KKK murder plot highlights racism in prison
UNION COUNTY, Fla. – A crime story filled with racism, corruption and undercover success has three Union County men under lock and key following a four-month investigation by local, state and federal agents.
All three men worked for the Department of Corrections Lake Butler facility where investigators believe that Thomas Jordan Driver, with co-worker David Moran, and with former guard in-training Charles Newcomb conspired to get revenge on an inmate by killing him.
All three men appeared before judges Friday morning, Driver and Moran in Columbia County and Newcomb in Alachua County.
The state has not named the target of the murder plot but they do identify all three men as known members of a specific group in the Ku Klux Klan.
Federal agents apparently infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in order to uncover and stop the plot before the three men could complete their deadly scheme with the final nail in the coffin being a staged murder scene that was supposed to be proof of the heinous crime.
"A lot of times in these cases, we have people come in and say we really didn't mean it. But when the FBI staged this crime scene and these photographs were shown to each of these men, they were happy about it. They shook the source's hand. The source even went to the point of asking them, "Is this what you wanted?" They each said yeah. They were happy about it. They were literally happy about it," statewide prosecutor, Nick Cox, said.
Florida's Attorney General Pam Bondi spoke in direct and powerful terms concerning the joint effort to stop the murder plot.
"I'll tell you, we will not tolerate nor will we ever remain silent over the violence of hatred embedded in prejudice in this country," Bondi said.
Bondai and other experts tracking hate groups said that this case is shocking because three present or past corrections officers were involved, planning to kill the inmate when he was released, because he had fought with one of those officers. And disturbing because of their alleged ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
"To actually have three people involved with the correctional system plotting the murder of a former inmate who annoyed one of them, yes I think that's fairly amazing," Mark Potok, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said. "It's a very, very unusual case in this day and age. Historically of course, the prisons and Police Department, particularly in the Deep South, and that includes Florida, were filled with Klansmen. But that hasn't been true for many years. It's very unusual to come across these cases."
Officials said the officers were tied to a specific group of the Ku Klux Klan, called the Traditionalist American Knights, whose imperial wizard made threats last fall during the upheaval in Ferguson, Missouri.
"In November he sent out a pamphlet in which he threatened to use "lethal force" against the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri if they in any way threatened his members. That got a lot of attention," Potok said.
Potok says the KKK doesn't seem to get a lot of attention in recent years because most members don't operate out in the open and don't operate in cities.
It is usually, he said, in rural areas and the larger group doesn't initiate actions like the corrections officers are accused of.
"So what we see are people who act as lone wolves, that's really the dominant thing that's happening. They get tired of the hate groups which seem to never actually do anything other than rant and rave about their enemies. They take it upon themselves to one day walk out their door and start to kill," Potok said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says racism is alive and well even though America has evolved in past 50 years from a civil rights standpoint, that prisons have become an ideal place for racism to survive.
"Many of the prisons are controlled, or at least partly controlled, by race-based prison gangs and it's an environment in which racial hatred really flourishes. So it's not terribly surprising when some of that rubs off on correctional officials," Potok said.
Florida's Department of Corrections has seen turnover at the top and down through the ranks in recent years, following complaints of racism and the mistreatment of prisoners.
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