January 06, 2012
“Black church rightful owner of KKK store,” read the AP headline on Tuesday. Headlines like this excite me because I love freaks. I don’t care if they’re black supremacists, lesbian separatists, or white-power Christians who think different races go to different planets after they die. Bring on the weirdoes. Maybe this is some weird black sect where African American Christians traffic in white-power memorabilia? This seems almost as good as back in 2006 when a black cop joined the KKK. (Unfortunately, police officer Ron Stallworth only did it as a prank.)
Turns out that a black South Carolina church now owns what used to be called the Redneck Shop due to some boring technicality. They shut it down after the ruling because the presiding reverend said “a lot of people became so afraid.”
Afraid of what?
I realized while reading the article that, in my endless quest for the unusual, I had visited this store. I was shooting a travel pilot in South Carolina a couple of years ago when a friend called and insisted I check it out on my way back. “Apparently it’s this huge, racist Walmart in the town center,” he said on the phone, “and everyone hates it. Some crazed black guy even tried to destroy it by driving his car through the front window.”
I called the store and confirmed the story. “I got barriers out front now,” owner John Howard told me, “but the guy who did it was white, not black.” I begged and pleaded and convinced my crew to drive an hour out of our way to check out the freak show.
It took a bit of wandering to find the store, but when we finally got there all we saw was a 15-x-20-foot room with a pile of T-shirt iron-ons lying in the corner, some stickers under a glass counter, and stacks of badges randomly scattered all over the place. This was still too much for my friends—who left in horror—but I kept digging for something interesting amid all the dusty boredom. Eventually I found a blurry poster featuring Klansmen holding hands with black people who were wearing traditional African garb. They were celebrating some strange cultural holiday but I couldn’t really read the captions. “What’s this about?” I asked the only guy there. “I don’t fucking know,” he responded without looking up from his online poker game. This is usually how things go when I finally get to the root of the “growing extremism” I keep hearing about on TV.
I wouldn’t consider myself a journalist, but I have a lot in common with them. Where I love looking behind every corner for psychopaths and hearing their frantic theories, journalists love scaring their readers with frantic stories of psychopaths lurking behind every corner. Ultimately, we are both left empty-handed. How many times have you watched the History Channel after they promise a shocking new exposé on some dangerous new Klan offshoot, only to be presented with a half-dozen old eccentrics sitting at a big table in a shack and talking about nothing? Then the producers cut to the B-roll of Nazi skinheads Sieg Heiling that you realize is European footage because of those weird “swastiklone” symbols that Euro Nazis are forced to use since swastikas are illegal there.