Once upon a time in Florida, for many law-enforcement officers, being in the Ku Klux Klan was almost akin to being in the Fraternal Order of Police.
This was especially true in Lake County, a central county of the state once ruled by the Klan and the brutality and bigotry of Sheriff Willis McCall.
“The FBI knew, too, that in Florida in the 1940s and ’50s, county sheriffs openly joined the Klan,” wrote Gilbert King in Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America.
The 2012 Pulitizer Prize-winning book chronicles, among other things, the story of four black men from the Lake County town of Groveland who were falsely accused of raping a white woman, how their community was torched by the Klan, and how McCall shot two of the men—killing one—after Marshall won them new trials.
“Law enforcement officers boldly attended Klan meetings armed and in uniform,” King wrote. “Tom Hurlburt Jr., the former chief of the Orlando Police Department, whose father, a citrus buyer, had served as one of McCall’s deputies, said, ‘I believe the only thing more powerful than Willis McCall was the Ku Klux Klan in those days.’”
Lately, though, it seems that the Klan has been trying to reclaim some of that police power.
In Fruitland Park, a Lake County town just north of Groveland, an FBI investigation revealed that Deputy Chief David Borst and Cpl. George Hunnewell were members of the hood-wearing, flaming-cross crowd.
And they had a predecessor.
In 2009, pictures surfaced online of another Fruitland Park officer, James Elkins, wearing his Klan robe and hood over his police uniform.
While those Klansmen are no longer on the police force, it’s scary to think that more may try to take their place—with the mentality that police can protect and serve white people by threatening and terrorizing people of color.
And in central Florida, the numbers show the growing potential threat.