friday, Oct. 26.

Ethan Kipnes, public safety’s director, said he’s had a conversation with local, state and federal law enforcement partners nearly every day since it happened.

“All of the other fliers and information that was shared was categorized by intelligence gathering agencies as ‘general propaganda,’” Kipnes said. “Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for campuses to be targeted.”

Here’s what we know at this point:

  • The leaflets credit the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a chapter based in Pelham, North Carolina.
  • The distributors were two white, middle-aged men, who arrived to campus in a maroon SUV with a Virginia license plate.
  • At least seven to nine different kinds of fliers were found in the parking garage and around the law school, Woods Creek apartments, the Village parking lot and on sidewalks and cars around the edges of campus.

Photo courtesy of two students, with permission.

What are the legal consequences if the two men are identified and found? Realistically, just littering.

“As concerning as it is to the university and our community, unfortunately the realistic assessment of what we know occurred on that Friday is that there’s really no criminal activity or very minor [activity],” he said.

Kipnes said if public safety officers or local police had caught the two men while they were on campus, they could have asked them to leave and pursued trespassing or other criminal charges.

“That’s the difficult reality,” he said. “It hasn’t changed the way we’ve followed up on the situation.”

Why would a KKK chapter distribute fliers on campus? Kipnes said the group sees it as “an opportunity to attempt to recruit.”

“It’s not much different than other organizations that will specifically go to a location when something is occurring or when something is in the news and try to take advantage of that opportunity to spread their message,” he said.

Kipnes said the public safety office didn’t receive any reports of suspicious people on campus. By the time his office had found out about the leaflets, the men were most likely gone.

That afternoon, Kipnes shared information with Lexington police and the Virginia Fusion Center, which passes along information to state and federal law enforcement. Public safety officers also reviewed footage from security cameras on campus.

But, it’s a tedious process. Kipnes said the video quality isn’t clear enough to identify faces. He said he’s relying on other law enforcement partners to gather more details with better technology.

The contact information for the Loyal White Knights of the KKK checks out with intelligence gathered previously about the chapter by law enforcement partners, Kipnes said. There’s no indication that any other KKK chapters or members of the campus community were involved.

Though it worked a few days after the leafleting, the Loyal White Knights’ website had been disabled as of Nov. 14.

After the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in August 2017 left one protestor dead, members of the Pelham-based chapter have since praised Heather Heyer’s death, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Public Safety falls under the Division of Student Affairs. Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life Sidney Evans said she’s been in constant communication with Kipnes about the investigation to share information with students leaders and the Student Affairs Committee.

Kipnes said he and other public safety officers have had meetings with various student groups to share information and answer questions.

Evans and Kipnes met with Hillel members the following day on Oct. 27 for an impromptu conversation with Jewish students following the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. They also met with the Student Association for Black Unity.

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Hannah Denham, Arts and Life Section Editor

Hannah Denham, '20, is one of the arts and life section editors. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in women, gender and sexuality studies. She's...

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University public safety says investigation into KKK fliers is ongoing