A year ago today, hundreds of white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally, which took a violent turn. Ken Parker, an ex-KKK member, was one of the hundreds that marched around the quintessential Virginian city.
But since the events occurred in Charlottesville, Ken Parker has completely turned his life around.
One year later, Parker is trying to undo the wrongs he committed, and that’s partially due to people he encountered following the Charlottesville rally.
On August 12, 2018, Parker dressed in a black shirt that had two lightning bolts on the collar, signifying his membership in the American neo-Nazi group, the National Socialist Movement.
Parker had joined the KKK in 2012 but then decided to become a Nazi when “the clan wasn’t hateful enough” for him.
“This is their new patch,” he said, showing NBC News his shirt from the rally in a video. “The old one, they had a swastika on there. They wanted to rebrand themselves to not look as racist, to be more appealing to the alt-right crowd.”
He pulled out his green robe from his time in the Ku Klux Klan, where he was a grand dragon, his job being to recruit new members.
“I think it cost $170, and I never got eyeholes on my hood,” Parker said showing his mask.
“I didn’t hide behind anything. I stood behind what I believed,” he added.
Parker added that he had gone to Charlottesville in order to “stand up for my white race.”
“It was thinly veiled [as an effort] to save our monuments, to save our heritage,” he said about the Charlottesville rally. “But we knew when we went in there that it was gonna turn into a racially heated situation, and it wasn’t going to work out good for either side.”
Shortly after the Charlottesville rally began, it took a violent and deadly turn when Heather Heyer was killed.
Before Heyer’s death, Parker and a group of Neo-Nazis headed to a parking garage to regroup, meeting filmmaker Deeyah Khan there.
Khan is a documentary filmmaker who was filming a video called “White Right: Meeting the Enemy,” a documentary about hate groups in the United States.
“I pretty much had heat exhaustion after the rally because we like to wear our black uniforms, and I drank a big Red Bull before the event. And I was hurting and she was trying to make sure I was OK,” Parker said in regards to Khan.
In the now public film, Parker can be heard stating his hatred for Jews and Gay people. Yet, he still felt there was kindness coming from Khan even though he was stating such hateful things.
“She was completely respectful to me and my fiancée the whole time,” he says of Khan. “And so that kind of got me thinking: She’s a really nice lady. Just because she’s got darker skin and believes in a different god than the god I believe in, why am I hating these people?”
He found himself doubting his hatred for African-American people, as his encounter with Khan had been so peaceful and she had been so kind to him.
Months later, a group of African-Americans were having a cookout near his home. Parker and his then-girlfriend approached the group, saying they had questions for them.
One of the men, William McKinnon III, a pastor at All Saints Holiness Church, sat down with the neo-Nazi couple to answer their questions.
“They sat down,” McKinnon recalls, “and she said they had some questions for me, and I just asked them what were some of the questions that they had.”
The three met up several times after their first meeting to continue their discussions and eventually, Parker agreed to attend one of McKinnon’s church services.
After six years of being an active member of the KKK, Parker attended McKinnon’s Easter service.
One month later, Parker stood before his new predominately African-American church and gave his testimony and asked for forgiveness.
“I said I was a grand dragon of the KKK, and then the Klan wasn’t hateful enough for me, so I decided to become a Nazi — and a lot of them, their jaws about hit the floor and their eyes got real big,” Parker recalls. “But after the service, not a single one of them had anything negative to say. They’re all coming up and hugging me and shaking my hand, you know, building me up instead of tearing me down.”
Then on July 21, exchanging his green robe for a white one, Parker was baptized by McKinnon, a sign of repentance and his dedication to the Lord. After he was baptized, he was surrounded by church body members, all waiting to give him hugs.
Just this past Monday Parker made another move to signify his transformation of who he once was, getting three tattoos removed from his body that represented so much hate.
He began the painful process, knowing that it would be worth it to have the swastika, a Klan symbol, and a Confederate flag with “white pride” written underneath.
Parker was joined at the tattoo-removal studio by Arno Michaelis also an ex-Neo-Nazi. Michaelis was part of the group Hammerskin Nation, which was a violent Neo-Nazi group.
“I want to say I’m sorry. I do apologize,” Parker says about his past. “I know I’ve spread hate and discontent through this city immensely — probably made little kids scared to sleep in their own beds in their own neighborhoods.”
Parker still receives messages from people in the Neo-Nazi movement, but instead of trying to get them to join the KKK like he once did, he now tries to get them to exit the movement.
“You can definitely get out of this movement. I mean, I was into that so much — it was my life, for six years. I never thought I would get out,” Parker said. “Get out. You’re throwing your life away.”
Many have taken to social media to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
President Trump tweeted: “The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2018