This is part two of a series that charts the short history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory of Australia and the involvement of NT police officer Constable David Jennings in that story. In part one I sketched the nature of NT policing in remote NT communities and the role of NT Police Constable David Jennings in two disturbing events at the small community of Lajamanu (formerly Hooker Creek) in 1977 and the consideration of those events by NT politicians through to March 1978. In this part I will look at the role that Constable Jennings played in the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory.
It isn’t surprising that I can find no references to Constable Jennings, the emergent Klan or the unfortunate events at Lajamanu from late March through late October 1978. During those months the NT was more concerned with the introduction of full self-government that was granted effective from 1 July 1978.
The Klan in the NT – fact or fiction?
On Friday 20 October the NT News reported that an unnamed NT police officer – but undoubtedly Constable David Jennings – was facing two internal NT police charges of behaving in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the force arising from letters produced earlier in the year about a branch of the Klan established in the small town of Katherine, south of Darwin. The paper noted that the officer was not under suspension and had been transferred from Hooker Creek (Lajamanu) to Darwin.
The following Monday the NT News reported on the “widespread and angry” reactions from politicians, churchmen and local communities at the news that a Klan branch had been established in the NT and examined the contradictory claims by the leaders of two embittered factions of the Klan – David Duke and Bill Wilkinson – concerning the Klan’s operation in the NT.*
Earlier that day former KKK grand wizard David Duke (see my 2013 post on roadside “DavidDuke.com” signs here) told the local ABC Radio that Australia was, due to “aborigines sitting on rich deposits of uranium” ripe for the establishment of the Klan. Duke claimed that he and Jennings corresponded regularly and that the NT branch was not the only Klan group established in Australia.
On 1 January 1978 Duke – who claimed to have received “hundreds” of letters from Australia – signed a Klan certificate accepting Jennings as a “Klansman” and in August bestowed the official title of “Organiser in the NT”. Around that time the Klan’s newsletter, The Crusader, ran a piece stating that the Klan was “making steady headway under the leadership of Jennings in Australia,”
Bill Wilkinson – Imperial Wizard of the “Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” from 1975–1981 – countered Duke’s claims, stating that no Klan member had ever been initiated in Australia and that the claims by Jennings, whom he described as “an overzealous individual,” were unauthorised.
The “White Giant”
On Monday 23 October a Canberra Times article quoted from letters sent to NT media outlets earlier in 1978 (but not apparently published at that time and subsequently passed onto the NT Police Commissioner) written by the self-proclaimed “public relations officer for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Aust)” who claimed that a large crowd had attended a meeting of the Klan outside of Katherine.
The crowd stood around the fiery cross, some were hooded … from the back came a tall handsome man in his late 20s. He wore the traditional Klan robe pulled over his head … let us stop the littering of our streets with drunken Blacks who are now raping our women and beating up our fellow citizens … Let us act now and stop it before it really starts.
The Canberra Times noted that “A man calling himself “the white giant” appeared on ABC TV in a white robe with a hood over his head.
Over the next few days matters escalated dramatically for Jennings. NT Police Commissioner Peter McAulay released details of a further three internal charges (taking the total to five) that would be the subject of a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday 25 October 1978. Those further charges arose from a five-hour interview between Jennings and police investigators earlier in the week. Commissioner McAulay advised that Jennings had been suspended from duties because of the continuing nature of the alleged breaches.
“An embarrassment to the force”
The day after the NT Police internal disciplinary hearing into the five charges laid against him – where it is understood that an adjournment would be provided so that Jennings could prepare defences to the charges if required – Jennings outed himself as the “leader” of the Klan in the NT and resigned from the NT Police force, immediately applying for another position in the NT public service and then leaving the NT for New South Wales.
Jennings admitted to the NT News that it was he who had appeared on the ABC TV news program the previous Saturday clad in Klan robes – now seized by NT Police – and that he’d resigned on the basis that the internal charges against him would be dropped.
Jennings spoke to the NT News somewhat reluctantly – he didn’t want to jeopardise three months holiday pay he said he was due. He went on to say that if he was single he would stay and fight on principle, but, being married with three kids he reckoned he couldn’t afford to fight on principle.
“My politics are not in line with the force,” he said. “I’m an embarrassment to the force.”
The next and final part of this series will the full text of a letter written by Constable Jennings to the NT News in March 1978 – but not published until late October 1978 – referring to the conduct of a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan held at Katherine earlier that month.
You can read some fascinating – if fundamentally depressing – history of the various elements of the Klan and the disputes between Duke and Wilkinson at the Southern Poverty Law Center “KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN” page here. This 2015 Daily Mail article provides interesting insights into Wilkinson’s post-Klan life in Belize following his “disappearance” in 1984.