The Scotsman (Scotland), Mar. 3, 2003
RICHARD LUSCOMBE IN MIAMI
A new controversy over racism and bigotry threatens to engulf the world’s biggest golf tournament as the Ku Klux Klan wades into the row over the exclusion of women from the club that hosts the US Masters.
A splinter group of America’s notorious white supremacist movement says the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia has the right to pick whoever it wants as its members and plans to show its support for the club by demonstrating at next month’s event.
Campaigners against the club’s policy say the Klan and the Augusta administration deserve each other.
“They’re making my points for me,” said Martha Burk , chair of the National Council of Women’s Associations, which has made the Masters a cause célèbre. “It’s a telling development. Augusta is all about discrimination. With their policies, they can’t expect not to attract the support of a group like this, whose own business is discrimination.”
The protest, if police allow it to go ahead, will be led by Joseph “JJ” Harper, who claims the title of Imperial Wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Cordele, Georgia.
“This equal rights stuff has gotten out of hand. We’re not concerned with whether Augusta wants us there or not. We’re concerned with their right to choose who they want to choose as members,” he said.
Mr Harper says that up to 25 Klan members will be taking part, though they will not be wearing their trademark white robes and hoods. “We’ll probably be in either blue jeans or suits,” he said.
Mr Harper’s involvement has caused new horror at a time when America is attempting to heal the wounds of its segregationist past.
Observers say Mr Harper has few supporters in the Augusta row. “He’s a small very small fish in a big sea of hatred,” said Joe Roy of the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which monitors race-hate groups.
Glenn Greenspan, spokesman for Augusta chairman Hootie Johnson, condemned the planned protest. “Anyone who knows anything about Augusta National Golf Club or its members knows this is not something the club would welcome or encourage,” he said.
“For our critics to try to capitalise on this sideshow is utterly reprehensible and has no place in any civilised discourse.”
His comments cut little ice with Ms Burk, however. “It’s a very equivocal statement. They have failed to mention the KKK by name and they have failed to condemn them,” she said yesterday.
Ms Burk has led a high-profile campaign calling on a change of policy at Augusta and in December launched a “Hall of Hypocrisy” on the internet, naming and shaming American businesses that claim to support equal rights for women but whose senior management, she says, support discrimination through Augusta membership.
Mr Harper became involved in the Augusta dispute after hearing on the radio that black civil rights leader the Rev Jesse Jackson planned his own protest at the Masters against Augusta’s all-male policies. “We don’t want Jesse Jackson in our state,” Mr Harper told the Atlanta Journal- Constitution.
Mr Jackson said he was disappointed but not surprised at the Klan’s involvement.
“Racial bigotry and gender apartheid always attracts the ultra-right ring. The country club’s position is creating a stand-off and it is polarising. This showdown encompasses all of that,” he said. “America and the South deserve better in 2003. In the end, they cannot win the battle, because they are wrong.”
Tiger Woods, the world’s top golfer who will seek a record third successive Masters title next month, reacted wearily to news of the Klan’s protest. Woods said: “If it’s not one thing it’s another.”
Meanwhile, Ms Burk said her group will seek permission to stage a demonstration.