Evan Bayh Approved Incorporation of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana

Former KKK leader: ‘Let’s just say I don’t view him negatively’

Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh in 1989 / AP

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As Indiana’s secretary of state, Evan Bayh approved the not-for-profit corporation status of a Ku Klux Klan organization that was used by group leaders to legitimize the racist group.

Bayh was responsible for deciding whether to officially incorporate the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan when the group’s leader, Kenneth J. Taylor, submitted its application to the state in 1987 in hopes that incorporation would put "horror stories" about the Klan to rest, according to local reports.

Bayh granted the Klan group its corporate charter in November 1987, according to official documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon from the Indiana University Archives in Bloomington, Indiana.

The Indiana Office of the Secretary of State documents, which are signed by Bayh, state that the group was "exclusively for charitable, educational, [and] religious purposes."

   1987 Incorporation Certificate for Indiana KKK Group by Washington Free Beacon on Scribd

Bayh’s office worked to deflect criticism for cooperating with the Klan group.

The incorporation was approved in November but Bayh’s office did not answer questions about it until January 1988 when the Indianapolis Recorder, one of the nation’s oldest African-American newspapers, reported on its front page that the KKK had formed a new corporation.

Bayh’s office told the reporter that it "held it up as long as [it] could" but that it was unable to deny the request. It pointed out that that the incorporation process usually takes just 10 days but took six months for the Klan group.

"We had no discretion in this area, based on the documentation sent by the incorporators," said an office spokesperson. "We held it up as long as we could."

In a phone interview with the Washington Free Beacon, Taylor said that he "never had any problem getting" incorporation. He said that Bayh's office asked him to submit more information but once he did, the group’s paperwork "went right through."

"We never had any problem getting it," said Taylor, who is no longer associated with the KKK but was second in command nationally at the time of incorporation.

"The paperwork went right through," Taylor said. "They didn’t harass us or anything."

Bayh’s team defended its boss by saying that his duty to incorporate the group was non-discretionary, but privately it viewed the decision as a potential political vulnerability.

The Free Beacon obtained a lengthy Bayh administration memo created during his 1992 reelection campaign that was described by its author as an "inventory of issues on which the administration might be vulnerable to criticism."

One of those vulnerabilities, included in a section called "Women and Minorities," was the fact that Bayh incorporated the Ku Klux Klan.

In a 1988 interview, Taylor credited Bayh’s decision with giving the Klan the ability to dispel "media myths." He told local outlets that Bayh’s decision was proof that the KKK was not what people thought it was.

"By incorporating and getting the paperwork to where Mr. Bayh has signed it, this designates that we are a legal organization," Taylor told the Indianapolis News.

"We are not what the media puts out about us," Taylor said. "If all the horror stories that they tell about us were true, they would not have incorporated us."

Before incorporation, Taylor had trouble buying ad space in newspapers to spread the Klan’s message. After incorporation, he said his group would file lawsuits against papers that turned it down.

The Indianapolis-based Jewish Post reported at the time that the KKK had "been more successful recently in recruiting in Indiana." The paper credited Taylor, referred to as an Indiana Klan Grand Dragon, for giving his group a "semblance of legitimacy by incorporating."

Although Bayh’s office said it had no choice but to incorporate Taylor’s KKK group, records show it was the first time a KKK-associated group had been approved in Indiana since the 1920s, when the state's KKK was the most powerful in the country.

Four other KKK groups have incorporated since 1987, according to a search on the Indiana Secretary of State’s website, including the still-active Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc.

Records show that Taylor’s KKK group was deemed inactive in 1995 due to its failure to submit mandatory paperwork. Taylor said he stopped filing paperwork due to an internal conflict that arose with another national leader that caused him to leave the KKK. He said that he currently has no involvement with the group.

Taylor, who said that he was a Democrat all his life "until they put Obama in there and they made a Republican out of me," has yet to decide whether he will vote for Bayh in his November election against Republican Todd Young.

"When Evan Bayh was here at home he seemed to do good, but then he left for a while and I don’t know what went on from there," said Taylor, who praised Bayh’s work as governor of Indiana.

Asked whether he had voted for Bayh in previous elections, Taylor said that he "always voted a straight Democratic ticket."

"Let’s just say I don’t view him negatively," said Taylor when asked whether he had a positive opinion about Bayh.

Taylor said he never discussed the Klan incorporation with Bayh, but that he did participate in a rally alongside Bayh in 1988 when he was running for governor and Taylor was running for Montgomery County Coroner as a Democrat.

"Me nor any other Klansmen that I know of has has ever discussed the Klan with Evan Bayh," Taylor said. "I’ve seen him personally at a rally he had in Crawfordsville when he was running for governor, but he was at the rally and so was I because at the time I was running for coroner."

The Bayh campaign could not be reached for comment. Bayh did not respond to a message sent to his email address at McGuireWoods, the Washington, D.C.-based law firm where Bayh is a partner.

Brent Scher   Email Brent | Full Bio | RSS
Brent Scher is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Virginia, where he studied foreign affairs and politics.