Who knows what evil lurks…

John Ramsey Miller

With this one in the can, I will have written 52 blogs. I think some of them were worth reading. At least, and as of this writing, I have received no death threats over them. I have received death threats, and I suppose I earned them.

I wanted to clarify the thing in the anniversary blog about me setting up a portrait studio at racist gatherings. I did it to capture images of Klansmen, Skinheads, and Identity Christians, not because I was attracted to their speeches. I was a portrait photographer and I was interested in intense groups of people for series. I started with artists. I did death row inmates. I met the leader of a group of skinhead thugs who had broken Heraldo’s nose on TV and I photographed him and a few of his friends in New Orleans in the late 80s. That led to a letter of an introduction letter (on SS lightning bolt letterhead) to other groups of like-minded racists around the country. I don’t know what I did with the damned thing. I’m sure it used to be in the drawer with the collected letters from death row inmates in Angola.

Children of Hate Pulaski, TN 1989

Here’s how I did it: I used a Polaroid back on a large format (4X5”) camera. I’d ask for the subjects to sign a release and I’d give them the B&W portraits, which I put fixative on. What I didn’t bother to tell them was that after the picture was pulled, there was a high-quality negative left over, which I could print later in a darkroom. I suppose the subjects, most of which were hardly rocket scientists, believed they had the only prints, although I never said as much.

From my childhood these people were my enemies and when I was younger they terrified me because they focused their hatred on my father. I could say that I despised them for their beliefs, which are narrow and frightening. But the truth is, I just felt sorry for them because their philosophy is based on their fear of being further marginalized in society than they already are. They are dangerous on several levels, but are inherently only slightly more suspicious of outsiders than they are each other. According to FBI sources, about one in twenty is an informant. In short they are paranoid and deluded as to their importance and potency. I found their gatherings sad affairs filled with a sort of beer hall bonding over a cold glass of hate and ignorance. I felt sorry for the children of hate, because they never have a chance (until much later) to form their own idea of self and of the value of others who are different than themselves.

Grand Dragon of the Florida KKK 1990

When the story and pictures I’d done hit the presses, the subjects went wild. I had death threats. Several while I was being interviewed on radio in Miami. The Miami Beach police watched over me without my asking. I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood and I had made a number of friends in the ADL (Anti-defamation League) while I was doing the series who made sure I was watched over. I had spent hours of time on the telephone with investigators with The Southern Poverty Law Center trading information as I learned who these people were and their relationships to each other. I guess I had much better pictures of certain subjects of interest than they did, and I had names and addresses. The racists felt betrayed when the not-so-flattering story was published, but I never told them I agreed with anything they said. I just listened and absorbed and ultimately regurgitated my experiences for a piece for Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine entitled, MY FRIEND THE NAZI.

Grand Secret Cyclops Pulaski, TN 1989

None of the Nazis, Skinheads, Klansmen, or Christian Identity members were ever my friends. Friends don’t make your skin crawl. I wish I had been able to show them how wasteful and self-destructive their philosophies were, but that’s not usually in the realm of being remotely possible. Hate is all they have.

11 thoughts on “Who knows what evil lurks…

  1. I understand your pity for them. It is so sad for those children to grow up in the hate.

    It must have been quite scary for you. The prints you display here really express what’s in their hearts.

  2. I’ve sat across the table of mass-murderers, rapists and some of the most evil people imaginable. None of them thought they were anything but normal during their sadistic crimesprees. Normal in their world. I’ve acted as if I were best friends with these killers. I’ve laughed with them and cried with them. All an act to get that vital information.

    I felt sick to the core everytime I had to talk to these people)

    Evil lurks in alll of us – but only shoes up in some of us.

  3. Amazing pictures, John. It’s important to remember that none of these individuals were born with hate in their hearts. Someone had to teach them how to hate.

  4. Most of the racists I interacted with are so inferior (in most ways measurable) to the people they hate it’s comical. They actually believe that white skin makes them somehow better or more human than those with darker pigmentation. Some of these people are intelligent enough to manipulate the others in an exercise of personal power. Most, were it not for their fellow haters, would be socially unacceptable to ogres. “They made my skin crawl” is the only way to put it.

  5. Those pictures are amazing and of real value. There will be a time when people won’t believe that they ever existed. They will be the boogey-man of myth. It is phenomenal photos like this that will help make society face up to its dark side.

    The definition of freedom is the willingness to embrace and protect that which we disagree with.

    I live in a part of the country that has it’s own checkered past. Recently a Klan painting surfaced in an estate. It was really a rather amazing piece of art and a window into the past. As such, it has value.

    Morris Dees came and spoke at my law school. It was an amazing event, heavy on security. Even with all the heat, a few paramilitary types still had to try and heckle.

    Thanks for the photos, they are truly amazing and moving.


  6. There is no greater illusion than fear,
    no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
    no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

    Whoever can see through all fear,
    will always be safe.

    Here I am sitting in my comfortable house, with my college education, with my comfortable job, thinking that if only these folks were exposed to the same ideas I have been exposed to, then the world would be in harmony.

    The world can be a violent and dangerous place. Ask the zebra why she fears the lion. Ask the dandelion why it wants to grow in my manicured lawn. There is competition strewn throughout our planet and I guess these folks are the equivalent of weeds growing in the turf. They are the dark to the light that we strive to spread. And as it is, it shall forever be.

  7. John, I was so interested to read that post, and also last week’s item on our “Liar’s” column. When I was at Wellesley, I worked on the college newspaper. One summer when I was visiting my mom in South Carolina, I covered a Klan rally and wrote up the experience for the Wellesley News. I remember it was quite scary, especially to a naive, 19-year-old sophmore! The people were scary, “ugly,” as we used to use the word in SC to describe loutish behavior. I forgot all about that experience until I read about yours! Growing up in the South, especially back in the 60’s, there was a certain curiosity to find out for oneself who these awful people were. At least, I was curious!

  8. I really despise nazis, and rascists of any ilk.

    I never realized the extent of some folks feeling in Ohio where I was a kid until I came home with a Korean bride. Wow, talk about a good way to stiffen the conversation.

    Like JJ said being around evil people, or even evil wannabes, can make one ill. Question for you John, if you had it to do all over again, would you?

Comments are closed.