Women rise to power in the KKK

AMERICA'S WOMEN have been challenging male domination of the political and business establishment for decades, with varying degrees of success. Now, according to a report just released, they have begun to infiltrate another, far more contentious bastion of male power: the Ku Klux Klan.

The report, compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center - a respected and well-funded group that tracks racist groups in the United States - says the traditional role of women in the far-right racist movement is changing. From compliant helpmates, cleaning, cooking and stitching the characteristic robes and pointed caps for their menfolk, they are taking on leadership positions, opening the eventual prospect that a woman could gain the dubious distinction of becoming the Grand Wizard of the KKK.

According to the centre's assessment, published in its quarterly Intelligence Report, the radical Right is currently engaged in the sort of debate about the role of women that was joined on the radical Left in the late Sixties. Among the most hotly argued issues are the capacity of women to assume leadership positions and whether they can or should take up weapons and become fighters. The debate extends across the spectrum of far-right racialist organisations.

One reason for the new assertiveness of women in this area is that they now make up 25 per cent of the membership of far-right groups and up to half of new recruits. They also bring an attitude that assumes equal opportunities for women.

Lisa Turner, who started the Women's Frontier 15 months ago, part of a neo-Nazi group called the World Church of the Creator, is cited by the centre as saying: "It seemed that a white woman's role in the racial movement was to write lonely prisoners and stand behind their boyfriends without much of an opinion about anything ... If we are going to overcome in this struggle we are going to have to do it together - man and woman - side by side."

The centre's spokesman, Mark Poto, says this has triggered anger among "many men in the movement", who are using the Internet to express their "outrage over these upstart women". But Ms Turner says the men sould blame themselves. "There is a vacuum of leadership", she says, and "leadership is a role ... which women in the Church can fill".

Mr Potok notes that the new women activists trace their roots to two earlier female "warriors" - Kathy Ainsworth, who was killed in a gun fight with police in 1968 when trying to bomb the home of a Jewish businessman in Mississippi, and Vicki Weaver, who was shot dead by police in 1992 when she tried to prevent the arrest of her husband, Randy Weaver, a white supremacist leader. "These were tough women," he says.